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Vanished: North Carolina group works to find missing people nationwide

Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 12:30 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 25, 2022 at 11:37 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WMBF) - More than 20,000 volunteers nationwide make up Community United Effort, also known as CUE.

The nonprofit organization, based in Wilmington, N.C., is personal for many, including Monica Caison, who knows how it feels when loved ones disappear.

MORE INFORMATION | CUE Center for Missing Persons

“I’ve seen it first hand, at a young age and then two other times in my adulthood of what it did to the people who are left behind,” said Caison. “The best volunteer that you’re ever going to have is someone who has been in those people’s shoes.”

Caison is the founder and beating heart of the organization since it started in 1984. She and her impressive network of volunteers provide free resources to help law enforcement with the search and recovery of missing people. But, that’s not all.

“More importantly, advocate for those that are left behind which are the families, and try to help bring forth an awareness to all the issues on the national level,” said Caison.

CUE handles 1,000 to 1,200 cases a year. That doesn’t include the ones that volunteers are currently working on.

“A lot of times, those cases will resolve on its own. But, majority of the cases we get are considered foul play or something else has happened,” she said.

Volunteers travel across the United States to search for the missing, but Caison said they spend a lot of time in the South.

“South Carolina seems to be a lot of different types of cases. There are just some states that have more missing individuals than others and when you get down to the south, it seems like more than the northern states for some reason,” said Caison.

Her group is well equipped to handle all kinds of searches. From K-9′s and ground support to air and water rescues.

“You don’t spot anything. It is completely black. Everything is by feel,” said Gary Tremayne.

Tremayne, a diver for the North Carolina K-9 Emergency Response Team and a CUE volunteer, said not only is it challenging to find someone, but it takes a professional to navigate through rock, debris, trees and fishing wire.

RAW VIDEO: North Carolina K-9 Emergency Response Team diver shows off equipment

“If you go with the idea, ‘OK, I am trying to find somebody and I really suspect that they are there,’ then, you get in the mindset of, ‘OK, I am going to find somebody,’” he said.

Tremayne showed the military-grade equipment they use for water searches, which included ropes and specialized dry suits. They also showed how they can communicate with each other and the rest of the team back on land.

The organization specializes in K-9 search teams, divers and sonar equipment. Tons of it.

“We do a lot for law enforcement, fire departments, emergency management agencies,” said Mac Morgan, a retired law enforcement officer and the chief of N.C. K-9 E.R.T.

He said they’ve been helping CUE for more than a decade and riddled off their donated sonar equipment that can quickly cover more ground than divers and a lot faster. They have an underwater camera to find people in wells, a thermal imaging camera that picks up body temperature through walls and a dual-frequency sonar that can dive deep to take incredible pictures. Their latest toy is a remote control boat that must make straight-lined patterns to properly find someone.

RAW VIDEO: An inside look at sonar equipment used to help find missing people

“Our motto is we work to bring them home. And, if we can get them home, some people say well, it’s closure for the families. It’s not closure. It’s resolution. At least they know where they’re at,” said Morgan.

CUE prides itself as a pay-it-forward organization.

“Every donation we get goes to the next search, regardless. There is no money that is set aside for certain things,” said Caison.

She’s grateful for the help she’s received over the years and plans to continue helping as many families as she can.

“I search for everyone like they’re my mom, my dad, my sister, my brother,” Caison said.

CLICK HERE if you’d like to become a volunteer or for a full list of their resources.

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