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Law enforcement describes missing persons investigations

12:04 AM, May 8, 2013   |    comments
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Newport Police Chief Maurice Shults

In the wake of the escape of three young women who were apparently held captive for years in Ohio, Newport, TN Police Chief Maurice Shults spoke Tuesday about a missing person's case that didn't end happily.

He says early evidence in the investigation into the disappearance of Megan Maxwell pointed to her murder.

"Obviously her car was found burned that morning. We knew were she had been, we knew were her last phone call had indicated. In a situation like that, we knew somebody had taken Megan," he said.

After her 2009 disappearance, authorities and family member searched for more than a year for any sign of the 19-year old. Maxwell's remains were discovered more than a year later in rural Cocke County, about five miles from where authorities originally found her car. Maxwell's accused killer, Jeffrey Lee Stock, accepted a plea deal in 2012.

Shults said Maxwell's death was not the outcome investigators had hoped would end the case, but often that's the result when somebody goes missing.

"You get frustrated on some level, because you want to recover the person, get them home safely," he said. "But then again if they're not going to be alive, we want to be able to give the family that knowledge and give them some semblance of peace and then we just have to continue to work."

Depending the age of the missing person, police will set into motion a series of steps to find them. If the victim is under 18, authorities will quickly gather evidence and determine if an AMBER Alert is necessary.

If the person missing is a legal adult, police must find proof he or she did not leave by their own will before they can launch a larger investigation into the disappearance.

"As a general rule, unless there's a distinct sign something has gone wrong, you have the right to leave anytime. I can pick up my stuff and leave here and don't tell anybody. So we have to give those things a chance to work out and see if we can locate someone," Shults said.

He described the larger network available to investigators, who often find leads to information out of state.

When a case has gone cold, Shults said a person's loved one's can help keep their story in the public's eye.

"It's directed by families, communities out working hard and searching," he said. "Candlelight vigils, prayer services."

Successful stories, like the most recent discovery of three Ohio women found alive after missing for more than 10 years, can inspire hope within the families and detectives still looking for answers.

"It gives you that little inspiration," said Shults. "The work load is the same but, we're going to do everything we can from beginning to end to try to bring closure to a case."

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