Western Pa.'s missing adults easily fall off police radar
Lonnie Green was watching TV at his brother's home in the Hill District when he got up and stepped out.
He left through the front door, and his family hasn't seen him since.
Green, 61, of Bellevue wasn't acting unusual before he disappeared Dec. 4. He battled heroin and crack addiction but had been clean for months and showed no signs of relapsing, said his brother, Benny Cox.
His family reported him missing. Bellevue police entered Green into a national missing persons database, but with no leads on his whereabouts, the investigation has gone nowhere.
Several weeks ago, Cox asked for an update on his brother's case. He said the police told him there was nothing to report.
“It's really frustrating. I don't know what to do,” said Cox.
Bellevue police did not return phone messages.
When a child disappears, police scour neighborhoods and fan out with search dogs. In some cases, they issue Amber Alerts to notify the public. But when an adult goes missing, the response is less dramatic.
If there is no evidence of foul play, police won't “drop what they're doing and go search for these people,” said Jerrie Dean, a San Diego-based advocate who founded the website missingpersonsofamerica.com , which spotlights cases that have slipped under the radar.
A large percentage of missing adults are mentally ill or addicted to drugs. Law enforcement often assumes they left on their own, and experience shows they will be back in a few days. Because of this, police do not thoroughly investigate many such cases, Dean said. In cases involving children, police follow federal guidelines spelled out in the 1982 Missing Children's Act. But there is no federal mandate on how adult cases should be investigated. Protocol varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Monroeville has one adult whose name is in the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network, or CLEAN, which is the state's conduit to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, police Chief Kenneth “Doug” Cole said.
That person, James Kos, was reported missing in April 2000 at age 42.
Cole said his department takes several factors into account when determining a course of action for reports of missing adults. Those include the time of day, weather conditions, means of travel, mental health, age, evidence of assault and any history of drug abuse, Cole said.
“You gotta look at the whole big picture,” he said.
The search for a missing child begins right away. But some agencies wait up to three days before listing an adult as missing, said Thomas Lauth, a private detective in Indianapolis who specializes in missing person investigations.
“The unfortunate part of adult cases is they are ignored,” he said.
It isn't that law enforcement doesn't care, it's that many police departments are understaffed, said LaDonna Humphrey, president of Let's Bring Them Home, an Arkansas-based advocacy group for missing adults.
According to the FBI, there are more than 83,000 active missing person cases in the United States.
“They're overwhelmed,” Humphrey said. “There's always another case, there's never enough hours in a day, and there isn't enough funding.”
Some adults go missing four or five times. That's frustrating for law enforcement, Humphrey said.
Others decide to start a new life elsewhere. On Aug. 2, 1999, Joseph Rusiski blew his wife a kiss as he left for work, then vanished without a trace.
Rusiski lived in Shaler but worked Downtown. He had suffered a nervous breakdown five years before he disappeared and was no longer under the care of a psychiatrist.
In March 2002, police in Corvallis, Ore., stopped Rusiski after he ran a stop sign on his bicycle. Officers did a background check and found him listed in a missing persons database.
He was working at a restaurant and went by the name Michael. He did not face any charges related to his disappearance.
“That's why those cases are handled differently,” Shaler police Lt. Sean Frank said. “Sometimes adults just want to be on their own. If they're of sound mind, they can make a decision to not be around people.”
It often falls to the family to ensure a case is pursued. When Joseph Kamon, 52, disappeared in late January, his relatives called Shaler police every day to see if there was a break in the case.
Officers searched surveillance footage for clues and called Greyhound, Amtrak and Yellow Cab to see if Kamon bought a ticket out of town. Each lead was ruled out, but family members knew the police were trying.
It took “constant nagging,” said Kamon's 28-year-old son, Joseph J. Kamon.
When someone goes missing, the family believes police will “scour the world. But it doesn't work that way,” Kamon said. “We had to be proactive on our side. That's just the long and short of it.”
Frank agreed families need to be persistent. Officers juggle multiple cases. They pay greater attention when a relative calls or stops by the station, Frank said.
Kamon was found dead Feb. 9 near his workplace on the South Side. The medical examiner ruled his death a suicide.
On a rainy Saturday in March, several of Lonnie Green's relatives gathered at his apartment in Bellevue.
They packed up his belongings and loaded everything into the back of a tan Ford F150 pickup. Green's rent hadn't been paid since he disappeared in December. His landlord was cool about it, his relatives said, but they decided it was time.
“It is a sad day,” said Green's daughter, Juane Sanders. “We want closure.”
The family posted fliers in grocery stores and laundromats across town, but they can't afford to hire a private investigator or offer a reward.
“We don't know what to do,” said Cox, Green's brother. “We're praying that he turns up somewhere.”
Staff writer Tory N. Parrish contributed to this report. Tony Raap is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.