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Iowa State is not the lone university that publicizes missing student cases.
In September of 2006 when Paul Shuman-Moore vanished from the campus of Grinnell College in Iowa, administrators immediately notified the campus, circulating a mass email, spurring mass student involvement in the search. There, more than 400 volunteers, organized by the administration, combed nearby fields, while others forwarded information online.
Grinnell's policy and the policies of several other universities on dealing with missing student reports contrast sharply with the University of Iowa's action last year in the disappearance of its student, Jacques Similhomme. It did not send out any alerts or notify outside police agencies to help search, leaving the task to his father and a few volunteers. Jacques later was found dead by some of the volunteers his father had recruited.
At Grinnell, Shuman-Moore's story quickly spread nationwide. Within two weeks, Geraldo Rivera picked it up for his cablevision show “Geraldo At Large.”
“When it comes to someone who is missing, we move very quickly,” said Tom Crady, then Grinnell's vice president of student affairs. “I think it's important to try and [notify the community] the minute you know a person is missing.”
Crady deems sending an all-campus email as totally appropriate, and said “you have to assume that someone might know where he or she is. If you don't notify the community…it's hard to backtrack [to find the student].”
Outside of Iowa, when Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, 20, disappeared from a concert at the University of Virginia in October 2009, university administrators immediately sent a campus-wide email, said Mark Owczarski, the university's director of news and information.
Virginia Tech also posted a link to information on the case in the lower left-hand corner of the front page of its Web site. Word of Harrington's case widened. According to the Charlottesville Daily Progress, more than 1,600 volunteers scoured roads, woods and fields for clues during one three-day stretch in early November.
Dan and Gill Harrington hired a publicist and offered a $150,000 reward for Morgan's safe return. And on November 12, the two appeared on the talk show, Dr. Phil.
On January 27, Virginia State Police confirmed that a set of bones found on a Virginia farm belonged to Harrington, declaring her death a homicide.
According to Penn State's Web site, Iowa's Big Ten mate will “conduct a thorough investigation on any student who is reported missing as well as provide community notifications in such instances.”
And at the University of North Dakota, administration officials first notify the parents of a missing student, and then they notify the campus within 24 hours of the report, said Lillian Elsinga, associate vice president of student services at North Dakota.
“Mostly we have used posters and the media,” she said.
When 22 year-old North Dakota student Dru Sjodin was abducted from her Grand Forks workplace in November 2003, “publication to local and regional media started almost immediately through posters and television releases, said Elsinga.
Authorities found Sjodin's body and indicted her killer, now convicted, in April 2004.
At the University of Iowa, Thomas Rocklin, vice president of student services, said, “I am not categorically opposed to an all-campus notification of a missing student, and I would never rule it out. At the same time, I can see only a few situations in which a notification would be helpful.”
By Jim Malewitiz, IowaWatch Staff Writer