Iowa Department of Public Safety responds to reports of a sudden spike in missing persons

The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) issued an unusual press release on Friday, in an effort to reassure people that the state is not experiencing a sudden increase in missing young people. According to the press release, “The number of missing juveniles reported in recent weeks is in line with historical numbers.”

Sgt. Nathan Ludwig told Little Village that DPS had been contacted by a number of concerned citizens who had seen social media posts claiming young people were going missing in suspiciously high numbers. “There’s nothing unusual happening,” Ludwig said.

Ludwig said the social media rumors appear to have been sparked by the media coverage of the case of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20 year-old college student who went missing in Poweshiek County on July 19. Tibbetts’ disappearance has attracted nationwide attention, and some of the reporting has been lacking important context. For example, on Thursday, the Cedar Rapids radio station KHAK published a story titled, “36 Iowans have been reported missing in the last 8 days.” The story, which contained a list of missing person copied from a DPS database, began:

It’s been eight days since University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts of Brooklyn, Iowa disappeared. As authorities continue to search for her across the nation, the number of Iowans that have disappeared since is startling.

But according to DPS statistics, there is nothing startling about that number.

Only six of the people listed by KHAK were adults. On average, approximately 12 Iowans under the age of 18 are reported missing each day, the DPS reports. “The vast majority of [them] are found or returned home within 24 hours. Typically these cases are runaway situations,” the DPS press release stated.