Social media another tool for police, missing people

Horry County police use Facebook to spread information on missing people, wanted suspects or daily events, such as this post about 13-year-old Alyssa Carwhile.
Horry County police use Facebook to spread information on missing people, wanted suspects or daily events, such as this post about 13-year-old Alyssa Carwhile. Facebook

Fewer people have gone missing this year than last in Horry County, but the faces of missing people have never been so prominent.

Area police departments routinely use Facebook, Twitter and messaging alert systems to spread information about missing people or runaways in Horry County. Lt. Raul Denis, with Horry County police, said disseminating information through social media helps police find missing or wanted people faster.

“Social media enables us to spread the word further, and it has proved more successful for us finding people,” Denis said. “It generates tips, it works.”

The number of missing people reports have declined this year, though some people may be seeing more reports due to the ease of sharing information and pictures on social media. Police departments have stepped up their use of social media over the past few years to get the word out faster, Denis said.

In Horry County, 65 missing person reports were filed between Jan. 1 through July 1 this year as opposed to 83 in the same time period last year, Denis said. At least five people have been reported missing in Horry County since July 9, including a teenage runaway and 30-year-old Conway man.

Three of the missing people – Dakota Arndt, 16, Devon Ann Duallo, 20, and Thomas Kelley Brown, 30 – were located safely soon after being reported missing. The number of missing people reports has declined recently, Denis said, even though there was an influx of reports last week.

Before police file a missing persons report detectives must gather information about the person and why the complainant believes they are missing, said Lt. Selena Small of Conway police. Small said many people don’t always understand that adults can leave town without telling anyone and not technically go “missing.”

“You have to spend time to get some factors, to see if there’s factors that make it suspicious,” Small said.

Information on people who do go missing, however, is spread as quickly as possible through media releases and posts on police departments’ Facebook pages, Small said. The ability to share Facebook posts increases the number of people who see missing people’s pictures and information – especially people who don’t get the chance to read or watch traditional news.

“I can’t tell you the last time I was able to sit down on my couch and watch the news, because I’m never home when the news is on,” Small said. “But wherever I’m at, I’m going to scroll Facebook.”

Anyone with information about missing people are asked to call police, which helps investigators locate the people safely, said Lt. Joey Crosby with Myrtle Beach police.

“It helps us let the public know that this person is missing, and they’re able to let us know this person is OK or they’ve seen them,” Crosby said.

Police tend to focus on endangered individuals, such as children or suicidal adults, Denis said.

“Usually we’re going to put more effort into somebody who is endangered, like somebody who is depressed or suicidal. Those people are going to be a bigger threat than somebody who just packed up their stuff and left,” Denis said.

The number of Horry County runaways has also decreased this year.

Horry police reported 81 runaways from January to July this year, a decrease of 13 over 2014, Denis said.

“The better the dissemination of info the more successful a chance we find these people,” Denis said.

Contact CLAIRE BYUN at 626-0381 and follow her on Twitter @Claire_TSN.