- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2001

Suzanne Lyall was a sweet-faced college sophomore when she was last seen stepping off a city bus at the Albany campus of the State University of New York on March 2, 1998.
Campus police, thinking she had stayed with a friend, started looking for her, but waited almost 48 hours before telling state police she had disappeared. Her family, stuck in an endless nightmare, argues the time lost was crucial. Miss Lyall has not been found.
Miss Lyall, then 19, like District intern Chandra Levy, 24, presented officers with a challenge many face when dealing with missing persons in their 20s. What's the best way to deal with a missing person who is legally an adult, but socially not unlike a teen-ager?
While some young adults are abducted, others run off, forging a new identity with their newfound independence and money in their pockets. Others kill themselves and are not found for months. Regardless of the circumstance, because they are older than 18, it's often more difficult to find them.
"Every adult has the right to disappear," said Kym Pasqualini, founder of the Center for Missing Adults in Phoenix. "And we respect that right."
As of June 1, the FBI was investigating 98,456 missing-persons cases. The largest age group of missing persons — 39,224 — were ages 15 through 17. The second-largest group — 17,598 — was between the ages of 18 and 29. Youths 10 through 14 were the third-largest group — 14,033.
Missing adults, Miss Pasqualini said, do not get the focus — or the resources — that children and teens do.
"When people think of the word 'missing,' they think of children that have been victimized," she said. "It pulls at America's heartstrings. That sensitivity for missing adults is not there."
Miss Pasqualini said missing persons older than 30 are more likely to be men. Missing persons 18 through 30, she said, are more likely to be women.
Andrea Gibby, executive director of Child Quest International, based in San Jose, Calif., said young women are often abducted by acquaintances.
"Oftentimes, young women become very comfortable with people that they meet," she said. "At that age, you're not thinking about danger as much as you should."
Those abducted by strangers, she said, are rarely seen alive again.
Not all missing persons are abducted. Emotional or mental health issues, such as depression, can cause young adults to run away. Cathleen Carolan, marketing manager for the Chicago-based National Runaway Switchboard, said many runaways leave home because of problems with their families. Others simply leave.
"Some kids just decide they're old enough to try this, and see what happens," she said. "It's not typical behavior, but it's not out of the ordinary. Kids just say, 'Let's see what the world is like,' and they go."
Those cases are agonizing for families, said Stephen Miller, deputy director of operations for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations.
"There are family members desperate to find out if their loved ones are OK, or all right, or why they vanished off the face of the earth," he said. "The not-knowing issue is probably the toughest thing for the families to deal with."

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