Columbia Police are looking into why officers didn’t take a missing person report on the veteran who disappeared June 30 and whose skeletal remains were found less than a month later near I-70 Drive Southwest.
Columbia Community Relations Director Steven Sapp confirmed Friday afternoon that officers didn’t complete a missing person report on Columbia veteran Glen O’Neal, 39, who left his home on a scooter.
Cheryl O’Neal, Glen O’Neal’s wife, said her husband disappeared June 30. The two texted throughout that day, and he told her he would return that evening. It was the last she heard from him.
She called police to report her husband missing on July 3.
O’Neal’s remains were found by hikers around 5 p.m. on July 25 near I-70 Drive Southwest and Silvey Street. Columbia police identified the remains, which were described as being “in the advanced stages of decomposition,” as O’Neal’s the next day.
Sapp said the department launched an internal affairs investigation on July 26 to look into thedepartment’s Policy 332 regarding missing persons reports and whether the department violated it. He did not know when the investigation would be finished.
The only circumstances in which a report would not be completed is if the missing person was found or made contact indicating they were not in danger, Sapp said.
The officer who spoke to Cheryl O’Neal filed a “Be On the LookOut” report on July 3, which goes into the department’s system, Sapp said. The information is shared at officer shift briefings that occur in the mornings, afternoons and evenings.
“When I tried to file it (the missing person report), they told me because he had an incident prior, he’d have to be arrested or be put in (a psychiatric hospital),” Cheryl O’Neal said. “Which is why they put out the (Be On the LookOut) report.”
Interim Police Chief Geoff Jones said Friday he would not comment on whether the “Be On the LookOut” report was made instead of a missing person report because O’Neal had a prior incident.
“I don’t know the details of the report or where we’re at in the investigation, and every case is different and there are nuances I may or may not understand,” Jones said. “A (Be On the LookOut) is probably the most effective way to get the most information to give to the officers to have them looking for him.”
Jones said he doesn’t believe the outcome would have been different had a report been taken.
Cheryl O’Neal said her husband began exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned home from serving in the Army. His anxiety worsened when he left the military, she said. He would leave to decompress for usually between four to seven days.
The police department’s “Be On the LookOut” report noted that Cheryl O’Neal told the officer her husband had “relapsed on meth on Father’s Day,” June 16, and was “possibly with his unknown friend/dealer.”
The report also said Cheryl O’Neal was “concerned for his well-being, but there is not a major indicator that he is in any danger.”
The department’s policy lays out procedures for reporting a missing person. It outlines people who may be at risk, including those who are dependent on prescribed medication and/or illegal substances or are absent from home for more than 24 hours.
Cheryl O’Neal said her husband would sometimes leave without telling the family but would stay in contact.
Sapp said he could not confirm whether police knew O’Neal struggled with anxiety and PTSD, because the internal affairs investigation is ongoing. However, the “Be On the LookOut” report issued on July 3 noted that O’Neal was a combat medic who “possibly has undiagnosed PTSD and does not do well with fireworks.” The Fourth of July was the next day.
The department’s policy does not specifically state a time frame for an officer to submit a missing person’s report. It notes the department “assumes that the missing person is in need of immediate assistance until an investigation reveals otherwise.”
“There are a lot of variables that occur, and no two reports of somebody being absent and then actually missing are the same,” Sapp said. “There’s a number of times that people just need to get away for a little bit, and sometimes they have histories of doing that. If that needs to be addressed, I’m confident that’s something that’ll be looked at.”
Jones said he’d asked his department to reach out to the family to let them know a missing person’s report had not been taken.
Greg Silvey, who held a news conference Monday to draw attention to what happened to his brother-in-law, said he was under the impression that police had taken a missing person’s report from his sister, Cheryl O’Neal. “This is the first time I’m hearing about it.”
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed