Safe and Found: Who Comes to Look for You?

Safe and Found Cover

        A Very Special Project – When children are missing, who comes to look for you?

How to reach children? How to teach children in the most effective way about the perils and the positives of the world?  In the past there have been a variety of programs such as “stranger danger,” “Just Say No” the DARE Program, “McGruff, Take a Bite Out of Crime Dog” and others.

However, when it comes to missing persons, children need to know that the boys in blue or those with the bright red fire truck don’t do it all.

Monica Caison, Founder of the Cue Center for the Missing based in Wilmington, NC, conceptualized an educational, illustrative activity book.  Safe and Found not only identifies what those who search and rescue do, but also teaches children about trust.

Monica Caison, CUE Center for Missing Persons, Donna R. Gore

Monica Caison

The easy to read book features word games and a quiz to test a child’s knowledge and topic suggestions for further discussion.  The 23 page book, Safe and Found is a treasure in that it has the potential to engage children from kindergarten through 5th grade and beyond in a variety of ways. It accomplishes this through reading, active listening, coloring, doing word games and stimulating discussion.

The content is presented in terms familiar to children, discussing getting lost, the feelings surrounding it, sights and sounds a child may hear in the process of rescue. Safe and Found explains search and rescue equipment, the vehicles used, search animals, and advice about getting lost in a crowd.  Most importantly, there are comforting reassurances for children on every page, up to the point where they are reunited with parents.

The section Tips on Trust helps children define a true stranger, the circumstances of trust, and using judgement and responsibility. A final section of Safe and Found contains information about “packing blue” as the magic colors for searchers, as well as safe berries and plants which are edible.

The language is conversational and familiar for young audiences, skillfully written by Anita Sullivan whose brother, Michael Austin Davis has been missing for several years. The illustrations are crisp, clear, animated and truly assist making the story of search and rescue come alive thanks to the artistry of illustrator John Santillo.

Safe and Found has the flexibility to be used in schools, church and civic groups, boys and girls clubs, family gatherings and more.  It also serves as an introduction to the Cue Center for Missing Persons, founded in 1994 and serving more than 9,000 missing persons to date.

To schedule a presentation of Safe and Found for your group with a Cue Center State Outreach Coordinator in your area, contact  CUE Center for Missing Persons, P.O. Box 12714, Wilmington, North Carolina 28404. Address requests as: Attention: Permission Presentations.

CUE Center for Missing Persons


All presentations are done by those who volunteer their time and services to the organization. Donations or honorariums are gratefully accepted which assist the organization to continue to search for those who are lost. Donations can be made securely online, at the CUE Center website, or mailed directly to the address above.

No Body Homicide Cases: How to Prove the Victim is Dead 


No Body Homicide Cases by Tad DiBiase

No Body Homicide Cases by Tad DiBiase

According to Tad DiBiase, prosecutor and author of No Body Homicide Cases: A Practical Guide to Investigating, Prosecuting, and Winning Cases When the Victim is Missing, there are only two ways to prove that a “no body victim” is truly dead. (Page 19)

One way is via physical evidence. Tad offers the example of a crime scene revealing massive amounts of blood loss such that life could never be sustained.

But I ask, what else could we add? Perhaps- A car found submerged in deep water and mud  without evidence of escape; Perhaps- Personal items or clothing remnants located at the top of a mountain; Perhaps– A body gone missing overboard on a cruise ship.

The second way to prove death in a no body case is the lack of evidence of life. What does this mean?  No use of cell phones, social media, no use of bank accounts or credit cards, no known contact with family or friends. The absence of life can spell death (I’ll add the exception when the deceased “takes on another identity” unbeknownst to others.) Tad states, the more evidence of “lack of life” you can amass over time, the better it is to convince a jury. This also includes circumstantial evidence that major life events and appointments were missed and out of character for the victim.   “Mom never would have missed the birth of a grandchild.” “Dad would not have missed his annual fishing trip with the guys.”  “Grandma always attended every graduation in the family etc. “

Which circumstance above is easier to prove? I would guess that it depends upon the many variables in each individual case, the amount of time that has passed and what is revealed in each crime scene.  Certainly, you may have more to work with concerning an active, social engaging person versus one who led a very sedentary life style. A person that has a very set routine and few visitors may be more challenging once all of the usual leads have been tapped.  Victimology becomes very important- Defined by some as the study of victimization, including the relationships between victims and offenders, the interactions between victims and the criminal justice system.

Cases That Prove Death Without a Body – 

George Smith

The Mystery of honeymooner George Smith from Greenwich, CT who disappeared on his honeymoon Cruise Ship in 2005. There remains many unanswered questions o this day. A wealthy family can “shake up the system”, spearhead legislation, demand accountability in the international cruise industry, can hire Dr. Henry C. Lee as an investigator. They can suspect that their former daughter in law might be complicit, BUT, all this cannot bring George back.

It appears he could not have survived if thrown overboard as suspected.

A local account can be read at Greenwich Magazine.

Jon Francis

Jon Francis, “invincible solo mountain climber”of Stillwater, Minnesota,was one of those 20 something guys “who thought he could tackle the world.

From the Jon Francis Foundation:

“On Saturday morning, July 15, 2006, 24-year old Jon Francis, of Stillwater, Minnesota, climbed The Grand Mogul in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. He reached the summit but did not return. The official search, led by local law enforcement authorities, lasted for only 2 days and was unsuccessful in finding him.”

Again, as Tad postulated, because of the nature of Jon’s activity, we assume he is dead by virtue of not being able to survive a serious fall or rock slide.

For a more detailed account of his story, and a former Cue Center for the Missing Conference Presenter,  Jon’s Father David Francis appeared in this moving blog-podcast showcase from July, 2012: “It’s Not What We Gather, but What We Scatter That Defines the Kind of Life You Have Lived.” (The Legacy of Jon Francis)

To learn about this tragic loss of life and the aftermath as told on “Shattered Lives”, please CLICK HERE


Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires.”  Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Perseverance with a Purpose: The Cue Center for Missing Persons 2015 Conference


No matter how it is traditionally measured, perseverance took center stage at this year’s 11th Annual Community United Effort for the Missing Conference. It is “the glue of one’s existence” once a missing person and/or potential homicide occurs. Weeks, months, years can pass while the mind, the heart and “every molecule” searches for the reason why with the fervent hope of a rescue versus a recovery.

In the beginning, assumptions are made by families that surely with all of the professionals involved, a blanket of publicity, clues, answers to the puzzle and a final outcome leading to justice will be theirs.

However, reality is often a bitter pill. Crime victim families are never prepared for the onslaught of the hard truths and emotions that “come with the package.” Monica Caison, aka “the Searcher,” the Founder of CUE and the visionary for families of the missing, guides the wounded and broken-hearted to a better place once trust is established.  Her uncompromising standards of excellence have paved the way for unparalleled success in many arenas and won the respect of professionals in the realm of missing persons. It takes a nationwide network and a very special village of dedicated individuals to accomplish her work in order to mend families on the path of their “new normal.”

The 2015 11th Annual Conference was my fourth time witnessing an incredible coming together of good souls, talented people with a mission in their hearts to serve, honor and educate. Unlike other professional conferences, this gathering is never about a “fee for service.” Rather, it is all about community as the name states in a way that no other gathering achieves! New people from across the country “attend and blend” with the veterans who have chosen to use their grief, along with interested volunteers for a productive purpose. In my experience, it takes but one exposure to this event to “hook you forever.” It matters not what your affiliation is you will be transformed!

“The Framework”

At some point in the sequence of events, a “light bulb” will appear. It could occur when Chip Krieger, a personable master of ceremonies, perpetually keeps the action going with a full agenda, good humor and lots of respect for the participants. He also doles out the many donated gift baskets as if,” just for a moment”, we think this must be a cruise, rather than a conference for the missing!

A brief three-hour period of levity in which you can dance and sing the night away to karaoke favorites or “dress up goofy” in the photo booth! What fun! (I got my souvenir with Monica!)

The lightbulb moment could happen when you participate in a newly created law enforcement panel who fields questions previously gone unanswered. Truth be told, families do want answers more than anything. However, often there is no answer, or the answer varies based upon the jurisdiction. In any case, courage abounds whether you are on the law enforcement side of the table or the survivor‘s side.

Drones 101” The Wave of the Future, and how they pertain to search and recovery efforts (as well as over 300 + other uses in the future was presented by John Minor, military and academic expert  of the Unmanned Vehicle University based  in Phoenix , AZ.

Your light bulb may begin to shine when learning about “No Body Convictions” that have occurred with increasing frequency and gained wider acceptance thanks to expert skilled prosecutor and author Tad DiBiase.  Still another reason for hope and perseverance.

The hard truths about Human Trafficking and all of its ugliness (the who, what, where when and why) were laid out as Criminologist, and Director of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute,  Sheryl McCollum and co-presenter Duane Thompson, Ph.D; gave an animated presentation of their investigative experiences in Atlanta.

The “Jane Wayne of the Courtroom” and cable TV, attorney  Holly Hughes,  gave a rousing presentation, Legal facts that can damage your case, discussing the “don’ts”  for crime victims which can damage their cases. Good practical advice interspersed with real courtroom examples!

Victim families are always interested in the forensic side of cases. Commander Peter Cestare educated participants concerning   the processing of the crime scene, and preservation through the presentation of evidence during courtroom testimony in Crime Scene to Courtroom.

Pet First Aid Class

Pet First Aid Class

Early in the conference, I heard rave reviews about the “hands on- on the floor” training regarding the importance of “Canine First Aide.”  Animals need care too!  CPR and First Aide training are the mainstays for the “boots on the ground” volunteers.

Nothing sets off a victim more than the media. Media Matters as told by long time CUE supporter, South Carolina Outreach Coordinator, Brian McQueen. As News Director for the NBC affiliate in Columbia, you will find no one more dedicated and concerned with accuracy and compelling coverage of missing persons families. He’s a true soldier in the fight for awareness!

“The Heart: The Victim’s Hour Presentations”

Listening to and relating our true life ordeals and experiences with violent crime and missing persons is the most difficult and heart wrenching aspect of the CUE Center Conference. Sometimes intimidated by the microphone, victims are gripped with emotion, trying to organize their thoughts, often through their tears conveying the circumstances and how very much their loved one is missed. They speak of personal qualities; special moments shared and lost opportunities for the future. This act is repeated informally over and over throughout the Conference. It is the “lifeblood” of the CUE- this give and take of educating and healing.  And, in the telling the first time, I believe families are set on the path of survivorship.   This year’s family representatives spoke of missing loved ones: Bonnie Santiago, Janet “Renee” Field, Jason Bolton and Christopher Douthat.

A special source of pride for me was the fact that five Connecticut based detectives were in attendance at this conference from New Haven’s Cold Case Unit and the Town of West Haven (where the University of New Haven and the Henry Lee Institute of Forensic Science is located.) I was nervous in the beginning, for new people often feel like a “fish out of water.”  I did what I could to facilitate and then others took over to have conversations in various and sundry places and late into the night. One such conversation I participated in with Monica and “the Connecticut Five.”  Monica was at her best, full of information, and engaging all of us well into the wee hours.  Four hours of sleep that night, but it was so worth it. Monica and her team paved the way to truly understanding the families’ plight for these detectives by the end of the Conference. I was so proud!

It is in these late night discussions that ideas about cases and future collaborations are forged. This is the true magic that occurs without much effort for everyone gives freely from the heart. Nothing else matters!

What Victims Really Want

Monica spoke from the heart at the State Outreach Coordinators’ orientation and at the start of Sunday’s wrap-up. Her sage advice resonated with those who know, who have been part of the fabric of the CUE, adding their family stories to the thousands of families served in 20 plus years. Her ability to always be sensitive to families needs first and foremost and recall the most salient facts when illustrating a point is nothing short of amazing. As an audience, what we take away is of greatest importance. Each uses a “personal yardstick” to measure success. I was struck by her presentation recounting “fact or fiction” in the missing persons world.  Better to debunk the myths than to assume we always know the facts and understand every nuance.

What Families Can Do After the Tent has Folded and the Circus has Left Town was a skillful metaphor used to demonstrate that families need to be very much part of the equation.  We cannot wallow in grief. We must go to work, for with hard work, healing comes. Taking initiative with the assistance of others, building community is empowering. On this journey,   we will not only survive, but thrive and blossom!  I have seen it a thousand times! It is in this context that we set the building blocks for a future resolution with “person power” and faith in God.

The National Candlelight Service

Families honored at the National Candlelight Vigil

Families honored at the National Candlelight Vigil

The procession began with several busses proceeding along the approximately eight mile route with a full police escort, sirens blazing, stopping traffic along the route to the site of the service! This ceremonial gesture, I believe, was a first, and testament to the respect that law enforcement holds for Monica Caison and the CUE Center.   It certainly was a prideful moment for all of us who witnessed it!  The magic of the WWII USS North Carolina Battleship on the brisk ,but tolerably cool night,  against the backdrop of the Cape Fear River in Downtown Wilmington was the scene of the  moving tribute to persons gone missing.  Loved ones were in attendance to represent them, as well as civilian and law enforcement advocates. It was time to award the many who have contributed and those who have passed.  The beautiful color photo memorial wall featuring several dozen victims was unveiled and shone against the lights and hearts of all who participated.   Two musical tributes by Heather Cohen were breathtaking. We also appreciated the talent, wit and “peppering humor” of MC, local TV personality, Sandra McClammy and the inspirational words of Reverend Angie Davis.   Special honorees this year included the families for Gerald Graham, Angie Pipkin and Alysha Tucker.  Two Musical Tributes by Heather Cohen and the inspirational Reverend Angie Davis.

The Heart From My Perspective

Families of those who go missing, or are survivors of homicide, no matter how it occurs, do not want “closure.” This term is a misnomer so frequently used by law enforcement, the media and the legal profession.  Closure is not possible. We have wounded hearts that will forever be damaged. Closure implies that there is a timeline sequence – a beginning, middle and end to grief and pain. An end is a final act. Concerning missing persons in particular, your psyche is perpetually in a “state of suspended animation” if you will – waiting for the other shoe to drop, the next tip to come in or waiting for a person to “grow a conscience.” It is never ending! It is torture! You can see it in their faces, you can hear it in their voices. The term “resolution” is more appropriate as it is more accurate and describes what is happening similar to “chapters of your life.”  The event (i.e. My father’s homicide) will never go away totally for me, although it may fade. BUT, I have successfully made it through many chapters. Each chapter leads to the next. We can never “close the book totally,” but we can achieve a resolution at the stage we are in.

To distill it to its core, when dealing with the uninformed general public, and the media who deals in sound bites, victims need a sense of purpose in their journey versus the ill-conceived “closure.”  A sense of closure means something to do that is productive which contributes to the overall effort of finding their loved one. They cannot sit idly by. Sometimes there is a fine line between “helping/doing what comes natural” and “interfering “with the investigation.  Therefore, the case manager and the police must assess the situation and assign the family a task(s) that will help and at the same time empower them. Such tasks might be small in the overall scheme, but vital just the same. Examples: Gathering photos, constructing a timeline of the last days as they recall their loved one’s activities. If there is a search, purchasing food and water for teams etc.

The Passage Award in Memory of Susan Murphy Milano

Marshia Morton receives the Passage Award

Marshia Morton receives the Passage Award

This award is given to an individual, who has suffered the loss of a loved one by being a missing person, victim of homicide or one that has survived the cruelties from intimate partner violence. This award recognizes the survivor that has healed and who has risen above to contribute oneself to those who remain in need of guidance, empowerment, support and who continually hold a devotion to the cause in memory of Susan Murphy Milano.

This year’s recipient of the Passage Award – Marshia Morton – an excellent choice, who quietly assists in several capacities for the CUE and is a Missouri State Outreach Coordinator.

Another person who is beloved to the CUE organization for being a tireless advocate, as well as the father of a missing daughter, was Robert Cooke, of Georgetown Texas.  Until his death in November, 2014, he had the distinction of participating in every CUE Center Conference since its inception.  He was a special friend and supporter to Monica who is missed every day.  Tragically, his daughter, Rachel Cooke vanished while jogging in 2002 while visiting her parents. She remains missing.

A memorial scholarship for a fee paid conference was set up in his name and was awarded to Gail Soles, the mother of missing Crystal Gail Soles.

Finally, there were so many acts of random kindness from helping, listening , giving, sharing ,awarding expensive goods won (such as a guitar) and hugs throughout!

It humbled me to share my room with family members of one of the vigil honorees. The story of the loss of her daughter, Elisha Tucker is tragic, and only one of many which has befallen the family .

I thank those who assisted me especially Rachael Caison, Delilah Jones, Jerry Sigmon, and Sheryl McCollum for your special assistance and kindnesses. Let’s make it a great year filled with hope for families of the missing!

Donate to the Cue Center for Missing Persons  

CUE Center for Missing Persons

Who is a Missing Person? 

who is a missing person?

This question came across social media to me recently and the question had me thinking about all the permutations of “the missing.” Is there a true definition? Is there an official “Journal of the Missing”, published monthly and doled out to all library shelves at University libraries? A quick internet search revealed nothing.  This is a niche that few have studied in any depth with the exception of grass root non-profit organizations. They, in fact, are the experts with honed skills through “being in the trenches “and figuring out what truly is needed, how to assist the families of the missing, building collaborations with law enforcement and other organizations in order to do everything possible to effect a rescue versus a search for remains.  The CUE Center for Missing Persons stands out among such organizations.

At its core, how do we know someone is missing?

On a personal level, I believe that if someone cares for another person, has a personal tie to them, and that person has not been located in several hours, to days, months, years,  that is a “heart definition” of a missing person. Are there people who go missing intentionally? YES!  Are there people who go missing unintentionally by virtue of circumstances beyond their control? Yes! Should we judge as to if their gone missing status was preventable? NEVER, because one mis-step or series of bad decisions and we could be there is “a New York minute!

Legal Definition (According to US A missing person is a person 18 years old or older whose disappearance is possibly not voluntary, or a child whose whereabouts are unknown to the child’s legal custodian, the circumstances of whose absence indicate that:

  1. The child did not voluntarily leave the care and control of the custodian, and the taking of the child was not authorized by law; or
  2. The child voluntarily left the care and control of the child’s legal custodian without the custodian’s consent and without intent to return.
  3. State agencies work to coordinate reports of missing persons with federal agencies, such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
  4. In states with an Amber Alert Plan, parents of a missing or abducted child can contact their local police or sheriff’s department to file a Missing Person Report. If a child is missing and believed to be in danger, there is no 24-hour waiting period.  The law enforcement agency will immediately enter information about the missing child into the Missing Person’s database and the National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person File.

Participating law enforcement agencies can request an Amber Alert if their investigation determines that the child’s disappearance meets the Amber Alert criteria.

Types and Examples of Missing Persons:

Every missing person is somebody’s child…

Other Categories:

We also have men and women missing as a consequence of prostitution, “survival on the street” essentially often hiding in plain sight, fighting their demons, trying to survive.

Another huge category of the missing is attributed to Intimate Partner Violence. We need only to go to SusanMurphy-Milano.Com to see the thousands of examples she left for us!

And on and on….

Suffice it to say, the reasons for going missing are many and varied. If we care for humanity, our hearts are big enough to hold all of the reasons. It matters not why in the final analysis. It only matters that we find them and help them back to a “new normal.”

CUE Center for Missing PersonsIf you know of a missing person, please file a report with the police and then contact the CUE Center for Missing persons, a national non-profit organization.  To support their work:


Who is a Missing Person?