When she was 12 years old, Meaghan Good liked to write little fiction stories, and kids were always the main characters.
To illustrate her stories, she liked to go online at the school library and look for pictures of kids who looked as if they’d fit the characters in her stories.
When you’re looking for pictures of kids, though, you know where you find them, she asked? Missing kids websites.
In the years since, Good’s interests have changed. She’s a devotee of true-crime books. In fact, we wrote about her last week for having given a book to the library that had mysteriously disappeared from a library in England about five years before.
Her other main interest, though, is the stories of missing persons.
For some time, she had been a regular visitor to a website about missing persons that was operated by a woman out of her home. Good used to forward news articles on missing persons to the woman for her to put on her website.
But running the website got to be too much work for the woman, so she asked Good if she wanted to take it over.
That was in 2004. Now, 11 years later, Good’s life is all but consumed by the site, which she has renamed CharleyProject.org. It contains information of 9,500 people missing from all over the United States.
The site, Good says, does things that other missing persons websites don’t do. "I take all the information I can and put it on one website," so that rather than combing the Internet for stories here or there about a missing person, people can go to her site and find it all.
All the while, Good hopes the site will make a difference, that maybe, once in a while, her site will play a role in locating a person who has been missing.
It’s happened. Ten years ago a Texas man with mental health issues quit taking his medication, she said, and he disappeared. Police found his car, full of his possessions with the doors open, abandoned along a highway.
Two days later, she said, the man was killed when he was hit by a truck in Arizona. He had no ID, though, so he was listed as a John Doe, buried and forgotten.
Then one day a woman from Ireland was investigating John Does on the Internet and realized that the man listed as a John Doe in Arizona matched a missing man listed on Good’s website. Finally, the man’s family learned what happened to him.
It’s not a happy ending, but others are even more grim. There was the 6-year-old boy whose mother was homeless and whose father was in prison. He bounced around between various relatives’ homes, none of whom really wanted him. Then one day, people realized they hadn’t seen him in a while.
"By the time police were notified, he’d been gone for two years," Good said. He’s still missing.
Then there was the girl who disappeared while camping with her boyfriend.
He told police she was kidnapped by Bigfoot. Sadly, she was never found, but her boyfriend was never charged in the case, either.
"I’m trying to tell the stories of people," to keep them from being forgotten, Good says. "It’s a memorial."
Not everyone likes her site. Families of missing persons object when her site notes that according to police, a woman was working as a prostitute, or that a woman had left a bar with a stranger. But she’s just telling the truth.
In building the site, she’s learned a lot about old crimes and how police investigations have changed. And she’s learned that "you’re much better off if you go missing today."
"You’re actually quite safe today," she says. "Your chances of being abducted are quite small, and it’s not strangers you have to be afraid of. It’s the people you know."
Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.