Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kyron Horman and the Urge to Do Something

Kyron Horman is still missing, more than 5 days after he was last seen at his Portland, Oregon elementary school.  There are twice-daily briefings from the sheriff's department about his case, but they don't seem to contain much information.  The family issued a statement today asking everyone to keep looking.  The search has not been classified as a criminal investigation, and is still largely confined to the local Portland area despite tips coming in from Washington State.

In the absence of any hard information, the media, of course, is making up their own.  It seems like every media outlet has a former FBI profiler or an expert in missing child cases explaining what the police really mean when they say nothing.  Interestingly, not one of these people seems to think the police don't have any idea what happened to this child, and none of them seem to think this is not a criminal investigation.  Apparently, there are clues to the Sheriff's thinking all over the place if you know where to find them -- or imagine them.

One interesting phenomenon of this story has to do with the search.  Police have asked that people not just show up to help look for Kyron, but rather leave that to the folks who are trained in search and rescue.  Apparently, people are showing up anyway.  Today, police took a different tack and asked for donations of food and water for the search and rescue teams.  Searchers are coming from all over Oregon, and they are going to need to be fed.  The press in Portland is now announcing drop off centers where such donations can be left.

So, now is when, in the absence of any hard information, I'm going to make up my own.  In my experience and training, it would be fairly unusual for the authorities to need donations from the public for food and water for the rescue teams.  These sorts of needs are often either covered by donated supplies and services from local restaurants or supplied by the Red Cross, or both.  In a truly huge operation, you can imagine the need outstripping the established methods of getting volunteers fed, but it would need to be truly huge, on the scale of 9-11 (and even there, companies donated tons of food).  So why are the authorities asking the public for this?

My guess, and it is just a guess, is that they are trying to channel the energies of people who want to help.  They don't want people showing up to search, because they aren't properly trained and they may well hinder the operation more than they will help it.  But people don't like to be told to go away at moments like this.  When they are turned away, people tend to interpret this as meaning that the authorities are not doing everything they can, or they simply ignore the instructions and go searching anyway.  People who are scared do not like to do nothing, and helping makes them feel more in control.  This is a natural, understandable reaction, but it needs to be sent in a useful direction so as not to sabotage the very operation people are trying to help.  Asking people to bring food and water for the searchers gives them something to do that is arguably necessary that will not get in the way.  The helpers feel like they're helping, the searchers get food and water, and those with the proper training carry out the search.  Everybody wins.

If there's one thing I know about myself, it is that I am very prone to the need to do something when things go wrong.  That is almost certainly a big piece of why I do crisis response work in the first place.  That's not a bad motivation, and the outcome can be helpful.  It's just a question of sending me off in the right direction, so I don't get in the way.


Colleen said...

We are thinking alike...I thought that they were trying to channel the helping energy too...sort of like having the about to be dad go boil water (or, in David Eddings books, chop wood) while the wife in labor.

I hope they find the boy. I can think of too many awful things.

Lise Harwin said...

Thanks for posting. As of yesterday, the Red Cross has been asked to support the search and rescue operation with beverages. My understanding is that they have a food service contract that is taking care of food needs. They've also had lots of local restaurants (like Typhoon!) step up and provide meals for the workers.

Of course, the Red Cross is ready to provide meals if asked to do so by the Sheriff's Department. But until then, we'll plan to provide drinks for about 350 workers through the weekend and potentially beyond.

If you're interested in checking out photos of our mobile kitchen at the search and rescue site, you can see them here:

Thanks for continuing to spread the word about this case. We're all hoping for a happy ending.

Lise Harwin
Communications Director
Oregon Trail Chapter
American Red Cross

Meet the Quarterback

My Photo
Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
View my complete profile

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Quarterback for Kindle