Most missing people are found, but some families never get answers
A Brentwood man left home with his bus pass, winter coat and house keys in January 2008 and never returned.
A young Ross mother was not home when her children returned from school on Sept. 26 and remains missing today.
A teenager told friends that she was heading to Florida with a boyfriend in March and has not spoken to those friends since.
The three cases are exceptions.
Investigators have many tools to find missing people, and in most cases, they are found safe and sound, police say. Some cases end in tragedy, like that of James Slack, 25, of Bridgeville, whose body was found this week in the Ohio River, the details of his death a mystery, and Karissa Kunco, 21, of Baldwin Borough, whose estranged boyfriend has been charged in her death.
Still other families never get answers.
"You have to have hope, but along with hope, you keep thinking there's a big disaster that's going to come," said Christine DiDiano, 51, of Brookline, mother of Alivia Kail.
Kail's case is the only missing person case of about a dozen reported to county police in 2011 that remains open, said Lt. Jeffrey Korczyk.
Kail, 19, went to pick up clothes from her brother's house in West Mifflin on March 4 and said she was heading back to Florida. She had just returned from a trip there, said DiDiano. Then the teenager disappeared.
Investigators can track missing people through cell phones and bank activity. Missing person databases also help, as does DNA.
But Kail did not have her cell phone or any bank cards.
"You're mourning for a missing person," DiDiano said. "Those questions you ask day after day don't get answered. You're living a disaster."
Baldwin Borough police immediately tracked Kunco's whereabouts by using her cell phone when her mother reported her missing on Jan. 11. Kunco's body was discovered the next day with her throat cut, and police used surveillance video of her ex-boyfriend, Jordan Clemons, 22, using the bank cards she carried, to charge him in her death. She was buried on Jan. 17.
Slack's cell phone also provided a major clue when Pittsburgh police missing person Detective Will Fleske began investigating his disappearance. The last known location of Slack's cell phone was in the area of Stage AE on the North Shore early on Dec. 7. Slack talked to an ex-girlfriend at about 1:45 a.m., and then the trail went cold.
"Most people can't live without their cell phones or bank cards," said Fleske. "If there's no activity, then there's usually something wrong."
Slack was entered as a missing person into NCIC, a national crime information network. A search of the riverbank starting from where the cell phone record last placed him yielded nothing, as did a check of nearby video surveillance cameras.
This week, an operator of a RiverQuest boat spotted Slack's body along the shoreline of the Ohio River near the Carnegie Science Center. Slack had his wallet and cell phone. His funeral is scheduled for Monday. The cause of his death awaits toxicology test results.
Slack was one of the few truly missing people among the cases reported to Pittsburgh police last year.
"It's an extremely high percentage of people who are missing willingly," Fleske said, citing as an example a wife who has repeatedly reported her husband missing when he's overnight at a casino.
Police took 1,580 missing person cases in 2011 and cleared 1,533 of them, a rate of 97 percent.
Still, police have to investigate.
In 2001, a man called the Belle Vernon barracks of the state police and reported his wife missing, state police Trooper Robin Mungo said. Investigators tracked her to the home of a New Jersey man less than a week later, where she had gone voluntarily.
"You have a right as an adult to leave and not tell anyone," Mungo said. "It would make things easier if you left a note."
Joseph A. Krainak Jr. of Brentwood disappeared after leaving work at Burlington Coat Factory on Jan. 16, 2008. Police immediately checked his home. They found Krainak's glasses and wallet, with his money and bank cards, on a dresser, Brentwood police Chief Robert Butelli said. They checked a nearby wooded area, a park, a library, bus stops -- "everywhere there's a possibility he would've gone to. ... We just came to a dead end on everything."
In recent cases, police are increasingly turning to DNA and online databases to locate missing people. Kail and Jamie Peterson, 30, the Ross mother who disappeared in September, have profiles in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, an online database with profiles of missing people and unidentified remains.
There have been bodies found in other states that police suspected might be Kail, but the DNA did not match, Korczyk said.
"It's still our hope she's somewhere, but it doesn't look very good," Korczyk said. "There's been no contact by any of her family or friends since the time she disappeared."