Missing in Connecticut: Investigations editor focuses on police dysfunction and indifference

16 Jan

What would you do if your son or daughter went missing, and police didn’t care? What if they refused to investigate, refused to collect evidence, refused to help you?

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo

If your missing child is no longer a child, there’s a good chance of that happening.

Adult missing persons cases are regularly ignored or mishandled by local police departments, who rarely coordinate among themselves and with state and federal agencies and databases even when they do take them seriously.

The subject has been the main focus of Michelle Tuccitto Sullo‘s reporting since she was named investigations editor at the New Haven Register in late November. It’s the first time in more than 20 years that position has existed at the paper as the newsroom reorganizes to focus on investigative and in-depth reporting, breaking news and community engagement.

In addition to traditional reporting on the topic, Michelle has set up a “Missing in CT” Facebook page that almost instantly was taken over by loved ones of the missing. They share updates and reminders of their cases, lobby for changes to law enforcement policy and government resources, encourage each other and inspirational stories from around the country of families who’ve refused to give up the search.

To a great extent, the movement runs on “Mom Power” – 78 percent of those “liking” the Missing in CT Facebook page are women.

Jan Smolinski is their de facto leader. Jan’s dogged pursuit of answers in the disappearance of her then 31-year-old son, Billy, was the catalyst for Michelle’s reporting. Her work has already prompted a change in state law that requires local police departments to take all missing persons cases immediately instead of telling family of adult victims to “wait three days” like the Waterbury police did in Billy’s case.

But there is a huge remaining gap in police policy, coordination and training when it comes to missing persons cases in Connecticut, times 100 in the case of adult missing persons.

In a piece kicking off her work on the subject, Michelle outlines calls for steps as basic as a statewide database of missing persons and making local police aware that federal missing persons and basic crime databases even exist.

CLICK HERE to read “Victim advocate, others call on state to do more to find adults who disappear.”

Read about some of the personal stories behind adult missing persons cases here, here and here.

And as part of her work on the topic, Michelle continues to pursue details of the still-unsolved Smolinski case. She reported January 7 that a key witness in the case, who at one point led police to sites where he claimed to have helped bury Billy Smolinski’s body, had escaped from a halfway house as he was serving out a sentence for lying to police over the matter.

Of course, Jan Smolinski and her network of moms took to Facebook to promote Sullo’s story and urge people with information to call police. The man was captured and sent back to prison less than a week later.

If you have information on the topic of missing persons, or are the loved one of a missing person in Connecticut, contact Michelle at mtuccitto@nhregister.com or 203-789-5707.  Follow her on Twitter at @nhrinvestigate.

UPDATE, 2/15/12: Connecticut State Police have announced the formation of a special unit devoted to missing persons cases.

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One Response to “Missing in Connecticut: Investigations editor focuses on police dysfunction and indifference”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Facebook page fuels investigative editor’s work on missing persons | Digital Ninja School - February 16, 2012

    [...] indifference and incompetence in the handling of adult missing persons cases was the first major topic Michelle Tuccitto Sullo tackled after she was named to the new position [...]

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