Missing persons

A missing person is someone who is reported missing to police because their whereabouts is unknown and there are concerns for their safety and welfare.

It will often be a short time before the person is found again – hours or a few days, but until they’re found the stress and uncertainty can be very difficult. You want to know what’s happened to them and where they are.

In some cases, a person may be missing for a long time. Not knowing if they’re okay can make moving forward very hard. Holding out hope continues, and so can the searching.

The media may take an interest in a missing person’s case and ask for interviews with the family or whānau. This can be stressful, even if a family feels it may help the person to be found.

Whatever your situation, and however long a person has been missing, our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us.  You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Report the person missing to police
They can advise you about what needs to happen and your options.

  • If you think someone is in immediate danger, call police immediately on 111.

  • Call the police non-emergency number on 105 or go online to report what has happened to you or others you know.

  • Go to your local police station to talk to the person at the front counter and they will advise you about what to do. You may be able to speak to an officer straight away. Consider taking a support person with you. Find your closest Police Station here

  • For more police advice, including reporting someone missing overseas go to https://www.police.govt.nz/missing-persons

Search options
Talk with police about the search options for your situation. This could include the use of some highly trained specialist search teams. There may be family, whānau, friends, and neighbours willing to assist with a search for someone in a particular area. Ask police about the best way to organise a search.

If you find new information about the person missing
Contact the police officer in charge of the case and let them know. Call the police non-emergency number on 105 or go online to report what you or others have found out.

Ask police about their dedicated missing person’s website 

If the person is missing overseas
Police, consular staff in the region concerned, and the Red Cross may be able to assist in some circumstances. See thSafe Travel website.

Be proactive
Keep in touch with police about progress of the case and any updates, or to ask any questions.  Call the police non-emergency number on 105 or go online with your request or enquiries.

Dealing with media attention
If media takes an ongoing interest in the case see our information sheet Managing media interest for some tips on how to deal with them in a way that works for you and your family and whānau.

Be kind to yourself in this difficult and uncertain time
Do your best yourself, and as a family and whānau, to take one day at a time. See the information below about coping with the emotional impact of this uncertain situation.

Financial pressures and practical difficulties can arise when the person has been missing for a long time. Money might be spent on the process of searching, or a family’s income may drop when the missing person is longer contributing to it. Dealing with the legal affairs of a missing person may also be costly, particularly when expert advice is required.

Regrettably, there might come a time when, after being missing for at least seven years, and after examining all the evidence relating to the disappearance, a High Court judge will declare a person legally dead. A coroner does have the power to declare a person dead before this. When police have exhausted all avenues of their investigation and they believe the person is dead, they can refer the case to the coroner for a ruling. If the coroner believes it is likely the missing person is dead and their body is destroyed, lost, or cannot be recovered, then an inquest inquiry will be held. A death certificate can then be issued. This means the person’s estate can now be legally settled.

Although this is official, a family can still be left wondering and, sometimes, even still hoping for the missing person’s return.

When someone goes unexpectedly missing, everyone will react in their own ways. It can be a long time of waiting for news of the person. You may continue to experience strong reactions as you wait.

When you first hear someone you care about has gone missing, it can be a shock. There may be denial if you just cannot see it is possible, and a helplessness that there seems little you can do.  Worry, fear, and anxiety usually soon follow. It’s not uncommon for family members to find themselves searching for the person in crowds and down the street, in case they appear.

Many people find themselves in despair with hope rising and falling unpredictably. Some can feel a sense of rejection if they decide the person doesn’t want to be found. People can feel frustrated and angry at the missing person, guilty that they can’t find them, or look to blame others for their disappearance. It can be a very intense time. Most people also feel deep sadness and grief.  

Mentally, people can find they are preoccupied by imagining where the person might be, or what could have happened to them. Where could they be? Are they safe?  They find it hard to concentrate on other things, are more forgetful, and easily distracted. They can have nightmares and feel constantly on alert, in case the person comes back.

People can experience a wide range of physical reactions, including difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, and tensions in their body, shown in headaches and body aches. They might have stomach and digestion problems, nausea, and ongoing exhaustion. Existing health conditions may worsen.

Relationships can be strained as the worry and waiting continues. You may want to be with others more often or withdraw to be on your own more. It can be very hard to make sense of what’s happened, with so many unanswered questions.

All these kinds of reactions are normal, but they can affect people more than they expect.

If children or young people have been affected by what’s happened
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.

Every situation is different, but many people find that having someone they care about missing is a traumatic experience.

Many people say they are up and down a lot, like being on a roller coaster. Families find they need to be very patient with each other because they all feel the loss, but in very different ways, and no one knows what to expect next.

Looking after yourself is very important
Encourage others who have been affected to do the same. Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help.

Maintain hope
Keep positive as best you can and take things one day at a time.

Keep up normal routines as much as possible
This can help you to feel more in control when there are many things you can’t control right now.

Use distraction
Find things to give you something else to think about, because being preoccupied with the missing person can become very dominating.

Talk about what happened
When you’re ready, talk to those you trust about what happened, such as a trusted family or whānau member, a friend, neighbour, your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, a respected elder, rangatira, or a Support Worker. Talking honestly about how things are can help release the stress and emotional tension inside.

More tips on coping with your reactions
For more information about understanding and managing reactions in such a difficult situation, please see:

If your reactions trouble you

  • Visit your doctor. They can do a health check and support you with any ongoing issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, or depression.

  • Consider talking with a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you work through your reactions and the consequences the crime has had.

  • If you need to find a local doctor, counsellor, or psychologist, please click here.

If children or young people have been affected by what’s happened
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.

We are here for you 24/7
Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

What we can offer
Our Support Workers can support you with:

  • someone to listen, talk with, and support you to cope through trauma and loss
  •  help to understand your rights and make informed choices
  •  information and help to answer your questions
  • help to access local support services and counselling to suit your situation
  • someone to assist and support you at any court trials, hearings, and dealing with police and other government agencies
  • help to prepare Victim Impact Statements and attend family group or restorative justice conferences
  • financial assistance for victims of serious crime.

We are committed to providing quality support to strengthen the mana and well-being of all those affected by having a person they care about go missing,

If you have English as a second language
If you require support in your first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know. We will try to match you to a Support Worker who speaks your language.


Coping with Trauma
When you are Grieving
Dealing with flashbacks
Managing media interest