When Missing Person search goes horribly wrong
I seem to have written quite a bit about missing persons recently, rather than the physical search for them. This is because it is very easy for SAR volunteers to become cacooned in their own little bubble of SAR and forget about the “big picture”.
Following on from my pieces on the effects of police cuts on missing person incidents and will the police be downgrading missing person calls I received an e-mail from one of our colleagues in the Irish Search Dogs Association tipping me off to some news articles on an Irishman who went missing in Amsterdam.
Paul Nolan Miralles went missing after a night out. Here is part of the Irish Times news report about his disappearance and the subsequent body find;
A police search failed to locate his body despite several sightings of a man answering his description floating in the water, near to where he had last been seen on the Singel canal.
There were separate reported sightings by his mother, who came from Dublin to help search, and also his workmates, in the days that followed his disappearance.
The Dutch police search, however, was officially called off last Wednesday even though a shoulder had already been found in the water, which DNA tests have since established to be part of Mr Nolan Mirallesâ€™s remains.
The shredded remains of his jacket and shoulder bag had also been discovered in the propeller of a canal pleasure launch.
His body appears to have been sucked under the water and caught in the propeller of the glass-topped canal launch filled with tourists shortly after being spotted for the last time.
Throughout last Thursday his family recovered eight further body parts using a boat driven by a client of the dead man and sonar equipment operated by his cousin, a marine biologist.
The family say that when help was finally offered by the Dutch authorities late on Thursday night it was in the form of two â€śvery supportiveâ€ť family liaison officers. This followed repeated requests by the family and through diplomatic channels.
By then, according to Mr Nolan Mirallesâ€™s sister, Anne Ravanona, family members were â€ścompletely traumatised, devastated and living a nightmare for five days of the searchâ€ť.
â€śIt has been horrific, a nightmare, so harrowing, and no family should have gone through this ordeal, left alone to suffer the trauma of pulling bits of my brotherâ€™s body out of a canalâ€ť, said Ms Ravanona, a Paris-based global management training expert.
On Good Friday the district police precinct dispatched four divers into the canal. The police had earlier asked the family if police could also use the boat and sonar equipment that the family had arranged.
When the dead manâ€™s family thought that â€śthings could not get any worseâ€ť a large portion of his lower body was found by the family floating in the water, Ms Ravanona said.
â€śMy husband and my brother and cousin had to hold on to it for an hour awaiting the police boat dispatched to pick it up. Paulâ€™s girlfriend was there also; that was beyond human endurance.â€ť
She said these remains were moved from the canal side by the coroner and treated with care and respect before being taken to the morgue. On Thursday the family had had to contact police each time they recovered body parts, which were taken away in a bucket and a box
You can hear the misper’s sister talking about it on NewsTalk as well.
Now I try to make it a rule not to talk about individual cases and especially those in which there is only the media’s viewpoint but whatever the truth in this case it highlights the importance of getting the management of the missing person case right first time and supporting the missing person’s family if searches do not find the misper. Because they will look for their family and friends themselves, as seen here, and who would want another family to have to find their dead relative, or friend to find the remains of their dead friend – whatever the condition of the body!
It would be easy to dismiss this as all happening in a different country but just a couple of months ago I received an e-mail from the family of a long-term missing person asking me; “What can I do to organise a search, inform other people interested in helping, or employ a team to look for him? I am desperate for information…” here in the UK.
Fortunately it was me they turned to and I could point them straight back to the police; but what-if? What if I had been someone who would have taken their money? What if I had been the sort to organise a family search?
Or should the question actually be – should there be someone these vulnerable, desperate people can turn too?