Jackson Miller is missing, and his family and friends want to find the 20-year-old fast. They’ve used every traditional tool they can think of to search for him, as well as one that is being increasingly used in this age of social media: Facebook.
“Jackson Miller, Missing – Help Us Find Him” was started on May 20, 2010, five days after the young man disappeared , one day after dozens of friends had canvassed San Francisco, the last place he had been seen. Jackson had been suffering from depression and anxiety in the weeks leading up to the disappearance.
Almost immediately after the page was created, posts came pouring in from family and friends, encouraging Jackson’s parents, Gina Funaro and Paul Miller. Funaro, Miller, and friends posted information on the site about how to distribute flyers and who to call if anyone sighted Jackson. Soon, however, the messages were being posted directly to Jackson.
“We love you Jackson,” one woman wrote on May 22.
“Jackson – I love you. Let’s meet somewhere for a burrito. Please call me,” Funaro wrote on May 23.
“Jackson, you are so special and there are now over 1,000 caring people that are concerned about you,” his dad wrote on May 26, referring to the people who had become friends of the page in the first week the page was up. “I miss talking with you everyday. You are wonderful and have so much more to give to this world.”
Facebook and social media in general are being used more and more in cases like this, according to Anthony Gonzalez, director of programs and outreach for Child Quest International, a non-profit group that aids law enforcement in finding missing children and at-risk adults.
“You do see more postings. It’s definitely becoming a trend,” he said. Child Quest has taken on Jackson’ s case under what’s known as Suzanne’s Law, which covers missing young adults between the ages of 18 and 21.
The posts on the Jackson Miller page, like the paper flyers that family and friends have plastered all over San Francisco, are meant to do one thing: find Jackson. It has been a heartbreaking, frustrating, and sometimes chilling, process for Funaro and Miller.
There was the day they reviewed Coast Guard tapes of the waters below the Golden Gate, trying to determine if Jackson had jumped. The bridge was in the distance on the video, but they saw a splash. According to bridge officials, there were no videos from their cameras on the bridge showing anyone jumping. Since then witnesses have reported seeing Jackson in the city, including one man who said he was “100 percent sure” the man he conversed with was Jackson.
One woman reported seeing Jackson on Monday, July 26, in San Francisco, wearing the same brown leather boat shoes he was reportedly wearing when he disappeared.
Funaro said they knew almost immediately something was amiss when they realized Jackson was missing on Saturday, May 15. He had been depressed, struggling with anxiety and other issues for a couple of months.
“He was especially despondent that day,” Funaro said. “He seemed like he had no energy and was really hopeless.”
In the afternoon Jackson borrowed a car telling his parents a story about meeting some people they trust. When he didn’t come back at the expected time, Funaro and Miller found out there had been no meeting. They tried calling his phone, his friends. He wasn’t answering and friends hadn’t seen him. They called the Santa Clara County Sheriff ‘s office that night.
On Monday, May 17, they found out the car had been abandoned in an employee parking lot at the Golden Gate Bridge. They immediately drove the approximately 45 miles to the bridge and began their frustrating quest to review videos to find out whether Jackson was alive or not. National security rules prevented them from viewing bridge tapes, which is why they followed a suggestion to check Coast Guard tapes. But bridge officials assured them there was no video of a jump, and no eyewitness reports on a busy day at the bridge.
On Wednesday, May 19, 12 carloads of friends headed up to San Francisco to hand out fliers, Funaro said. The searchers included neighbors, Jackson’s friends, people from the Cupertino Hills Swim and Racquet Club where the family is active and Jackson coached swim teams, Miller’s work, and from the communities of the schools Jackson and their 17-year-old daughter have attended. Their search yielded at least two witnesses who said they talked to a young man who looked like Jackson.
The next day, Jackson’s friends Christine Whitehill and Jennifer Proudian set up the Facebook page, with hopes of getting the word out to as many friends of the family as possible. What started as a communication tool for that group soon started getting noticed by friends of friends on Facebook. There are now more than 1,400 friends of the page.
“The whole idea was to get the word out,” Whitehill said. “We didn’t really know what we were dealing with at the time.”
Funaro said she has debated with herself about whether using Facebook is a good idea, especially since she knows how guarded Jackson is about what people know about him, and can get particular about what he looks like in pictures.
“I was concerned more about how Jackson would feel. We knew that Jackson wouldn’t want a lot of people to know that he was even depressed,” she said.
“But I have to always say that we need to get him to safety and not worry about that. I just had to let go.”
Gonzalez said there are pros and cons to using social media.
“It’s a double-sided thing. The good part about it, we believe, is it’s good to get the picture out to as many people as possible,” he said. The down-side maybe that if a child does not want to be found, the site may give him or her clues as to where searches are being conducted, driving the child further into hiding.
Funaro hopes that the efforts of Jackson’s young friends through social media and other means will possibly be the most helpful in finding him. She said she noticed that more and more of his friends are now directly addressing Jackson through the Facebook page.
“Hey buddy I hope you’re doing ok and in good health,” one friend wrote on July 25. “I really wish I could talk to you man we used to have such great conversations and laugh and crack jokes…it was awesome. You’re an amazing person who I greatly miss, please call me….Don’t forget about me.”
For a flier from Child Quest International about Jackson, go to http://childquest.org/viewcase.php?casenum=1394&person=m1. Child Quest officials are encouraging anyone with information to contact the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office at 408-299-2311.