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Missing persons

How It Feels When a Family Member Disappears

There are currently 1,600 people missing around Australia. Here are the stories of four.

Maggie Coggan

If you have any information regarding a missing person, please contact Crime Stoppers on 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).

Death usually comes with a sense of finality. Most of the time you say goodbye, mourn, and eventually move on. But not when someone you love goes missing. One day they're sitting with you at the dinner table and the next they're gone. They vanish without saying a goodbye or an explanation, and in many cases their families spend years looking while their lives are put on hold.

Every year 38,000 people are reported missing in Australia. Most of those people are found within a week, but there are still more than 1,600 who have been missing for more than three months.

Here's some stories from the relatives of just four of them. They talk about sleepless nights, searching, and how they refuse to give up.

Jeraldine Smith, sister of Leisl Smith
Leisl has been missing since August 2012

Leisl left Dad's place saying she'd be back at 5 PM, but there wasn't any indication something was wrong. I live in another state, so the last time I saw her she seemed really positive. We even talked about plans she had for the future.

A few days after she went missing, Dad got these texts from her number. We don't think they were meant for him because one of them said "I'm not going to keep your secret anymore." Then there was another one that said "I'm really sorry, please don't be angry." They were pretty confusing but they also pretty much confirmed what we thought—that she'd coordinated her own disappearance. When I think about it now there were a few things happening in Leisl's life that maybe gave us clues about her disappearance.

She'd recently had a miscarriage and wasn't coping well. The father was abusive and didn't want a bar of her or the child. We also found out later that she'd cancelled her Centrelink and bought a computer. It probably just got too much for her and we think that for whatever reason, she felt it was best to disappear without saying goodbye.

Even though it's now been five years, I definitely think she's alive. Unless I'm given irrefutable evidence, that's what I'm going to believe. But it's sad because she's missed me getting married. She's missed my first daughter being born and I often wonder if she's going through similar things that I'm missing out on. I look at people who've been searching for their family members for decades, and I just don't understand how they can do it. But then again, I thought the same thing four and a half years ago, and here I am, five years on. What's to say I won't be in the same position five years from now?

Hirut is Nazrawi Woldemichael's mum
He's been missing since October 2016

The last time the family was together was for Naz's sister's birthday. There wasn't anything weird about his behaviour, he was just his normal, polite, shy self. I spoke to him the day before he went missing too, and we organised to have lunch over the weekend. Everything was really normal. There was definitely no indication something bad would happen. We used to speak every day on the phone after I finished work, and so when he didn't pick up on the Friday, I knew something was wrong. It was just really unlike him to not pick up his phone.

There haven't been any sightings of him since October. Not even possible sightings, which sometimes makes it so hard to be positive. There are just a million scenarios running through my head and it's easy to think the worst. I don't think anyone understands how this feels until it happens and I've definitely learned this the hard way. I don't really know how to explain it to other people. My son is missing and there is nothing I can do about it.

I'm never going to give up on him, and I'm going to continue to look for him in anyway I can. This is heart-breaking, but I can't stop looking for him. I love my kids, and I know he will find a way back to us. I know he hasn't given up on us either.

Reva Chitnis, Tej Chitniss' mum
Missing since April 2016

The afternoon he went missing, Tej was meant to meet us at home so he could get ready for his dad's birthday dinner. He'd asked us to wait but then didn't show up, and we knew something was wrong.

We waited around for hours and obviously didn't go out for dinner. So then we drove around, looking for him or any clues about where he might be. I remember feeling such a strong sense of dread and disbelief, which is why we finally went to the police station. I didn't get any sleep that night. I just had no idea what to do.

As far as we knew, he was a happy, normal boy and him disappearing off the face of the earth was completely unexpected. He was going out with his friends every weekend. He had a car and a job. There was no indication anything was wrong, and if there was, he hid it incredibly well.

In the weeks following his disappearance, we found out that he hadn't been to any uni classes in a over a year. Discovering this information gave us a possible explanation as to why he might have wanted to run away. If he didn't want to study anymore, I just wish that he'd told us, because we would have understood. I mean, initially we would have been angry, but he's 21, he's allowed to not know what he wants to do.

We don't know if this is the reason he disappeared, or if something else happened. I wish I could say for sure, but I can't because I would just be speculating. I won't ever stop looking for him, or believing he's out there somewhere though. There's honestly no other option.

Gemma Tann is Martyn Tann's sister
He's been missing since April, 2013

The last time we saw Martyn, the whole family were over in Perth for my uncle's wedding. Marty was staying on in Perth for a bit longer because he was about to go travelling. But about a week after the wedding, we got a call telling us to come back to Perth. All we were told was that Marty had disappeared and he was last seen at the beach. He'd left his backpack on the sand.

At the time, we wondered if he'd been attacked by a shark. It's a possibility, but that's not what we now think happened. There were a lot of people in the surf that day and none of them saw anything. They also did a land and sea search a few days after didn't find anything either. Also apparently there was quite a strong undercurrent that day, so he should have been swept back onto the shore.

Honestly, what we think has happened is that he's gone walk-about and is now living in a remote community up in WA or the NT. Marty's a bit of a free spirit, and I guess that's what we keep hoping for. That perhaps he's gone on a bit of a personal journey to find himself.

I'm sure he has his own reasoning for not contacting home, and we just hope he's OK. It is pretty crap for us, but life goes on you know. It's just one of those things you have to deal with as in the best way you can.

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If you have any information regarding a missing person, please contact Crime Stoppers on 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).