Few parents have escaped at least one of these terror-filled moments. You turn around at a store, a park or out in the yard, and suddenly there's no trace of the child who was there just seconds before. The situation's almost always resolved in seconds or minutes, but the stomach-churning, mind-numbing fear is unforgettable.
The feeling is just as strong if that missing son or daughter happens to be college-aged. Almost a year after her 19-year-old son Brandon disappeared in southwest Minnesota, Annette Swanson's voice trembles as she describes the panicked chaos after his last cell phone call home ended at 3:10 a.m. May 14. He'd driven into a ditch. The connection died. Three hours later, after finding no trace of him, the couple called law enforcement, only to find that officials did not share their sense of urgency. "They took our call and started to take down basic information. As soon as they got his age ... they literally told me he has the right to be missing,'' said Swanson. "I knew it was wrong. I know Brandon. I'm his mother and I knew something was horribly wrong.''
The Legislature is poised to take a timely, much-needed step to help families like the Swansons get the rapid response they need from law enforcement. The measure, championed by Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, would ensure missing adults in situations like Brandon's are handled with the comparable speed and resources provided by law enforcement in potential child abductions.
Fittingly known as "Brandon's Law,'' the bill would require law enforcement to take a missing person report right away and accelerate the response if the person is considered "endangered." That includes situations in which the missing person needs medical attention or when the disappearance clearly wasn't voluntary or occurred in dangerous circumstances.
"Sometimes people move without telling anyone, but in cases where an adult disappears and evidence shows they are not just running away, then we need to have a stronger, more effective search process,'' Seifert said in a statement. The House minority leader began working with Swanson's family late last year.
The measure comes at a time when there's heightened attention in Minnesota and elsewhere about marshalling resources for missing adults. The mother of missing St. Thomas student Daniel Zamlen has said St. Paul police did not do enough in the hours after he disappeared near the Mississippi River. Zamlen, who has Type I diabetes, was talking by cell phone to a friend when he reportedly said, "Oh, my gosh, Anna, where are you? Help!''
A number of other states have also recently bolstered their laws to find missing senior citizens and young adults. Florida did so last year. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the new laws have not generated complaints from local officers. That's important to note. Seifert and the Swansons worked extensively to win Minnesota law enforcement support for the bill. But there are some lingering concerns that its passage could swamp officers with missing person investigations. Florida's early experience is encouraging.
The bill essentially modernizes Minnesota's missing person laws, directing various law enforcement agencies to work together. It calls for a standardized approach to be used statewide to take missing person information.
The bill, which is supported by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, unanimously passed the House earlier this month. It deserves the same ringing endorsement from the state Senate.