How publicity affects missing persons cases

How publicity affects missing persons cases

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Christina Stoddard, 27, was last seen at the Walmart on Clinton Highway in October 2007, but you've probably never heard her name or seen her picture. Christina Stoddard, 27, was last seen at the Walmart on Clinton Highway in October 2007, but you've probably never heard her name or seen her picture.
"As soon as your family member has gone missing, you have to call us," said Knoxville police investigator Phyllis Tonkin, who works every day to find people currently listed as missing from the city. "As soon as your family member has gone missing, you have to call us," said Knoxville police investigator Phyllis Tonkin, who works every day to find people currently listed as missing from the city.
Being in the spotlight can also help the families of the missing, as Cocke County mother Lisa Maxwell knows. Her daughter Megan disappeared in 2009. Her remains were found a year later. Being in the spotlight can also help the families of the missing, as Cocke County mother Lisa Maxwell knows. Her daughter Megan disappeared in 2009. Her remains were found a year later.
Phyllis Tonkin says media coverage does help. Phyllis Tonkin says media coverage does help.
By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - When Tennessee nursing student Holly Bobo went missing three years ago, it made national news. Pictures of the blond, smiling young woman blanketed the media, and her family urged the public to help find her. A break in the case finally came this year. Three suspects have been arrested. But each day, dozens of people are listed as missing in the city of Knoxville alone. What about their stories, their families?

Christina Stoddard, 27, was last seen at the Walmart on Clinton Highway in October 2007, but you've probably never heard her name or seen her picture.

"We were trying to look on our own to see if she was still here in town," said her mother Barbara Millan.

So her family didn't file a police report for three days.

"As soon as your family member has gone missing, you have to call us," said Knoxville police investigator Phyllis Tonkin, who works every day to find people currently listed as missing from the city. "I would say probably anywhere from 45 to 60."
 
Some cases have a lot of leads while others have none.

"Some, the family members are deceased where we actually can't get any more information. Some people just don't want to be found," Tonkin said.

She says media coverage does help.

"People don't understand, there are a lot of people that are out there missing. Unless we can get their faces out there, I'll be in the same situation, still looking," Tonkin said.

But the publicity needs to bring in more information.

"If we don't get help from the community to back up what we're doing, that media attention doesn't mean anything," Tonkin said.

Being in the spotlight can also help the families of the missing, as Cocke County mother Lisa Maxwell knows. Her daughter Megan disappeared in 2009. Her remains were found a year later.

Previous story: Suspect in Megan Maxwell's murder takes reduced charge in plea deal

"People cared and it kept them informed of what was going on," Maxwell said. "This whole community, we came together in this."
 
Maxwell encourages other families in the same position to reach out.

"You have families that don't want to get on TV and talk about this nightmare, and then it puts the responsibility on the investigators and I don't know, maybe that's not good all the time," Maxwell said.

Christina Stoddard's family is hoping, 6 and a half years later, it's not too late for people to care about her.

"They might come forward to the police and tell them what they know or where they think she might have gone," Millan said.

Investigators say in addition to reporting a  loved one missing immediately, you should also have a recent photo handy. Child ID kits are available for free online.

Web extra: Interview with Phyllis Tonkin on the Derek Funk case (video)

Missing persons investigator Phyllis Tonkin has been working on the case of Derek Funk for the last four years. His body was found two months ago in the Tennessee River, but the case has not been closed. Tonkin talked to 6 News about the search to find out how he died.

Previous story: Remains found in South Knoxville identified as man missing since 2010

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