For moderators of a Facebook group for Juneau’s missing people, it’s personal

A person recording a vigil with her phone
A woman livestreams a vigil for Juneau man Doug Farnsworth on Oct. 27, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. Farnsworth’s sister Kiersten started a Facebook group for Juneau’s missing people when her brother went missing last fall. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

A Facebook group is trying to do something about all of the missing people in Juneau. The group is called Help Find Juneau Missing People, and there’s action in that name. 

“Everybody is somebody’s someone,” the page says.

Since the group started in October, it’s been a space for people to share information about missing people in Juneau, but it’s also for sharing resources.

The group was started by Kiersten Farnsworth when her brother Doug went missing last fall

Doug Farnsworth’s body was found on Nov. 8, but Farnsworth stayed on as a moderator to help others who are going through what she went through. 

“I mean, the page kind of — it’s kind of my way of bereavement and grief,” she said.

For Farnsworth, it wasn’t just her brother’s case that was personal.

“I’m kind of close to a good chunk of random missing people,” she said.

One decision she’s had to enforce as a moderator is keeping the page Juneau-specific. People have come to post missing people from Anchorage and other places in the hopes of drawing attention to these cases.

“I feel like if we start focusing on other areas like that,” Farnsworth said. “People will stop paying as much attention when it’s somebody from Juneau.”

Whenever this happens, she tries to make sure that person has access to other resources, like the Seeking Alaska’s Missing page and then she takes the posts down.

“Because I mean, everyone matters,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what city they’re in, they still definitely matter.”

Late last year, Davina Merchant’s cousin Clifford White went missing, too. Farnsworth made Merchant a moderator of the group. They’ve known each other since they were kids. 

When White went missing, the police said they didn’t know where to look for him, so his family had to organize the search efforts themselves.

Merchant said she got a lot of leads from people saying they saw her cousin get beat up in a parking lot, or they’d tell her where they thought she should go look, but none of them were helpful. 

“When somebody starts telling a story, I think it’s because they’ve heard somebody else say it. I don’t know,” Merchant said. “It was nothing but lies.” 

After five months, White’s body was recovered in Juneau’s wetlands. It took a few days before the State Medical Examiner’s Office could confirm that it was him, but people were speculating on Facebook instantly.

“When my cousin’s body was found, everybody just assumed it was him. And they were already posting it, that he was found,” Merchant said. “Before I turned everything off, I was just, like, out of respect, you know, you got to wait until the autopsy is done, so we can find out. You can’t just assume that it’s him when there’s a whole lot of people in this town that are missing still. And so I just shut my phone off because it was just too much.”

Last week, the Juneau Police Department reopened its own page for active missing cases, but Farnsworth isn’t sure that people will know to check that page regularly. What she really wants is an alert system that would draw immediate attention to someone’s case when they go missing. 

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KTOO is our partner public media station in Juneau. Alaska Public Media collaborates with partners statewide to cover Alaska news.

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