Gone Missing

It may be the end of the road for the Phoenix-based Center for Missing Adults

Arizona isn't one of them, but it's benefited especially from Pasqualini's efforts. Glendale Police Detective Roger Geisler says that Pasqualini's organization has been "invaluable." Not only does it train law enforcement officers to deal with missing adults, but its workers also soothe worried families and handle media interviews. In local cases, they even take over door-to-door canvassing.

"The personnel Kym brings out know what questions to ask, and they spot the little red flags that pop up," Geisler says. "These are things a regular citizen wouldn't know how to do — and it frees our officers up to deal with leads and do detective work."

Police officers say they know of no other agency that does the work handled by Pasqualini's center. "There are not very many people who speak up for adults," Geisler says. "It would be a great loss to the citizens of Phoenix to lose Kym."

Kym Pasqualini is the person whom cops call when an adult disappears.
Tony Blei
Kym Pasqualini is the person whom cops call when an adult disappears.

Phoenix Police Sergeant Mary Roberts agrees. Her unit gets 10,000 reports of missing people every year. About 3,000 of them are adults.

"They are an unbelievable resource and tool for us," she says of the center. "What they do for the families . . . There is no way we have the time to sit on the phone and give any kind of empathy at all. Kym's organization does that. And they care. They actually care."

So why is the agency about to go under? Politics.

When Kristen's Act first passed in 2000, it was pushed by a Republican congresswoman, passed by a Republican House, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. But the atmosphere in Washington has turned so poisonous that today's Democrat-run Judiciary Committee refuses even to schedule a hearing to reauthorize it.

One problem, perhaps, is the center's mission. Everyone gets excited about helping children, but it's too easy to assume that all missing adults are lowlifes. We forget about the straight-A college students who vanish, the Alzheimer's patients who have no idea how to fend for themselves, the freak accidents that lead to people disappearing without a trace.

Consider this: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children gets close to $35 million annually in government grants. Even in the heyday of Kristen's Act, Pasqualini's organization maxed out at $936,000. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children pays more than that every year in payroll taxes alone!

"The focus right now is on missing children, which is good because so many of them are victimized and vulnerable," says Dr. Phil Randolph, president emeritus of Glendale Community College and the father of a missing young woman. "But in many cases, a missing adult is also somebody's child . . . The fact that [the Center for Missing Adults] is about to lose their funding leaves me incredulous."

One of Pasqualini's biggest problems is that she's not political. She got into her line of work because she sympathized with the families. She gets along marvelously with cops, too.

But she isn't savvy in the ways of Washington. She's never had a lobbyist or a professional fundraiser. She was at first leery of talking to New Times, telling a friend that she didn't want to "bite the hand that feeds me."

"Kym," the friend retorted, "you're not getting fed!"

When I called a Judiciary Committee staffer last week to inquire why the bill hadn't been scheduled for a hearing, he didn't even know what I was talking about — that's how far off the radar the Center for Missing Adults is in D.C. And while Pasqualini considers Congressman Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, her top supporter, Pastor declined to talk to me about the organization. His press secretary e-mailed a statement he'd made previously, calling for the reauthorization to be approved, but that's clearly not enough. Now is a time when the issue needs some real heat. Pastor could easily get on TV channels across the Valley agitating for the bill to go through — something I've seen plenty of Democrats doing for SCHIP, the controversial children's insurance program. That simply isn't happening when it comes to the Center for Missing Adults.

And now it might be too late.

This year, according to the nonprofit group Citizens Against Government Waste, the federal government managed to find $4 million to build a train from the North Pole to a town with fewer than 1,000 people. It earmarked $4.5 million for products using shrimp heads. Hell, if you want to talk about big bucks, the feds are spending $1.2 billion this year alone on fighter jets.

No one can find a million dollars a year for the only agency in the country devoted to finding missing adults?

We'd all better hope we don't ever have a family member go missing.

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