As efforts to find missing nurse Kerran Baker continue, police revealed this week that an average of 148 people a year have been reported missing in Cayman in the last three years.
As of 24 August this year, according to police, of the 92 people who have been reported missing in the Cayman Islands, all have been located except for Ms Baker who was last seen on 30 July and mother-of-five Anna Evans who disappeared from her place of employment at the George Town Landfill in early January.
Last year, 150 people were reported missing, compared to 164 in 2009 and 131 in 2008 – an average of 148 a year. In the vast majority of those cases, the missing people are located within 24 hours, police said.
Police say there are seven outstanding missing person cases in Cayman – Ms Baker, Ms Evans and five others, Michelle Wood, Raynel Wood, Astor Range, Joshua Gilman, Jamie Avila, who are believed to have been lost at sea in January 2009.
“In terms of the total number of missing persons, there is barely a week goes by that we don’t have a missing person reported to us,” said John Jones, Royal Cayman Islands Police Chief superintendent.
He said, “It’s very rare for us to have a situation where we have a missing person outstanding on these islands.”
Many of these missing person reports involve troubled teens who run away from home or from the Bonaventure Boys Home or Francis Bodden Girls Home and several “repeatedly go missing”, Mr. Jones said.
Wild weekend nights also account for several missing person reports.
“It is not uncommon, especially at weekends, that you get people who go off and have a good time and don’t bother to tell people where they are going, either because they don’t want them to know where they are or they are incapable of letting them know where they are,” Mr. Jones said.
He described some missing person cases, especially the repeat cases, as being “frustrating” for police as they have to physically verify that an individual has been found in each case.
“We have a set missing person policy where … we don’t classify a person as found until [a police officer has] physically seen them and spoken to them,” he said.
The chief superintendent said police cannot afford to become complacent about those youngsters who frequently disappear for a day or two because they are usually among the most vulnerable in the community “in terms of who they are likely to mix with and what trouble they are likely to get themselves into”.
In most cases, the people who are missing show up within about 24 hours, usually of their own accord. However, in certain situations, police will appeal to the public for help in finding a missing person, based on a risk assessment of the situation.
Mr. Jones said, “Certain factors may result in us going straight to the media saying we are worried about a person, for example, if it’s a very young child … With the Kerran Baker case, the circumstances in which Kerran went missing, it just seemed out of the norm.”
Ms Baker, 25, was reported missing by a friend who entered her Bodden Town home and found full bags of groceries lying open on her kitchen counter. She had last been seen shopping at Foster’s at the airport at 7pm that day. Her car was later found abandoned at Pedro St. James with car keys that fit the vehicle nearby.
In cases where a person is missing for a long period of time or in suspicious circumstances, police employ methods, techniques and lines of inquiry outlined in a “murder investigation manual” that is used in murder cases.
“When we get a missing person report, there are the obvious things we do to try to trace the person. If there is some suspicion, if [the disappearance] is out of place or out of character, we would head up a major incident [using] the lines of inquiry based principally on the murder manual,” Mr. Jones said.
“For instance, we would look at telephony, finance, immigration and other agencies, CCTV, house to house, forensic examinations, searches – all these things go into some depth. If and when we get to a point where we suspect strongly that someone is responsible for the disappearance, first and foremost, the families will be told and we will take appropriate action,” Mr. Jones said.
Although police standing orders stipulate that officers with the Criminal Investigation Department are required to investigate all reports of missing persons 24 hours after receiving the first report, or immediately if the missing person is younger than 16, Mr. Jones said police always classify a person as missing from the moment a report is received from a member of the public.
“As such, there is no set period of time before we officially classify someone as missing,” he said.
Police came under fire in March 2009 when the family of 21-year-old Sabrina Schirn reported her missing. The family, upset that police did not appear to be taking Ms Schirn’s disappearance seriously, distributed their own missing person posters and flyers throughout the Island. Ms Schirn’s body was found by family members six days after she was reported missing at Northward Prison’s Wilderness Farm in East End. An inmate of the prison, Randy Martin, was convicted of her murder.
Police last year implemented a new missing persons investigations policy that set out the various levels of response police can make to missing person reports, depending on how serious they consider the incident.