Two days ago the tubes were aflutter with scrambling tweeps and Facebook geeks, hunting everywhere online for word regarding the March 30th disappearance of a 15-year-old from Brisbane. Today I was browsing past my Facebook groups page and found the group Missing Teenager: Ethan Johnson, Brisbane, Australia was at the top of my groups for having the most activity. Ethan had been found safe and well! While the bulk of the official search was taken up by police, the Facebook group members made suggestions for online haunts left unsearched:
"Have we considered looking into any online communities which Ethan is a member? e.g. World of Warcraft, interest forums, MSN contacts, MySpace, Garry's Mod, Xbox Live? If we know Ethan's username* then I'm sure my 15yo son would be happy to check his contacts/forums etc."
Facebook was also a source of comfort to Ethan's family, and of suggestions from others who had missed (and found!) loved ones:
"My mum's friend son has an illness & disappeared from home for several weeks, in the end he was found interstate with some friends. As Ethan is/was in Sydney, maybe he has friends in Sydney or the surrounding areas. There are some music festivals on this weekend in NSW for the Easter long weekend... maybe Ethan had some friends attending and wanted to join?"
"My Aspergers son was taken by his father who disappeared with him and it took five weeks for me to get him back. Once again, different from this because I at least knew who he was with (if not where) but I still know the pain of not knowing where or how your child is. I also know that his type of Aspergers means he has an obsession with his computer and spends hours on it socialising online. If he went missing, because of this trait*, his computer is the first place I would look."
The final message from Ethan's family has been posted online and thanks everyone who helped in their search in any way:
"There are so many people in this group - some of you have been here from the beginning, and others only joined us recently, but you have all contributed to helping us get the word out; and many of you have helped to keep Tammy's spirits up while she sat helplessly at home waiting for her boy to be found.
All we can say is: Thank you.
Thank you from Tammy - she's over the moon at the moment, and busy as all get-out answering phones: Thank you from Brett, who is finally seeing a smile on Tammy's face for the first time in almost two weeks: Thank you from Amber, who is elated that her big brother is coming home: Thank you from Donny - you people have made her proud to be a Facebook member!
No one really expected this kind of a turn-out, and your support for Ethan and his family has been powerful, wonderous, almost miraculous, and something for you to be PROUD of!"
If you are following the Facebook group thus far, please don't leave just yet; Ethan's family wish to show him the 7,700 people who wanted him to stay safe.
I love social media. Did I ever tell you that?
EDIT: A comment on this article reads: "Why isn't this all over the television? When Daniel Morcombe went missing it was everywhere. I found out about this through Facebook... So there must be hundreds of people who are unaware." Another reader agreed. What do you think?
Another comment corrects me, quite rightly:
I run the Australian Missing Persons Register, a volunteer service to help the families of the missing, without charge...the bulk of the search was NOT undertaken by the police, it was undertaken by me, and my associate... It was actually me who located Ethan and Kevin who drove 2000km in two days to pick Ethan up and return him to QLD. Using the internet to locate the missing is something I do every day, all day for the last four years with a good success rate.
Many thanks, Nicole.
*which makes me ponder one's Web Wills. How would people use your online network activities to find you if you were lost? What would they do with your online accounts if you couldn't be? Another blog for another day...