Field Notes

Why not every missing person's story is told

Why not every missing person's story is told
Zachary Porter

It all starts with a phone call.

Jamie Read, a psychiatrist in Portland calls someone that she knows who puts her in touch with someone else. Before she knows it she's on the phone with a sympathetic ear telling the story of her nephew, 25-year-old Zachary Porter.

Porter has been unemployed for about a year, been kind of struggling to find his way as he balances his time between taking care of his 5-year-old son and his mother who is disabled.

"He's a good kid who has had some problems but is getting things in order," says Read. "He's had his struggles. Just like most people."

Porter, a graduate of McMinnville High School, liked to ride his motorcycle but also recognized that when money is needed, some things have to go.

So, he listed it on Craigslist and got some interest.

He emailed back and forth with a potential buyer and set up a meeting in Coos Bay.

"I arrived safely," he texted his Dad when he got there.

Porter sold the motorcycle and was able to find someone to offer him a ride back north.

He has not been seen since.

"It's just not him," says Read. "He was working on getting things together. He has so much here he wouldn't just disappear."

As the days went by and the police became involved, Read faced the dilemma so many families encounter every year – what to do next.

"It's all so overwhelming," she says. "How do you reach out to the media? The thought alone – the media – is enough to stop you in your tracks. How do you convince people to tell a story."

Scores of people go missing every year in the area.

They range from teenage runaways to Alzheimer's patients who have wandered away to children taken in custodial disputes to crime victims, people in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time.

And with each person who goes missing, there is almost always some sort of tear-jerker, heartbreaking story; people doing everything they can to track down their missing loved one.

Sometimes the story is easy to figure out – an older person with a disease who has just wandered off; a teen or young adult who is developmentally disabled. Those people are often referred to as “missing endangereds” and often receive a moment on the local news as their picture and a description is flashed.

Then there are the slightly more complicated stories.

I keep thinking of Yashanee Vaughn, a teenager here in Portland who went missing.

Her family raised holy hell, calling television stations and newspapers again and again, trying to get people interested, trying to explain there was just no way she would run away, even though she had before.

That’s what makes so many cases hard to figure out and keeps many from being reported.

There are many people who disappear, just up and leave one day. There are teenagers looking for adventure or something slightly more nefarious, adults deciding to start over, people slipping into the grip of alcohol or drugs.

The general rule at assignment desks is that – barring a medical condition or evidence of a crime– if the person is old enough to make a decision about running away from one life, as worried as their family might be, chances are it won’t make the news.

Vaughn's family wouldn’t hear of it.

So, while a public information officer for the Portland Police (someone no longer in that position) was telling reporters the kid ran away, the family kept at it.

Turns out Yashanee was murdered.

Read has the same sort of determination.

"All I know is that the more people who know about Zachary the more chances are that someone will come forward with something," she says. "I know he's out there and someone knows something.

"I just have to keep trying to get his story out there."

It all starts with a phone call.