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FBI Joins Hunt for American Missing in Nepal

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is helping the U.S. State Department in the search for a Colorado woman who disappeared while trekking through Nepal, according to this Associated Press article. It is great to see the U.S. government taking an active interest in a missing persons case for a change. The question in my mind is, why is this case the anomaly? What does it take to get State and the FBI to consider a case worth investigating?

Related Articles

Mystery of Missing U.S. girl deepens after 2 months - Himalayan Times

Father's search for missing CU grad in Nepal unsuccessful - Fox 31 KDVR.com

FBI Joins Hunt for Missing Colo. Trekker in Nepal KMGH Denver

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Comment by Jeff Dunsavage on July 3, 2010 at 7:36am
Cindy - We should talk very soon. I feel like the project is getting closer to being able to take concrete, effective steps. I'm away this weekend, but maybe you could let me know when would be a good time next week?
Comment by Jeff Dunsavage on July 3, 2010 at 7:35am
Thanks, Kirsten. Glad you're finding value here, and I hope you will invite in people who you think might benefit or benefit from the conversation we're trying to create. Blessings to you and yours as well.
Comment by kirsten davies on July 3, 2010 at 6:48am
Thank you for sharing that moving story, Jeff. I only stumbled upon this website and had no knowledge of your background, although I guessed you had at some point lost someone you loved. I feel deeply your pain, and you have helped me rethink some of my previous concerns. God bless.
Comment by Cynthia Scheepstra on July 2, 2010 at 10:37pm
good question, Jeff. Must have landed on the desk of someone who actually does there job.
My attorney is finding out that my Consular agent is NOT doing her job. In fact, she is not doing much of anything. There is a "manual" of steps to take when a person goes missing. When my attorney would ask her if she had taken these steps, she would reply "that is not my job"...My attorney then read to her from the "manual" what she was supposed to be doing. Its is heatbreaking to the families of missing loved ones that someone in a position to help you simply is lazy and does not care!
Comment by Jeff Dunsavage on June 30, 2010 at 8:02pm
Kirsten, the reason there are so many problems in the world is that such respectful, constructive conversation as we're having doesn't occur among those who actually have the power to DO something about them. ;-)

The conversation so far has shown why reasonable people can disagree despite having so much common ground. What I am about to say explains how I came to my conclusion that some kind of "developed-world" involvement, led by the U.S., is necessary. But first let me say that if I had not been through the ordeal of the past year and seen so many others going through it, I probably would share the point of view you expressed, and my brother almost certainly would. I can see him watching a story identical to his unfolding in the media and saying, "Mortgage banker...divorced...money problems....the sonofabitch doesn't WANT to be found." And the sad fact is that just about all of the families of the 12 men (who we know of) who have disappeared in Central America and the Caribbean in the past year have had similar sentiments expressed to their faces and in online discussion forums. It's a made-for-TV presumption that adult males who get into trouble in that region must've been up to no good. It's as untrue as it is prevalent.

No, we never found Joe. His story might have ended differently if there had been a simple standard operating procedure of, when an American is reported missing in the water, an Embassy official will call to find out what U.S. military assets are active in the area. You see, the first night Joe was adrift (we later learned) a high-tech U.S. surveillance plane was flying over those very same waters in pursuit of a drug plane that would eventually crash on the nearby island of Utila, past which my brother (or, at least, his boat) almost certainly would have been drifting that night. This plane certainly contained high-resolution photographic equipment that could have been turned downward and almost certainly would have picked up a white Craig Cat catamaran on the black water. This simple step might have saved me the 6-figure debt I incurred in searching for my brother (right after - as luck would have it - having finally paid off my mortgage) and spared the U.S. government the costly air/sea search they launched at least 50 hours too late to be of use. This search was theater, intended to placate the Congresspeople our family and friends network had gotten to call the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and it had to cover a far larger area than a more rapidly deployed search would have had to.

During the 4-day military search (during which our privately funded search continued in close coordination with the military), no fewer than 5 people were found who were not being looked for. Although Joe was not found, these folks were, and I am grateful for the fact. You see, getting lost at sea is a fact of life for the locals down there. What was a tragedy for us is business as usual for the people who live on the water down there. I will never forget the water taxi owner who, in English far superior to my Spanish, said, "I am feeling so sorry for your family. I lose my son the same way." One of this project's goals is the creation and maintenance of a rapid-response capability in this region that then can be replicated in other areas as well. We have developed a really interesting network of people and organizations that I feel certain will succeed in this goal.

Add to these considerations the fact that this type of event rarely happens to rich people. By "rich" I mean the luxury mega-yacht set, the children of senators and multinational CEOs. These folks travel in style and relative security, compared with the middle-class schmucks like Joe Dunsavage, who look forward to their one-week vacation (actually, this was going to be Joe's first-ever 15-day vacation) and, lured by travel porn and lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that the media don't report on middle-aged males disappearing abroad, get a bit too comfortable in cultures and environments they don't understand. They believe in Roatan and Cancun and Cozumel and manage to uncouple these potemkin paradises from the reality of Honduras and Mexico. Anyway (sorry, I tend to get carried away on this subject), my point is, if these men's home governments don't play a role, then only the very rich and influential will be assured a timely search and investigation on the rare occasion that one of them gets into trouble -- and all the U.S. tax dollars that already flow into these countries will do nothing but line the pockets of "government officials" who moonlight for the cartels.

Sigh....

So, that's the basis of my belief that, while we can disagree about extent and means and methods, equity and common sense dictate that SOME kind of standard operating procedures need to be in place that treat a Dunsavage or a Scheepstra or a Dixon who gets into trouble abroad as if they were no less valuable than a Kennedy or a Bush or and Obama. Not only is this fair, if done right, it should have positive ripple effects throughout these impoverished areas that most of us only see from a hotel room or a cruise ship.

Thanks for listening, and I hope you will continue to be an active participant in the project. We NEED people who have traveled in the larger world and have knowledge, contacts, and experience to share.
Comment by kirsten davies on June 30, 2010 at 5:53pm
Thanks for clarifying. That is definitely a "tiering system" and its a tragedy. So sorry about your brother. Was he ever found?
Good to know we can have some give and take here. I'm just offering my opinion but have already learned a lot from your site. Keep up the good work!
Comment by Jeff Dunsavage on June 30, 2010 at 1:20pm
The "tiering" system I refer to is more de facto than official. I'll use my own situation as an example - when my brother disappeared in Honduras, we were able to get a military search for him (albeit too late to be helpful) because we were able to get enough people phoning their congresspeople, calling in favors, etc. None of the families we've worked with in the past year who've lost people in the region were able to get anything near that response. On the other hand, a different case I know of (I have to be very careful not to be too specific here), in which a parent of the missing person was sufficiently well connected, got an immediate State Dept. response and within 24 hours the missing person was found and brought home safely. It speaks to wealth and influence as a determining factor, and it should not operate that way. As I said - if, as a matter of policy, we don't do searches and investigations when Americans disappear, fine. But if we're going to do it, let's have clear criteria and a level playing field. I don't know much about Aubrey's case (although my understanding is that her Dad is in Nepal). I can't defend or judge anything about how they're doing things. I also don't know what, if anything, the FBI can or can't do. They say they've got 10-12 persons of interest. What does that mean? Only time will tell. All I'm saying is that I believe there is an appropriate role for the governments of the missing persons' countries in these cases and that that role needs to be clarified and implemented with some kind of consistency.
Comment by kirsten davies on June 30, 2010 at 1:06pm
What is the "tiering" system you are talking about? Just curious. Also, there are limits to what the AmericanGovt can do in another c ountry. They can't investigate a crime. They can put pressure on the local govt to investigate that crime, but they can't do it themselves. utimately, Jeff, the way this young woman will be found is for people on the ground to get out there and find her. I see the family in the USA on the Today Show. How many Nepalese watch the Today Show? They don't even have electricity in most of the country. The family sits at home in Colorado while their daughter is lost in the mountains of Nepal. They could be on the ground in Nepal offering to pay whatever the local daily wage is to round up locas who speak the language and know the area to search for her. What FBI agent can do that?
Comment by Jeff Dunsavage on June 30, 2010 at 12:58pm
Kirsten: Thanks for the clarification. I agree with you on so much, but I come to a different conclusion:
* I am ALL FOR individual responsibility. It's my mantra. I agree that people who travel in these countries should inform themselves and awful lot better than they do. It's one of the things I'm hoping to accomplish with this site. Having said that, whether it's here or abroad, stupidity, clumsiness, or lack of preparedness does not mean the person does not deserve to be searched for and their families helped when these things happen.
* You're absolutely right that these countries are poor and lack the SAR or investigative infrastructure we take for granted in the States. They CAN'T search for our people and shouldn't be expected to. That is where the U.S. and other developed countries can play a role. The appropriate extent of that role can be debated, but one's govt. should not wash its hands of its citizens when they get into trouble abroad -- again, especially when that citizen's tax dollars are going to subsidize God-knows-what corporate interests. The country should not have to "drop everything" when a foreigner goes missing - there needs to be a well-defined role for the foreign governments in the search and investigation.
* Finally, in my experience, there does seem to be a "tiering" system in terms of who gets looked for and who doesn't. That is why another of this project's goals is to lobby for very transparent State Department standards and practices with regard to these cases. If we're not going to look for anyone, fine. If we're going to look for everyone, fine. If we're going to do it on a case-by-case basis, according to clear and specific criteria, wonderful! But what we've got right now is a hodepodge of practices that seem to be based on how many Senators you can get on the phone in a timely fashion.
Comment by kirsten davies on June 30, 2010 at 12:56pm
Fair enough, Jeff. But Nepal is poor. That's why they receive foreign aid. I stand by my opinion that if you choose to travel to a foreign country for travel, you take a risk, and if you want a search done, then fund it yourself. Don't expect the army and police of that country, a very poor country,one of the poorest in the world, to search for you. That's not their job. The American Marines wouldn't be out searching for you even if you were in your own country, and I understand a lot of search and rescue organisations are demanding they be reimbursed after a rescue here in the USA now. I see nothing wrong with that.

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