As a mom, the decision is easy. As an editor, not so much.
A 20-year-old woman is missing. She’s been gone for 10 days. Her family is worried sick about her.
If I were her mom, I’d try everything I could think of to find her.
I’d call the police. I’d search the streets. I’d post flyers.
I’d tell my friends, who these days likely would recommend posting her picture on Facebook.
They’d tell people she’s missing and ask them to share the post with their Facebook friends, who could share it with their friends, who could share it with their friends.
As many of you know, that very thing happened over the past two weeks in our community. Like many of you, I first learned Aubrey Moss was missing when a friend shared her missing-person flyer on Facebook.
A click on the flyer took you to a special Facebook group called Help Find Aubrey Moss. In no time, the site had 27,000 members.
They offered prayers. They offered money. They offered their time, as well.
“I intend on making 100 copies of the flyer I have,” one person wrote, “and I will be talking with local businesses about posting the flyer. I hope this will be of some assistance.WE CAN AND WILL FIND HER!!!!”
Flyers went up around town and on a billboard along Interstate 5.
Facebook friends asked why the local news media wasn’t reporting on Moss. Some moved over to thenewstribune.com, posting “#findaubreymoss” in the comments section of unrelated stories, nudging us to look into her disappearance.
As a mom, I want to help every family find every missing person. Our newspaper and website could help spread the word.
As an editor, the decision is more complicated.
Sadly, we don’t have room in the paper or reporters enough to write about every missing person. There are too many. So we must draw a line somewhere.
Also, many times these people have chosen to cut ties with their families. If that’s what’s going on, it’s not news.
Sometimes they’re involved in low-level crimes that lead them to leave. Sometimes they’ve run away or even threatened suicide.
We normally don’t write about those situations, in part because we know a story can unnecessarily tar a person.
In this case, police believed Moss had chosen to be out of contact and was not in immediate danger at the hands of another person.
We chose not to write a story.
But the social media push continued. As can happen in such a well-meaning but frenzied press to share information, rumors flourished and grew more outlandish by the day.
Soon the Facebook page filled with stories of other local young people, each reported to have gone missing at about the same time.
“Make(s) you wonder if they are not all connected somehow,” someone wrote. “With the way the world is and the guy who just got busted for sex trafficking it makes you wonder if he had others working for him.”
“Parents are crying out for help and the area needs to know that someone is kidnapping children,” wrote another.
Editors discussed again whether we should write a story. None of the missing people was in a situation that normally would prompt a story, according to police. But at least we could debunk the myth about children being snatched.
As a mom, the decision was easy. Putting information in the paper might help get the word out.
As an editor, that would mean breaking with our standard. We decided in this case the greater good was in telling readers what we knew was not happening.
Our April 24 story acknowledged that flyers about three Pierce County individuals had “gone viral,” but that police said the cases were not linked and none involved “suspicious circumstances.” We named the three and gave information for a candlelight vigil being held for Moss.
On Tuesday, the Facebook page broke the news: “AUBREY HAS BEEN FOUND !!!!!”
Members were thanked and urged to turn their attention to other missing persons. The post added: “AT THIS TIME, WE ASK THAT YOU RESPECT THE FAMILY'S PRIVACY.”
Most commenters expressed relief that Moss was found; a few demanded answers about where she’d been.
A woman called me Wednesday asking the TNT to investigate. As the mother of a young child, she had felt compelled to post hundreds of Find Aubrey Moss flyers.
“All these people take time away from their families and their children,” she said. “Nobody’s giving us any answers.”
We did not pursue a story.
As an editor, that essentially ended the matter.
As a mom, I hope the Moss family is doing OK.
Note: I discussed this column with the woman who identified herself on Facebook as a friend of the family and who started the Find Aubrey Moss Facebook group. At her suggestion, I didn’t try to contact the Moss family. She assured me she would let them know the column was coming.