Missing ... Daniel James O'Keeffe.
It was just over a year ago that Loren O’Keefe last spoke to her 25-year-old brother Dan. He went missing on July 15, 2011.
In those first few days Loren assumed that he might have just needed space – the uncertainty made it difficult for her to raise the alarm, to let people know he was missing. As time moved on she knew she had to ask for help – both from the Police and via social media, ‘It did worry me, I thought he had gone for a few days, I didn’t want him coming home to seeing all of us carrying on. I worried about the potential embarrassment it would cause him because I knew that you couldn’t erase your online history’ but in weighing up Dan’s reactions with her own concerns and worries Loren decided that it was a risk she would have to take.
Every year in Australia 35,000 missing persons reports are made. That equates to one person every 15 minutes. This week is National Missing Persons Week, a week where families remind the community that they are still searching for answers and for people to reconnect if they have been out of touch. Of the 35,000 reports only a small percentage (less than 5%) remain missing for more than 12 months. Loren’s family is one of 1,600 across Australia living with the unresolved loss of a missing person. They live in the space between the person being both here and gone.
The media play an important role for families once they realise someone is missing. The ability to reach thousands of people in a short space of time helps families feel as if they are doing everything they can to bring the person home but after that initial plea how do families continue to keep the interest up? Loren confesses that ‘Dan’s story lost its [media] buzz after the first week’.
Loren is grateful however that while the media coverage dropped off Dan’s unique story gained traction on social media, ‘Dan doesn’t meet the stereotypical missing persons case – he comes from a loving home, he has a beautiful girlfriend and had just started his own business. Everything on paper was perfect’. Loren also thinks that because Dan is ‘easy on the eye’ people were drawn to the story online, ‘they clicked on the picture and that’s how the word was spread’. The site dedicated to Dan’s search and the accompanying Facebook page has in excess of 20,000 followers.
The family recovered some CCTV footage of Dan in Ipswich from November last year. They decided not to release the image to the media as they ‘were concerned for Dan’s privacy. It (the footage) was a snapshot of the lowest point of his life, he was physically and mentally very unwell and that’s private to me and my family’. The decision to keep the footage private demonstrates the complexity of the situation – making decisions on behalf of a person who is not here, in an effort to get them back is fraught and difficult. Loren was very clear; ‘it would be detrimental to his recovery to know that people had seem him at that point in his life’. Loren lost some opportunities for television coverage because of her insistence that the footage not be circulated but her goal is to ensure Dan’s dignity.
There are a multitude of reasons why people vanish – research from the Australian Institute of Criminology identified that people experiencing poor mental health, young people (or runaways) and people living with a dementia related illness are at risk. For Loren and her family the pain of losing Dan has not lessened over time, it has become deeper as their helplessness compounds. ‘I’m obsessed, this is all of my life’ explains Loren ‘every waking moment is dedicated to thinking about how I can inform the nation of Dan’s face’. Loren has had to use the skills she developed in her former life, doing a double degree in business, to ensure the search remains relevant. ‘It’s sick to say but half of this comes down to marketing a brand and the brand is Dan Come Home. It’s draining; its mentally exhausting but there is no alternative. I can’t not do this. Everything I do, I do for him’.
National Missing Persons Week runs from 29 July – 4 August 2012
For more information visit www.missingpersons.gov.au
To help in the search for Dan visit www.dancomehome.com