Missing. Please Help.
October 22, 2012 5:11 PM   Subscribe

My sister's husband has probably had a psychotic break in Southern California and has gone missing. Please advise.

Let me state at the outset that the police have been notified. I have also read the advice in this AskMe.

Prior History: My brother-in-law R works for a defense contractor in Southern California. As best I can tell, he breaks into systems to test their security. He has been jittery about it for the last few years, telling my sister K that his boss is doing illegal things and he's afraid he'll be blamed. He's afraid of the government arresting and prosecuting him (his words). He has told my sister more than once that one day he'll disappear, and that she should call his father and the police. He has also been obsessed with Anonymous.

It got bad a while ago, and he had to take a break from work. He's been on Viibryd ever since. He has been trying to take FMLA leave, but says his boss denied it. She claims she never saw it. K has a copy of it with his boss's signature, as well as everyone in HR's. We don't know what the deal is there.

Recent History: R was under a lot of stress over the last few months, and was put on Ativan in addition to the Viibryd. He's been stepping down on it (under medical supervision), and a week ago he weaned off it entirely. Last week he filed a whistleblower complaint on his boss, I think with the GAO. He received a letter back from the GAO saying that they had no jurisdiction over his employer.

Today: K woke up at 3 AM and saw R coming upstairs. He said he couldn't sleep. She thought nothing of it and went back to bed. She got up later with the kids, but when she went out to take the oldest to school, R's car was still in the driveway. She found a note in her office saying "I love you. I'm okay. Tell our boy that Daddy went to fight for his country. Burn this note." There was a lighter next to it.

K called R's boss. R was not at work. R's boss said he'd sent her a weird email. She forwarded it to K.

R left a bag with papers, including copies of the GAO letter. He does not have his computer. He has his phone, wallet, and passport, but his phone has been turned off. He sent her an email this afternoon saying that the US is at war with "foreigners." This was while the police were at the house. They told her what to write back. She hasn't heard from him since. The police didn't ask for a copy of the email, just told her to sit tight and call them if he got in touch. They didn't say what they would be doing, just that finding him would be a needle-in-haystack deal. They tried to track his phone but can't. R is on foot, unless he took a cab somewhere or has a friend in Anonymous who came to get him. K and R live just over an hour north of the border.

Occam's Razor says this is psychosis rather than the government actually being after him. I suppose there's a remote chance that we're in a spy thriller, but it doesn't sound to me like that's the case. I'm not sure it matters on our end anyway.

K is pulling the headers from both emails to do a reverse lookup on the IP addresses. She has called his doctor. She doesn't want to let anyone else in the family to know yet, so isn't posting to Facebook. I am vacillating whether or not to go out there, as I'm across the country in Florida. She has family support in his father and stepmother, though I'm not sure how reliable they are.

My questions:

1. Is there anything else either of us can do at this point?

2. Should K check in with the cops to see what they're doing? (I suspect the answer to that is no, but we both desperately want to know.)

3. She and I are pretty sure that she's in shock, which is why she's been handling this rationally so far. Should I go out there to be there when/if she falls apart? Ticket prices are not an issue at this point.

Thanks for your help, Metafilter.
posted by cereselle to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Does he have credit cards and/or a debit card? Any activity on those accounts?
posted by xyzzy at 5:26 PM on October 22, 2012

I would go, if I were you. Because the very best outcome here is that he's back home before your plane lands. She needs your support, help with the kiddo, and another brain to bounce ideas off of. I have no idea about the other stuff, bit it sounds like she really could use some support.
posted by raisingsand at 5:27 PM on October 22, 2012 [25 favorites]

Go out there. Whether he's seen legitimately terrible and illegal things or is having a psychotic break doesn't matter. Your sister needs you.
posted by quince at 5:32 PM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Absolutely go there to help and support her as soon as you can. She needs someone from her family to be there for her while this is unfolding.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 5:36 PM on October 22, 2012

I can't tell you how much she will appreciate you being there, no matter what the next few days look like specifically. I have been in a situation not dissimilar (although, thankfully, a long time ago). I consider myself a pretty steady and capable person and I would never have even thought to ask my sister to come and be with me, but when my mom called and said she was on a plane headed my way I sat there and cried with relief. Go, now.
posted by something something at 5:45 PM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Based on my similar experience in L.A., the police are doing nothing because Southern Cal is too large and their resources are already spread too thin. Most likely he will surface in some sort of trouble -- whether he causes a ruckus in some public place, ends up at a shelter on Skid Row, calls because he needs money, etc. The best bet is to stay put and wait for him or the police to call under these circumstances. Being in touch with his doc can help get him 5150'd instead of sent to jail.

It would be really nice if you could go as support for your sis. Focus on the concrete things: getting the kids to school, planning fun activities for them as a distraction, etc. As this moves forward, it may be helpful to start attending support meetings, such as those provided by the National Alliance on Mental Health. A big part of dealing with the Crazy Person in my life has been to realize just what I can and can't do for them. (So this is not unlike the family of an alcoholic going to Al-Anon.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:53 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Has K been in touch with any of his (work or non-work) friends? (Specific to Southern CA: Does he know anyone who owns a boat?) Does he belong to a gym, a church, an athletic league, any kind of support network where he might turn up? Check the house and mobile phone records, to see who he might have contacted as he was planning this departure. Contact the banks re: withdrawals.

And you have another vote for fly out to be with your sister, whatever happens.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:57 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a librarian, check the public libraries as well. It is a safe place for a lot of psychotic people to be able to access the internet for free. Bring a picture, a copy of the police report and talk to as many staff as possible.
posted by saucysault at 6:08 PM on October 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Track his spending. Unless he has socked away a decent amount of cash, he needs to either use a credit card or withdraw cash from a bank. All of that can be tracked albeit after the fact.

Send him emails. Presumably, if he is sending them,he will read ones sent to him. I have no expertise in this area, but if it were me, I would send him emails telling him how much he is loved and NEEDED at home. Give him an update on the kids. Still going to school but asking about you. Maybe this will spark an interest in a return.

Go out to California and support your sister and your nephews and nieces.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:27 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Checklist for missing adults. I hope you get him home safely very soon.
posted by Gable Oak at 6:30 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does he have his meds with him? It is the Vybriid he's been stepping down on, or the Ativan?
(Honestly, I don't know much about these particular drugs; just brainstorming).
posted by kitcat at 6:44 PM on October 22, 2012

Response by poster: She is fine with me posting-- no one who knows either of them knows of this handle.

The emails were sent from his phone. I've suggested she contact the phone company to find out what cell tower he used. I've also forwarded your suggestions about checking the credit cards and bank accounts, and the checklist. Thank you.

He's been stepping down the Ativan, not the Vybriid, but that's a good point about whether he has his meds with him. I don't know. She did find that his bike is gone, as well as a backpack that he uses. So his range of travel is wider than we previously knew, although it means he probably hasn't gotten a lift from anyone.

She has promised that if he's not back in the morning, she'll call our parents. She's been reluctant to speak to them about her husband's situation in general, but Mom and Dad are far better equipped than I to handle things out there. If she still doesn't want to tell them, I'll go. I have a list of tomorrow's flights queued up.
posted by cereselle at 7:02 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd go and be with her. it's scary enough for someone to be missing, but for someone to be missing *and* psychotic is truly terrifying. The fact that he didn't sleep is an indictaor that this is psychosis-- sleeplessness exacerbates any tendency toward mania/psychosis.

If you're able to talk with him at some point, I advise asking about and sympathizing with his thoughts and feelings (however crazy they may sound). If he feels that you/your sister are on his side, he'll be more likely to follow your suggestions. If you try to "talk him out" of his beliefs, he'll likely see you as hopelessly misguided. A psychosis is like a waking dream-- he's having a vivid dream, but he's awake. Playing along until he is safe will help steer him to safety.

Once you find him, you'll have a few choices (if he doesn't end up in jail first). Hospitalization is the mainstream choice. Another option is a respite house -- an alternative to hospitalization for people going through crisis.

Here is a directory of respite houses:
This one is in CA: http://www.secondstoryhouse.org/about.html

Also, changing psych meds can wreak havoc on people's psyches-- the sleeplessness and/or psychosis can definitely be exacerbated by these changes.

Good luck. My thoughts are with you.
posted by airguitar2 at 8:06 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The fact that he is worried about the government arresting him, yet is sending emails from his phone while on the run, indicates that he is either not thinking clearly, or is just incompetent.

I'd hire a private detective (or 2, then stick with the one doing the better job for you).
Don't wait til morning, you need to marshal all your resources asap.

Also consider, he may be psychotic AND correct about what's been going on with his company.
Or it could be a pre-divorce tactic.
You sister needs to take control of all the finances, accounts, credit cards, itunes etc NOW, using a new or borrowed computer, new email address and a new strong password.
Perhaps the credit limit on his card could be lowered to just a few hundred.
posted by anon4now at 10:37 PM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

If he is an adult and sending emails, which he is, the police would more likely consider him a voluntary leaver than a missing person. I would not rely on them as the primary source for searching. Your sister and whomever is helping will be doing the bulk of the work. The above suggestions about hiring a private detective are good ones.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:06 PM on October 22, 2012

I agree, going to help your sister is the right thing to do, and she will need you. Even aside from the practical aspects of having someone to helping her through this kind of trauma, it helps to have people who love you circle around. You're a good sister for being there.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:18 PM on October 22, 2012

Chiming in to say go, if you're not on your way already. Something nowhere near this awful happened to me, and my sister showed up within a day or so, unasked. It made all the difference.
posted by donnagirl at 6:11 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cell tower records often aren't kept that long. Typically there needs to be request from law enforcement to retain the records. I'm not sure how (or if) that's done in missing persons cases. Trying to get his SMS traffic, if there is any, would probably also be a good idea.

Is he making calls?

He didn't take his computer with him? He may have wiped it, or locked it down, but if not I'd suggest looking through his browsing history etc. to see if there's any useful clues there. But be careful, given his line of work.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:40 AM on October 23, 2012

nthing, go, and help.

Also, get a private detective NOW. Have your sister notify the credit card companies and have them call her if the cards are being used. She should also freeze the bank account (you don't want him draining the funds).

Hang in there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:40 PM on October 23, 2012

Response by poster: Update: He has made contact again, and has sent photos of him camping in the hills somewhere near where they live. He is definitely delusional, but the clues he's throwing out make us believe that he wants to be found. K is out looking for him. I'm on a layover waiting for the second leg of my flight.

Thank you, everyone who has encouraged me to go out there. Hopefully he'll be back home by the time I touch down. If not, we'll find a private detective asap and get him on the trail.
posted by cereselle at 1:49 PM on October 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

Maybe this goes without saying, but please be careful. His first note (fighting for his country) suggests that he may be anticipating some kind of ambush. Sure hope I'm overdramatizing this. You guys are in my thoughts and prayers.
posted by kitcat at 3:39 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Good! I hope you can keep the lines of communication open until he's found. Best of luck.
posted by airguitar2 at 6:19 PM on October 23, 2012

Response by poster: Okay. Sorry I couldn’t update sooner; we spent all yesterday on this.

R showed up at his dad’s house. (No one was home, so he broke a window and got in.) He spent the night there, slept, and rehydrated. We went over yesterday to talk it all over. R agreed to go to the hospital, and after a seven-hour wait in the ER, he finally got admitted. K and I waited with him for the first six hours, but after that we had to go get the kids from the neighbor’s house and go home. We hadn’t eaten all day, and we were exhausted and starving.

The hospital we chose has a good behavioral medicine program, with a strong outpatient clinic. After R is released from the hospital, he’ll stay with his grandfather who lives right by the hospital, so R can easily get to therapy. It’s an ideal situation! K lives an hour away from there, so she’ll get up with the kids and see him whenever she can, but in the meantime the kids are in a more stable environment and on their regular routine.

This is the first time I’ve been grateful for my own psychiatric hospitalization a few years back. I was able to do the things that Mr. C did for me back then, and it was really reassuring to both R and K. And since I’d been in his position, R could trust that I knew what was going to happen. Um. Yay for crazy? :)

I’m here for a few more days. We’ll be dealing with his HR department today and getting his FMLA leave squared away. All he has to do is concentrate on resting and getting better.

All in all, this is the best outcome we could have hoped for. Thank you, everyone, for urging me out here. I think the most amazing thing out of all of this is that I bought a flight from Florida to SoCal three hours before departure, round trip, for $250. That's not the most important thing, obviously, but it's pretty freaking amazing.

Thank you again, MeFi. Thank you so much.
posted by cereselle at 9:51 AM on October 25, 2012 [14 favorites]

I am so happy to hear this! And, if only we could all have a sister like you (mine is lovely too, though). Thank you for updating.
posted by kitcat at 1:12 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

cereselle: "Okay. Sorry I couldn’t update sooner; we spent all yesterday on this.


This is the first time I’ve been grateful for my own psychiatric hospitalization a few years back. I was able to do the things that Mr. C did for me back then, and it was really reassuring to both R and K. And since I’d been in his position, R could trust that I knew what was going to happen. Um. Yay for crazy? :)


Thank you again, MeFi. Thank you so much.

We should all have someone in our corner "crazy" like you! I am sure your sister is very grateful to have you in her corner and I am sure your brother-in-law will also one day thank you and appreciate what you have done to help him and his family.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:23 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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