Vanished: Myrtle Beach Police talk challenges, technology in missing person cases

Updated: Feb. 17, 2022 at 12:30 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - It takes seconds for people to vanish and sometimes, it takes weeks or even years to find them -- that’s if you do.

WMBF News spoke with the Myrtle Beach Police Department about the biggest challenge it faces when solving missing person cases and the technology it’s now using to bring them home.

SPECIAL SECTION | Vanished: Missing in the Grand Strand

Myrtle Beach is known as one of the top vacation destinations in the United States. It’s paradise for 19 million people who travel here every year. But, if you take a closer look, beyond the sandy beaches and family attractions, some believe the Grand Strand is where people visit but never return home.

“There’s a lot of transient people coming here and it’s just everybody from all over the place. We get missing people from Ohio, Florida, Georgia, you name it,” said Detective Chris Starling.

Starling can’t answer why some believe this reputation looms over our heads, but he’s been finding missing people for the last eight years.

“We kind of stay busy with missing persons constantly and it’s always getting on them as soon as we can,” he said.

That’s because those first few hours are crucial to finding someone and it starts with filing a police report.

“It’s basically a myth, the 24 to 48-hour window. I’d rather have somebody report it as soon as you start thinking something is wrong because those couple of hours become very important to us in locating this person for you,” said Starling.

In addition to personal and vehicle information, Starling said it’s important to share the most recent photograph, where that person banks and their social media accounts.

“You’d be surprised how many people barely use cell phones anymore. It’s a constant, ‘Hey, we only talk to them on Facebook Messenger,’” he said.

Social media is king when it comes to tracking down people. Your digital footprint is everywhere.

“Being able to see what that Facebook return can do or an Instagram return can do about seeing who’s been in contact with this person or that person, it breaks cases wide open,” Starling explained.

But, he cautions family and friends posting their loved one’s information on social media.

“A lot of family members will put personal information out there, that leads to people basically listing stuff for kidnapping, ransoms, stuff like that,” Starling warned.

It’s not just social media that can crack cases. Myrtle Beach Police use about a thousand cameras that are located throughout the city and watch in real-time in their Real Time Crime Unit.

“It’s a great thing because you can pretty much track somebody anywhere on the boulevard, any hotel they get out of, watch them walk 30 or 40 blocks,” said Starling. “If they get a car, make and model, they’ll pull that up, track it. If it goes out of the city, get a license plate on it, at least a direction of travel.”

And sometimes, Starling said the best clue is what some believe might not be a clue at all.

“If you think it’s something small, it’s something big that can make the case and make them get located a lot quicker,” he said. “Don’t think that we’re not looking for them. Don’t think that they’re not in our thoughts. When officers are involved and detectives are involved, they put a lot of time and effort into these cases and they become attached.”

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