SALT LAKE CITY — The rescue of three young women and one of their daughters in Cleveland after 10 years of captivity raises new hope and attention for the dozens of Utahns listed as missing and endangered.
"The families never, ever forget who these people are," said Dwayne Baird, who was a detective with the Salt Lake City Police Department when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped 11 years ago. "They always remember the last time they saw them, the last time they spoke with them."
Baird handled most of the media requests and interviews while Smart was missing. He also helped chase down some of the 16,000 leads the department received in the nine months before she was discovered on the streets of Sandy in 2003.
Utah's Missing Persons
In response to the discovery of the three missing women, Smart was elated and praised public involvement in the case.
"So, if you do hear something, or something doesn't seem quite right, do not hesitate to call (911)," she said Tuesday. "Take the initiative to get it checked out, because what if you save another child?"
Many of Utah's missing children may be runaways, but Baird emphasized they are still missing to the people who care about them and want them back home safely.
Baird said he knows how important it is to get the public's help to find those people. He encouraged people to take a look at the faces of missing children and adults to see if some recognition sparks.
"Always be aware. Always be alert," he said. "If something doesn't look quite right, and it really doesn't matter what it is, pause for a moment, and say, ‘This may be something I need to look at.' "
That's how Charles Ramsey, a neighbor of the captive women in Cleveland, ended up rescuing Amanda Berry when she called for help. Her rescue led to the rescue of the other two women and Berry's child.
Baird said that kind of awareness and willingness to do something can make all the difference in helping a stranger.
"Let's say you're a grocery store and something doesn't seem quite right," he said. "The person you're looking at and seeing interact with another person … they don't look like they belong together because of some tension. Perhaps, you may discover and uncover something yourself."
The Utah missing persons clearinghouse website currently lists 87 missing men, women and children dating as far back as 1964. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists 16 Utah children.
Media often covers stories of when people disappear, especially young women. News outlets cover searches and vigils, but not all names and faces ring a bell. In many cases, that means they need more attention, more eyes on their faces and the details of their cases.
Six of the women listed as endangered runaways on the list disappeared in the last 15 months. The latest disappeared just three weeks ago.
Francesca Delfina Farias-Swenson, 14, of Salt Lake City, disappeared April 16 and may still be in the area. Heather Austin, 17, went missing in St. George in November but may be in the Salt Lake City area. These endangered runaways haven't been heard from since.
If people look at the pictures and stay alert, Baird said, somebody just might help one of those families.
"They still want them back, and it's still a responsibility we have to look for them," he said.