Submitted by the Police Benevolent Association of New York State
The uncertainty and fear from having a loved one go missing is a pain that too many families endure – often for a lifetime. The 1,100 officers of the PBA of New York State (PBANYS) routinely work to reunite families of the missing, including students from the State University of New York and sportsmen and visitors who become lost or missing in state forests and parks.
In recognition of National Missing Person’s Day (Feb. 3), PBANYS members stand with the families and friends of the missing to send the message that they are not forgotten.
“While the nation officially pauses on Feb. 3 to remember those who have gone missing, the members of our union think of them daily and are driven to reunite our missing neighbors with their families,” said James McCartney, PBANYS president and University Police lieutenants’ director. “When a student or outdoor recreationist goes missing, our highly trained State University Police, forest rangers, environmental conservation officers, and Park Police work tirelessly to safely locate and reunite these vulnerable individuals with their loved ones.”
Hardly a day goes by that concerned family members don’t contact University Police reporting a missing or unreachable student. Most of the time, the student is located – whether through an electronic trace or an in-person search. Once located, it is not uncommon to learn that the student is overwhelmed and in need of assistance, and University Police officers serve as a conduit to accessing critical medical and mental health services.
Michael Mabee, associate director for PBANYS, said, “While most concerned families who reach out to us about their child reach a happy a conclusion, we cannot forget those whose children are still unaccounted for. For the University at Albany community, the names Karen Wilson (missing since 1985) and Suzanne Lyall (missing since 1998) will always hold a special place in our thoughts and prayers, and they inspire our officers to remain ever vigilant in our efforts to prevent tragedy. University Police encourage family members and friends to reach out to their campus police department whenever they are concerned about a student’s safety.”
The addition of millions of acres of public lands, combined with the pandemic – which drove record visits to state forests – has caused an increase in the number of missing persons reports filed. New York state’s forest rangers conduct hundreds of search and rescue missions for missing, injured, and stranded individuals annually. Most of these searches are successful and tragedy is averted. Sadly, this is not always the case.
New York state forest rangers became the lead agency for search and rescue missions after 8-year-old “Dougie” Legg went missing at the Santanoni Estate in Essex County on July 10, 1971. More than a thousand people joined the search for the lost boy and, while tremendous resources were brought to bear – including helicopters, infrared detection equipment, bloodhounds, and elite search teams from the West Coast – Dougie has yet to be found.
In 2015, Tom Messick, an 82-year-old hunter, was separated from his hunting party near Brant Lake and did not return to camp. An extensive search was conducted for the former 82nd Airborne paratrooper who sadly remains missing to this day. Even when people remain missing for decades, the search for evidence continues in hopes of providing closure.
Art Perryman, forest ranger director for PBANYS, said, “New York’s forest rangers conduct more than 300 search and rescue missions a year. The vast majority are successful, but we still have more than a dozen cases, including Douglas Legg and Tom Messick, that remain open because the individual was neither rescued nor recovered. If you fear someone you know has gone missing in New York’s forests, please contact us immediately with as much detail as possible. The sooner New York’s forest rangers begin searching for a missing person the greater the chance of a successful reunion.”
Environmental Conservation Police Officers Director for PBANYS Matt Krug echoed these sentiments, “The Department of Environmental Conservation has a tremendous number of resources at its disposal, including watercraft, drones and specially trained canine units. Environmental conservation officers use these resources to extend searches for the missing to riverways and coastal zones.”
New York is blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the nation, ranging from ocean shorelines, to majestic forested mountains, and unique geographic wonders including Niagara Falls. While these locations are a draw for tourists and sports recreationists alike, they are also places where troubled individuals go to escape their suffering. New York State Park Police, and their forest rangers and environmental conservation officers colleagues, frequently put their personal safety at risk to help prevent suicide attempts and help troubled individuals obtain the mental health treatment they need.
Chris Rola, Park Police superior officers director, for PBANYS, observed, “The New York State Park Police were created to help visitors enjoy the splendor of Niagara Falls, as well as protect the public from danger. These dangers include the desire to harm oneself. Park Police officers are often the only thing standing between life and death for those suffering from mental health challenges and contemplating suicide at our state’s parks and historic sites. Most of the time, we successfully intervene and get them the assistance they need. Unfortunately, we can’t always prevent tragedy and are tasked with recovering the victim’s body to provide closure for their family. Sadly, these missions leave an indelible mark on the responding officers’ hearts.”
While today is a National Day of Remembrance for those who are missing, it is also a day to recognize the loss that loved ones and first responders who conduct searches for this missing feel when a person is not found. It is a reminder to take prudent steps to prevent becoming missing by accident, and to identify the signs that someone needs help before they choose to harm themselves.
About the PBA of New York State
Established in 2011, the Police Benevolent Association of New York State is a law enforcement labor union representing the interests of approximately 1,100 members of the New York State Agency Police Services Unit (APSU). The PBA of New York State is the exclusive bargaining agent for the New York State University (SUNY) Police, the New York State Environmental Conservation Police, the New York State Park Police, and the New York State Forest Rangers. Our members police and protect New York state’s public universities and colleges; state parks and historic sites; and they enforce state laws and protect our lands and forests, and ensure environmental safety and quality throughout the state.