The Terrifying Night When My Daughter Went Missing

by Amy Nielsen
A husband consoling his wife, who is worried about their missing daughter, by placing his hand on he...

I’ll never forget waking up one morning seeing a text from my 22-year-old daughter sent at 4:00 am. It read, Hi Mom. I know it’s late. I’m staying at James’ house. I love you. Sorry. I’ll be home tomorrow morning. Thank you.

Odd. The text came from her Gmail account, not her cell phone. And what was up with that Thank you?

I nudged my half-asleep husband and showed him the text. He said that he woke up earlier to see if she’d come home and noticed via our alarm system that someone entered our home around 3:20 am and left around 3:30 am.

I called her cell. I texted her. I emailed her Gmail account. Nothing.

I checked her room to see if anything was out of place. Her phone charger, overnight bag, and toothbrush were all there. Things I’d expect she would have taken if she was staying the night somewhere.

My husband checked the Find My Phone app, which we told her always to leave on. It read, Not Located.

I tried to push my concerns aside and move on with my day. She’d told me what she was doing. She had gone out with a friend after work, and she stayed over. Her phone was probably dead, and she was sleeping. It was fine.

Still, an uneasiness nudged me. I called, texted, and checked the Find My Phone app throughout the morning between mundane daily tasks.

A few hours later, her phone pinged – in North Carolina. We live in Florida. Panic swept over me like a tsunami.

I sprinted to my husband’s office. I told him to check the security camera footage. Nothing. I told him to call the security company and ask why no footage! Someone came into our home at 3:20 am. There should be footage. Tell them it’s an emergency!

Terrified, I called 911. The dispatcher asked me multiple questions. Who was she last seen with? What did the vehicle look like? Where had she gone?

But that was the problem. I didn’t know the last name of the guy she was with. I didn’t know his address or phone number. I didn’t know where they’d gone to get a drink.

My daughter recently moved back in with us while she was between schools. She asked that we not treat her like a child. She was 22. Give her some space. Trust her.

So when she came home after work and said she was going out with a friend for a drink and told me she’d be home by 1:00 am, I just said, “Be safe and see you in the morning.”

Speaking to the dispatcher, I gave them what little information I could as I choked back my fear.

A few minutes later, an officer called me to ask more questions as he headed our way. He asked me if anyone else might know her whereabouts or more information about this friend she was with.

Her BEST FRIEND! While I was on my landline with the officer, I called her best friend on my cell. She said my daughter texted her at 4:00 am also. She said my daughter told her she’d lost her phone. She hadn’t spoken with her since.

She also knew the last name of the friend she was with that night, and we gave that information to the officer. He was immediately able to identify him and find his contact info.

He told me he’d call the number and get back to me as soon as possible.

Shortly after I hung up with the officer, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize.

“Mom, it’s me. I’m okay.”

Relief washed over me, and I started crying. The officer had tracked them down.

She explained that around 1:00 am, as her friend headed to drop her off, he stopped to get gas. As he was refueling, she got out as well, and apparently, her phone fell out of her pocket.

A few miles down the road, she noticed it was missing. They went back, and it was gone. She came home to get her computer to track it but didn’t want us upset that she’d lost it. So she told me only that she wasn’t coming home, not that she’d lost her cell phone.

The friend she was with was trying to help her. But little did either of them know that my husband and I thought we were tracking my daughter through North Carolina as they were tracking her cell phone.

The lesson is this: I told my daughter that I understood that she doesn’t want to be treated like a child as an adult. And I get it. But, this isn’t about that. It’s about safety.

If it had been my daughter taken to North Carolina instead of her phone, I would have blamed myself for the rest of my life. Phones can be replaced; daughters can’t.

I told her, moving forward, there is a new plan. It isn’t about me controlling her or treating her like you are a child. It’s about keeping her safe and protecting my mental health.

Now when she leaves with someone, I have their full name, phone number, and address. I also have the location and address they are going to.

This time, she got it. She understood.

My message to all other parents of young adults, I know you want to give your kids their space. But knowing who they are with when they leave your home, at any age, isn’t a violation of their privacy. It’s necessary to answer questions to a 911 dispatcher, questions I pray you never have to answer.