When Kristina Helbig’s 15-year-old half sister ran away from a drug rehabilitation center in Florida in July, her parents turned to the police. She turned to the Internet. Helbig enlisted the help of Tim Caya of Brookings, S.D., who uses his page on the social networking service MySpace to help find missing persons. Caya and Helbig created an online bulletin. Within hours, Helbig says, she got e-mails from her sister’s friends who had spotted her. One provided a phone number her sister had used to make an outgoing call. Helbig, who lives in Cleveland, used the Internet to track down the location of that phone, and then called her stepfather in Florida to say she thought she had found her missing sister.
USA Today reports that Helbig’s experience illustrates just one of the many ways individuals as well as authorities are using the power and reach of the Internet to find missing persons and hunt down wanted fugitives. Nancy McBride, national safety director for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, says the Internet has changed the way information on missing persons is disseminated to the public. Today, NCMEC can post a flier about a missing child online within an hour instead of needing days to distribute it. The FBI’s most-wanted-fugitives page gets 2 million to 3 million visitors a month and is the most popular part of the bureau’s site.