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Dublin: 20 °C Monday 1 June, 2020

Missing on purpose: what happens when a person doesn't want to be found?

Hundreds of people in Ireland have decided to break contact with their families and start a new life.

Image: Shutterstock/KC Slagle

WE’VE BEEN EXPLORING the work of gardaí and other specialists who help search for people who are missing (often, missing presumed dead) as part of our series on missing people over recent days.

There were over seven thousand ‘high risk’ missing persons reports made last year, according to the latest statistics. Another 731 cases fell into a ‘medium risk’ category – meaning the person “may have disappeared of their own volition”.

miss2 Source:

Missing on purpose

A further 1,053 were categorised as ‘low risk’ – meaning that there is “no apparent threat of danger” and the person may have simply decided to start a new life.

This means there are hundreds of people in Ireland who, for whatever reason, have decided to have no further contact with their families or communities, and head off to start over again – either in another part of the country or overseas.

In certain such cases, family members will enlist the help of a private investigator to try and track the person down – either for peace of mind (to check the person is alive and well) or to attempt a reunification.

According to one licensed PI who spoke to this website:

“People who go missing fall into three categories – people who have been abducted, people who die by suicide, and people who make a conscious decision to go missing or disappear.”

The gardaí, generally, deal with cases in the first two categories. PIs are sometimes called in when there’s no specific reason for authorities to follow up, but when investigation skills are required to track down someone’s location.

Cults or religious groups

As the PI who spoke to us explained (the investigator asked not to be named, for client confidentiality reasons) people generally chose to go missing to escape an internal or external pressure of some kind, such as:

  • An emotional issue, such as depression
  • A history of family abuse
  • The pressures of society to conform
  • Difficulty in dealing with homosexuality
  • A sense of not fitting in or of being an outsider
  • An addiction issue with drink or drugs
  • A combination of the above

Sometimes, the PI said, people get involved in cults or religious groups that offer the kind of security they believe is missing in their own family. Often, they are young and impressionable and choose not to tell their families they’ve joined such a group.

In many cases, a family won’t decide to contact a private investigator until all other avenues have been exhausted.

shutterstock_270882458 Source: Shutterstock/

“People who seek to find family members by hiring a private detective usually know at this stage that the missing person is alive,” the investigator said.

“The family will have been through the process of contacting the police and registering the missing person on the missing persons list.”

They will have been through the initial shock stage of dealing with that person’s disappearance.

In many cases, the family will just want to establish that the person is okay. There will usually have been some level of contact over the years, like texts or calls or other activity that confirms the person is alive.


A high percentage of people who intentionally go missing leave Ireland to live in the UK, or a European city, the private detective explained.

Over their 26 years working in the area, the PI said they found these people to be “free spirits” who are often living in homeless shelters, guesthouses or similar temporary accommodation.

Painting a picture of a standard case, the investigator said people were unlikely to be working in a steady job, and that they didn’t usually stay at any specific address for a long period of time.

shutterstock_100487740 Source: Shutterstock/KC Slagle

Family members are told at the start of each case that there is no guarantee the person will be found.

Even if they are found, they may still decline any communication.

“The family may live in hope that the missing person will return home some day, unexpectedly or as a result of their becoming ill or having some other need to reach out to the family,” the PI said.

“They are usually spoken about and reflected upon in a very loving and caring manner.”

“Although it is heartbreaking for the family involved knowing that their child or sibling has cut all ties and contact with them, they often resign themselves to the situation over time and come to a level of some acceptance.

“They may be content to know that the person is alive.”

The national Missing Persons Helpline can be reached on 1890 442 552 or through this website.


Read: The mystery behind the unidentified remains in Ireland’s morgues

Read: 20 years ago, a woman’s body washed up in Wexford – we still don’t know who she is


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