The National Center for Missing Adults’ Funding Was Slashed by the Feds, but Volunteers Are Keeping It Alive

Last year, Kym Pasqualini's nonprofit agency ran out of money.

For 15 years, the National Center for Missing Adults helped track the thousands of adults who go missing in this country every year — and did its best to reconnect them with their families. The agency operated on roughly $1 million annually, thanks to a federal grant.

But in 2005, the bipartisan bill that initially funded the grant expired. With no explanation, Congress failed to reauthorize it.

Kym Pasqualini hasn't been paid in two years.
Tony Blei
Kym Pasqualini hasn't been paid in two years.

For two years, Pasqualini and her employees stayed alive by trimming operations, cutting services, taking pay cuts — and waiting for Congress to get its act together. By the fall of 2007, they were completely out of money.

I wrote a column about it at the time. I was touched by Pasqualini's story — a single mom from a hardscrabble background, she'd built the agency from nothing through hard work and a real passion for the people she was helping. So many people want to get involved when a cute child disappears, but Pasqualini had just as much passion for the cases that are ignored by law enforcement (and we media types, too). The mentally ill man whose family is worried sick. The troubled 20-something drifter.

Pasqualini knew, firsthand, how valuable her work was. She was obviously having trouble processing the fact that the government couldn't manage to cough up a lousy $1 million a year to keep the organization going.

After I wrote the column, I'd occasionally get updates about the status of Kristen's Act, the bill that would reauthorize funding for the center. (When it originally passed in 2000, the bill was named for Kristen Modafferi, a missing 18-year-old from North Carolina.) There was finally a hearing last summer, and I was pleased to see that the quality of the work done by the National Center for Missing Adults wasn't the issue. Pasqualini's work was praised. It's also been lauded in a recent report from the Congressional Research Service.

The House of Representatives finally approved reauthorization of Kristen's Act in September. But when it got to the Senate, it just . . .  died. Four months later, it still hasn't gotten a hearing.

So I assumed Kym Pasqualini was moving on. She was broke 15 months ago. As a single mom, she surely had no choice; she'd have to give up the missing and go back to some form of gainful employment.

But last month, I met up with Pasqualini again, and I was absolutely floored by what she told me.

She's still doing the work.

No one has been paid in well over a year. But Pasqualini and three other volunteers have been spending dozens of hours each week trying to keep up the agency's database and deal with new missing-persons reports as they come in.

And, yes, the reports continue to come.

Tom Lauth, a private investigator in Indianapolis, has taken on the task of answering the phones and assisting families as they call in to report new disappearances. (His wife, Ratana, an engineer, also helps.) Pasqualini enters information about each new missing person into the agency's online database. Jason Smathers, an IT consultant in the Mohave Valley, donates technical support for the both the database and the phone system.

Pasqualini is, literally, broke. She faces liens from the IRS, personally and organizationally. But she just can't walk away.

"I don't want to stop this," Pasqualini says. "We do good. And we have friends out there we've worked with for 15 years. They still need us."

Honestly, I don't know whether to be impressed by her resiliency or horrified that things have come to this.

We all admire sacrifice. But this, I think, is a little bit crazy. No one would blame this agency for giving up.

No one, perhaps, except each and every one of us — if someone we loved went missing.

Last month, the National Center for Missing Adults received 500 phone calls. That's 500 families reporting a disappearance, needing help, and desperate to talk to a real, live person.

"That was something we always prided ourselves on," Kym Pasqualini tells me. "When a call came in, someone always answered the phone. Someone was there to help." These days, they're more likely to get voicemail. Although Lauth is quick to return calls, it's the best he can do. Some days, he'll handle as many as 30 calls.

This is the surreal part of the center's long, slow goodbye: Even as the agency has been stripped of funding, more and more law enforcement professionals are harnessing its services. Thanks to a push from families of missing adults, a growing number of states now require the police to tell people about the center when they file a missing-persons report. Just last year, Illinois became the sixth state, by my count, to do so.

It's an excellent idea. (The police seldom have the time to investigate all but the most suspicious disappearances.) But it means more and more work, and just a few harried volunteers to do it.

The agency's terrible finances have led to a near-unending series of crises. The center couldn't afford to keep its office suite in Peoria, so it moved to a much smaller office in Phoenix. Even that proved too much, so the agency moved the giant mainframe computer that houses its database to the Glendale Police Department. But, Lauth says, the department was nervous about keeping such a valuable piece of equipment without insurance — and the center couldn't afford insurance.

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I am impressed by all you do. I am in the process of trying to connect with the missing childrens organization. I mentioned this to my boss and he mentioned to me that our company has made some buttons for your organization, he gave me your name and here I am reading this incredible story. Kym I may have a way to help, its in the infant stages however with such an amazing person as yourself and what you and your volunteers do, it would be wonderful to meet you. and share my idea. To be honest I didn`t realize there was an organization such as National Center for Missing Adults, now I am aware. please contact me if you would like to meet. God Bless you and Everyone who is apart of the National Center for Missing Adults for you are all angels to those you help. Dee in Phoenix Az

Janet Forte
Janet Forte

Wow, I can't believe the sacrifices Kym Pasqualini has made. Thank you so much Kym, Jason, Thomas and all the fine volunteers who are helping the NCMA stay afloat. I'm a huge supporter of the NCMA and had no idea of the crisis they're in. I'd really hate to see them have to close their doors. They benefit too many people to just sit back and not do anything. To start, I've created a Facebook group to support the NCMA, please join if you're on Facebook.

Also, I've created a fundraiser on Firstgiving,

I'm also spreading the word on Twitter and numerous social networking sites. I urge everyone to do the same.

Janet Forte (@yogini)Spokesperson for Missing mother, Lilly Aramburohttp://justiceinmiami.blogspot...


Appalling is an understatement. Shame on Congress shame on this country. This could happen to you or me Oh wait it did happen to me. My uncle went missing 15 years ago. I had to watch my grandmother pass without saying goodbye to her son. Do you know how that feels. Well there are far more of us out their than this government would like to acknowledge. I worked for NCMA and they helped people the everyday person as well as the wealthy and the poor we had a very diverse group that relied on us and now we are lucky to help a single person. There was a celebrity that had her several members of her family go missing not that long ago Yes they turned up as Homicide victims and then they enter a whole different statistic. However I have about 200 files in my home office that are all Homicides, accidental Deaths and Undetermined causes of death that were all "missing People" at one time. Someone should care other than those affected.

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