Reprinted With Permission of Author
Too Old To Be A ''Missing Child''
Dateline: February 8, 1999
Updated: November 22, 2002
Bryan Nisenfeld, a freshman at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, hasn't
been seen since February 6, 1997. He was already missing six days (with his door
unlocked and his stereo on) when campus security notified the police, and even then
his disappearance was assumed to have been voluntary. A local newspaper's
coverage of the case, while giving facts supporting both the "runaway" and "foul play"
possibilities, is titled "Did Roger Williams Freshman Bryan Nisenfeld Deliberately
Disappear", and is framed by the story of Persephone, daughter of the Greek
goddess Demeter: a girl thought to have been abducted by the god of the
Underworld, but in fact left on her own because, as a new adult, she needed to be
free of her parent.
Now obviously, you've got a reporter who took classical literature classes in college
and wants to get some use out of them -- but it also illustrates a problem: Since
college students are adults, and colleges are no longer considered in loco parentis
(taking the place of parents), they have every right to disappear for days on end
without notifying anybody. And many do.
Bryan's case illustrates several problems:
·College-age disappearances aren't taken seriously;
·The National Child Search Act of 1990, prohibiting law enforcement agencies from
imposing a waiting period before declaring a child lost, only applies to children 17
·Schools regard campus crime as internal matters;
·and schools don't want campus crime publicized -- to outsiders, to the press, or
even to its student body.
While there are exceptions, one survey found that 75% of all campus crime goes
unreported by the colleges.
According to this article, Roger Williams University seems to be "overly controlling the
flow of information" about Bryan's disappearance, even (allegedly) instructing tour
guides to tell prospective students, if asked, that Bryan was actually "safe at home
with his parents".
Steven Nisenfeld, Bryan's father, has proposed "Bryan's Law", which would require
colleges to notify the police immediately when a student is believed missing. A March
13 letter he wrote about his progress is reprinted here.
The investigation into the disappearance of Kristin Smart, too, was hampered by her
school's delay in notifying police: in this case, California Polytechnic State University
waited over a month. The last anybody saw 19-year-old Kristin, in May of 1996, she
was walking home from a party with a man she'd met there.
The male student, Paul Flores, gave conflicting stories about the black eye he had
the next day, claims he has no knowledge of what happened to Kristin, and refuses
to cooperate with the investigation. Because of the school's delay in reporting
Kristin's disappearance, Flores was permitted to clear out his room before any
Kristine Kupka was a pregnant, 28-year-old Baruch College (New York City) student
when she disappeared in late October. She'd spent the afternoon with Darshanand
("Rudy") Persaud, the father of her unborn child (who had since married another
woman). He claims he dropped her off a few blocks from her house because she
wanted to do some shopping. As with Paul Flores, he's as close as the police have to
a suspect -- but without evidence, he's not a suspect.
A brief account of Kristine's case is here. A New York Magazine article, which
discusses her life in great detail, is here.
Last May, Wharton Business School student Shannon Schieber was raped and
murdered in her apartment. The police were called when a neighbor reported her
screams -- but when they knocked on her door and nobody answered, they left.
Not surprisingly, Shannon's parents are suing the Philadelphia Police Department: If
the police had broken down her door, they might have both saved Shannon AND
caught her attacker.
At first, suspicion fell upon Shannon's ex-boyfriend, who'd been stalking her. She'd
complained to University police, but no action was taken. This all became moot,
however, when DNA tests cleared the boyfriend, and more recent tests proved that
her killer had been responsible for the rapes of at least two other women.
In 1997, Adam Prentice died under unusual circumstances on the Amherst campus of
the University of Massachusetts. This is his mother's account of both the incident and
her attempts to find out what really happened.
Suzanne Lyall was last seen March 2, 1998, getting off a bus on the campus of the
State University of New York at Albany. According to the manager of the store in
which she worked, she was being stalked -- via email -- by somebody who was
making her very uncomfortable. The police later confirmed that this stalking was
On March 3, her ATM card was used in a local machine, with her password properly
punched in. Only $200 was withdrawn.
[February 26, 1999 Update: According to the Albany Times-Union, investigators are
finally referring to this case as a "homicide investigation" rather than a missing
Kristen Modafferi was three weeks past her 18th birthday when she disappeared in
the San Francisco/Oakland (California) area in June of 1997, so most "missing
children" lists wouldn't register her. Another difficulty they face is that they live in
North Carolina, so even something as simple as handing out fliers to people on the
street requires a cross-country flight.
January 25, 2000: The same day 7-year-old Xiana Fairchild went missing, and in a
neighboring town, 38-year-old Ping Wang was reported missing by her family. Unlike
Xiana's case, there was no media attention, no armies of volunteers looking for the
mother of two. Her body was found five weeks later.
In February, Kristen's Act, which Kristen Modafferi's parents have been fighting for
for over a year, will be debated by the House of Representatives. It would authorize
federal funds to looks for missing persons over the age of 18, if there's a reason to
believe they're at risk.
Spring, 2002: On January 10, 2002, 19-year-old Texas college student Rachel
Cooke disappeared within blocks of her parents' home. Although she lived on her
own and was only visiting her parents, police insisted on treating her, at least for the
first few days, as a runaway. As I write this five months later, the search for Rachel
October/November, 2002: Over a ten-day period around Halloween, four young
Minnesota adults disappeared, all at night, all after leaving parties or bars. What
finally caught the national media's attention? The fact that there might have been a
pattern. An All Info About Crime article about these cases is here.
Other Missing Children and Adults
A continuously-updated list
With rare exceptions, our "Missing" page lists children and adults who have been
abducted or are thought to have been abducted -- but not runaways or children
abducted by non-custodial parents who are not believed to be endangered. If you
know of any children or adults who should be added to this list, or if you have any
new information on somebody who is already listed, please let me know
(firstname.lastname@example.org). The page is updated continuously.
Copyright © 1999 - Barbara Prentice
Copyright © 1999 - 2004 - Bill Bickel
The opinions expressed in the article belong to the authors.