Located missing persons

Learn about missing persons being located, guidance for family and friends as well as identification assistance.

Missing persons located alive

Missing persons who unintentionally go missing are generally located and returned to their concerned family and friends. Where this is not the case, missing persons may either reconnect over time or may choose not to reconnect at all.

Missing persons located deceased

There are times when a missing person is located deceased. In these circumstances, where families and friends have been living in hope of their loved one returning, they may experience a range of distressing emotions, which can include:

  • a loss of hope of seeing their love one again
  • grief regardless of the length of time their loved one has been missing
  • disbelief that their loved one has died (even after positive identification)
  • relief that the searching is over
  • reliving emotions experienced when their loved one first went missing
  • being distressed by others’ comments that they are 'glad' or 'happy' that their loved one has been found
  • feeling isolated when friends appear to move on because their loved one is no longer missing
  • ongoing questions around the circumstances of the disappearance, what happened and how they died, if these remain unclear
  • concern about media interest
  • being confused about how you are responding to the news of a death versus the way you imagined you might have responded
  • challenges in responding to the different range of conflicting feelings – relief, anger, guilt
  • a feeling of emptiness after the search is over, particularly if this has been a large part of your focus for a long time
  • frustration or confusion if the formal process in identifying your loved one takes some time

What might help

Allow yourself time to grieve, and remember there is no right or wrong way to feel at this time. Those around you may respond in different ways, so it is important to allow space and understanding for individual differences.

It is important to take care of yourself by maintaining healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise where possible, as the stress of losing a loved one may take a toll on your wellbeing both physically and emotionally.

When you are ready, explore some options with your family and friends to allow the opportunity to acknowledge your loved one who has been missing to say goodbye. This may be guided by religious, cultural or spiritual beliefs or traditions. 

Reach out for help, and accept support from friends, family, local community groups and support agencies. Explore bereavement services that meet your individual needs and circumstances. Grief support services may be offered by telephone, face-to-face, individual, family, or support groups.

Identification assistance of any unidentified deceased persons

42.4 Part 1D of the Crimes Act 1914 regulates the conduct of forensic procedures on relatives of missing or deceased persons and the matching of their DNA profiles against the DNA obtained from unidentified human bodies or remains. This facilitates the identification of missing or deceased persons, and mass disaster victims, within the federal jurisdiction.

42.5 Blood relatives of missing or deceased persons fall within the ‘volunteers’ provisions of Part 1D of the Crimes Act 1914.  As a volunteer, a relative should:

  • be given the information prescribed for volunteers prior to giving consent to a forensic procedure
  • have a choice whether his or her DNA profile will be stored in the volunteers (limited purposes) index or the volunteers (unlimited purposes) index of a DNA database system; and
  • have the right to withdraw consent to retention of the forensic material or the DNA profile, subject to a magistrate’s order that it be retained

42.6 In practice, blood relatives of missing or deceased persons are not always dealt with according to these provisions. While they are treated as ‘volunteers’ for the purpose of collecting a DNA sample, the Act provides for their profiles to be stored in the ‘missing persons’ index of a DNA database system rather than in a ‘volunteers’ index; and their profiles may not be destroyed until all relevant identifications have been made. For example, the Australian Federal Police advised that all of the profiles stored on the Disaster Victims Identification Database – including bombing victims’ relatives’ profiles – would remain on the database until all of the matching was complete.

42.7 The index-matching table in Part 1D of the Crimes Act 1914 permits unrestricted matching between profiles held in the missing persons index and all other indexes on a DNA database system – including the crime scene index.

For more information about collecting and storing DNA, visit the Australian Law Reform Commission