HARTFORD, Connecticut – Frustrated by what they call a lack of official urgency, family members of adults who go missing are pressuring U.S. states for consistent laws for handling such cases.
"Our system isn't working," said Janice Smolinski, whose 31-year-old son, Billy, disappeared in 2004. "Unfortunately, when adults go missing, they don't really take it seriously."
There were no community alerts for him, no urgent police investigations. Smolinski said police made the family wait three days to report his disappearance because a neighbor thought he left town voluntarily. He has not been found.
This year, the Campaign for the Missing is lobbying this year for better laws in Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, Oregon, New York, Missouri, Ohio and Indiana.
Just under half of the more than 109,000 active records in the National Crime Information Center's missing person file as of Dec. 31, 2005, involved adults.
The National Center for Missing Adults, a U.S. government-supported organization that handled more than 23,000 reports and helped nearly 25,000 family members in 2005, had its federal funding cut last year to $148,000.
In October, the organization warned it may close its doors if it did not get more funding; it did not return repeated calls recently, and it was not clear whether it was still in operation.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, in comparison, typically receives more than $35 million a year from the U.S. government.
Police say they do not have the resources to focus on every case, particularly because there is nothing in the law to prevent an adult from walking away from his friends and family.
"We cannot do for everybody that they would like us to do," said West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci, legislative chairman for the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. "We can only do what the law and our budgets allow."
Contrary to TV crime shows, he said, the FBI rarely assists in missing adult cases.
The laws proposed by Campaign for the Missing would require police to accept most missing-persons reports and to collect certain information, such as blood type and eye color.
The families also want to require police to enter all collected information, including DNA, into federal databases and to give family members updates. They also want to ban the cremation of unidentified remains.
Kelly Jolkowski helped create the Campaign for the Missing after her 19-year-old son, Jason, vanished from the family's Nebraska driveway in 2001.
"The only thing you can do is get the story out there," she says. "One of these days you're going to hit the right person."