Finding Missing

Missing Amnesiacs of Ohio

In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, Amnesia is a defect in memory which can be caused by any number of things from trauma to brain diseases, even certain medications or drugs. There are two main forms of amnesia: Retrograde Amnesia, in which all memories before a particular point cannot be remembered; and Anterograde Amnesia, in which new memories cannot be formed (or better put, memories cannot go from the short term stage to long-term.)

Most of what we understand about Amnesia tends to come from television or movies, where the subject occasionally comes up in a plot point. Perhaps the main character can’t remember something so he tries to solve the mystery of his or her missing memories. Or, maybe it’s a comic relief character that gets hit in the head and suddenly can’t remember things. 

In the real world, Amnesia does tend to happen, although it’s rarely like it is on television or in the movies. 

Recently, I’ve been looking at missing person cases in Ohio (I even already wrote about one) and I saw something that was very surprising – and that was the number of times “Amnesia” was blamed for a missing person. On a basic level, it went something like this: Person A isn’t where they are supposed to be and someone reports them missing to the police. When the cops arrive, if there are no obvious clues to what happened to Person A, they seem to think the person has “Amnesia” and will likely come back in a day or two once they remember who they are.

The first time I heard this, I wanted to blame lazy law enforcement officers who, it seemed, would rather walk away saying “Amnesia” than spending any time investigating a disappearance. But, then I saw it again, and again, and again, and … It started to make me wonder if there was something more going on.

Why did Ohio have so many missing Amnesiacs?  (Or, so many lazy law enforcement officers?)

Looking At The Trends

I started by reviewing the cases where I saw Amnesia being blamed for a missing person and looking for similarities, and at first glace, there were none. Some were males, some females. One or two were children, a few were college kids, and some were adults. Some cases were in cities or large metropolitan areas, while a few occurred in more rural communities.

But, there was something in many (but not all) of these cases and that was, to put it bluntly, a lack of evidence. These were often cases where there was little to no physical evidence pointing to any crimes or any information that could lead detectives to the whereabouts of the missing person in question. In a way, it did kind of look like someone just walked away from whatever situation they were in, on their own. It’s hard for a lot of us to justify any reason why someone would do this, but is “amnesia” really the answer?

I was surprised to learn just how many people are reported missing every year. According to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office, 22,374 people were reported as missing last year (2023), which is only a slight increase (1,757) from the year before. Of those, 17,405 were children. Now, before you get too depressed, 17,033 of those children were found safe and returned home before the end of the year. Then again, the 2023 report also said that there were 2,520 people of any age reported missing where there is a reasonable safety concern. 

The vast majority of these cases (9,469 ) were runaway children. 35 children were reportedly taken by a noncustodial parent. 15 children were abducted by strangers. And, there were 6 reports of children between the ages of 18 and 21.

Still, no matter how you look at it – the numbers are staggering.

I suppose it’s also worth noting that there isn’t a single case in the 2023 report where a missing person temporarily had amnesia and returned once their memories had returned. Last year’s report didn’t have a single case, either. Or, the 2021 report, the 2020 report … 

Crime and Amnesia

Even as far back as the mid 1880s, newspapers reported on amnesia in relation to crime – usually the acts of “alcoholic stupor” or “alleged amnesia” – or drunk jerks blaming alcoholic “amnesia” for not remembering all the illegal stuff they did the night before. In more modern times, amnesia has been blamed for even further crimes – people claiming amnesia as an excuse for not paying their bills, it had been used in a few murder cases (usually where the person arrested claims not to remember what happened) – even a bigamist who when arrested claimed not to remember that he was already married because amnesia.

Amnesia was also mentioned in quite a few stories involving missing people, although this manifested in a couple of ways. While there were a hefty number of incidents where a missing person was said to have walked off in an amnesiac episode, the reverse seems to be true, too. Police had a number of “amnesia victims” in custody (even when they had not committed a crime) as they searched for clues to the person’s identity.

Occasionally, the “amnesia victims’ “ true identity would become known through dogged police work or sometimes just luck. Sometimes the fate of the victim was left unknown. And, sometimes, and I suspect this happened more often than not, the “amnesia victim” would admit that it was all a ruse because they didn’t want to go home for a wide variety of reasons. Today, we can look back at those amnesia cases (knowing a lot more about what causes amnesia and how it actually works) and there is a lot of room for doubt. Yes, there might actually be a few cases where the amnesia was, in fact, legitimate, but in the vast majority of them … it’s either hard to say, or there’s not much written about how these stories conclude to know, for sure, one way or another.

Missing Amnesiacs of Ohio?

Now I am starting to see this issue from a slightly different perspective. When I first heard about law enforcement officers saying that missing people were likely people with amnesia who had walked away from their lives, I really wanted to blame lazy detectives. Now, after seeing the number of people who show up somewhere and claim they can’t remember who they are – it is starting to make sense. However, I still want to blame laziness for nearly every account I’ve looked into.

While I was able to find quite a few documented cases where someone claims to have amnesia and is later reunited with family or spouse (even if many did admit later, in one form or another, that they had been making it up) I was having a rather hard time finding examples of the other side of the coin – cases that got resolved where the police said the missing person just had amnesia and would return soon … and the person actually returned.

Is there a single case in Ohio where a person with amnesia was gone for a few days, then returned once their memories came back? Any at all? No…?

The Missing People of Ohio

Before I close this post I want to talk a bit more about the people in Ohio who have gone missing because it is a rather serious subject and I want to make sure it gets the attention it deserves. See, I knew that the number of people who were reported missing was high, but I didn’t think it was going to be THAT high. 

The numbers I talked about above include everyone who had been reported missing, adults and children (unless expressly specified). The largest number of these cases are from runaway children, and the vast majority of these are relatively quickly resolved. Sadly, I had to say “vast majority” because not all runaway children are found. 

Seeing the numbers of how many children get abducted every year from the state of Ohio is equally as sobering. Of these, the greatest number of cases appears to be children taken by non-custodial parents, and once again, these cases tend to be fairly quickly resolved. That being said, there are still a number of unresolved cases.

And one missing person case is one case too many.

So … what can we do about it?

The number one thing I can say is … if you see something, say something. Don’t be afraid to get involved, and don’t be afraid of being wrong. The most important thing here is the safety of children. If you see something that’s a bit off, and you say something, and it turns out everything was okay, then great. No harm done (beyond a bruised ego or two). At least we know everyone is safe. On the other hand, what if you saw something and the child was being harmed. 

The other thing I want to say is that there are resources, and I want to share a few of them with you.

The Ohio Amber Plan – So far this year, the Ohio Amber alert has been activated six times, and the year isn’t even half over yet. But, it has proven to be a valuable tool in getting the word out when there is an active missing child search. 

Ohio Missing Adult Alerts – This one is like the Amber Alerts, except it’s for adults with mental defects or those over the age of 65.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – Founded in 1984, this non-profit organization helps find missing and exploited kids, and has a ton of resources to help.

NAMUS- the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System – NAMUS is a nationwide resource center whose goal it is to put a name to all unidentified people, as well as provide resources for missing person cases.

Ohio Careline – If you are in Ohio and need help, you can call the Ohio Careline at 1-800-720-9616 and they can help you find whatever resources you need, no matter what problems you’re facing.

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