Families of missing loved ones share grief

·3-min read

It has been nearly a year since Claire Brosnan's brother Nathan went missing and each day carries with it the fear that he will be found dead.

The father-of-three vanished without a trace from Munruben, south of Brisbane, in September 2021.

"It's really difficult, every time remains are found you get excited because they might be your remains - and then you're shattered but happy because someone else is getting remains back," Ms Brosnan tells AAP.

"I feel terrible for people who have been waiting for years."

The 36-year-old man worked at a civil contracting company and was in regular contact with his sister, so when communication abruptly stopped she knew something was wrong.

"We were very close but I hadn't heard anything from him for a couple of weeks, so I went to police and made a formal missing persons report," Ms Brosnan says.

Police told her they were already looking for Mr Brosnan for a separate matter, and his sister acknowledged her brother was "not a saint".

"He was a drug addict, he also had schizophrenia and bipolar. He would take his medication until he felt good, but then he'd stop and the spiral would begin into paranoia and taking illicit drugs," she says.

Mr Brosnan is among the 53,000 people who were reported missing in Australia last year, although unlike him the vast majority have been found.

On Sunday, the Australian Federal Police launched Missing Persons Week and this year's "without them" campaign theme is a reminder that the anguish of having a missing loved one can affect anyone.

The AFP defines a missing person as anyone who is reported missing to police, whose whereabouts are unknown and for whom there are fears for their welfare.

Anyone missing for more than three months is considered a long-term missing person.

Children and young represent a disproportionate number of missing person reports, while more males than females are reported as missing.

People who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders can also make up an outsized proportion of missing persons reports.

For example, in WA Aboriginal people account for 17.5 per cent of unsolved missing persons cases despite making up only three per cent of the population.

There are various reasons why people go missing, including due to miscommunication, misadventure or being the victim of crime.

More than 2500 people are on the register of the long-term missing in Australia.

Naomi Busbridge, whose brother Paul Baker went missing in the Northern Territory in August last year, says having a missing family member is heart-wrenching.

"There are so many questions and no answers. You wonder why, you wonder where and you wonder if you will ever see them again or know what happened to them," she says.

One of the challenges police face is to identify the reports that require urgent and intensive responses.

Each police jurisdiction has its own procedures for handling missing persons cases, but responses typically involve a preliminary investigation.

If a person is not found within a short time and police identify the need for a more comprehensive search, a follow-up investigation is instigated.

Acting AFP Assistant Commissioner Jason Kennedy says the first 24 hours following a person's disappearance are the most crucial.

"This is because the sooner police are able to follow-up leads, such as the availability of CCTV footage, the more likely the person will be found safe and well," he says.

Ms Brosnan says she believes something sinister likely occurred in the case of her brother Nathan's disappearance.

His mental health struggles made him particularly vulnerable, which has only exacerbated his family's grief.

"Every day, something could trigger you like a song or you see someone who looks like him. Your heart just stops for that second and it's shattering," she says.

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