When someone in the U.S. is missing, the first call is usually to the police, one of the nation's nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies that are responsible for investigating each case [source: FBI].
In recent years, the federal government has created four missing persons databases to help investigators in their pursuits: the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP).
The NCIC is maintained by the FBI to give federal, state and local police access to cross-agency information to help them crack their cases. CODIS assembles nationwide DNA information obtained from unidentified remains and relatives of missing persons. IAFIS is a national fingerprint database and ViCAP is designed to collect and analyze information in crimes like homicide, rape, kidnappings and missing persons cases [source: Ritter].
Besides these government resources, a number of non-profit organizations have sprung up to help ease the backlog -- and heartache -- so common in these cases.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) was established in 1984 to prevent child abduction, as well as find those who are already missing. The organization, based in Alexandria, Va., provides a range of services, from operating a 24-hour hotline to field reports of missing children and tips on ongoing cases to training police and government officials on how to investigate cases involving children [source: NCMEC].
The North American Missing Persons Network (NAMPN) is a volunteer-run Web site launched in January 2005 to help highlight cases of missing persons in Canada and the U.S [source: NAMPN]. Its sister site, The Doe Network, is a volunteer group dedicated to helping police solve cold cases by listing them on its Web site, getting media attention and matching missing persons cases with unidentified body cases [source: Doe Network].
Want to help? Read on to find out how to get involved.