The Big Search: UMKC students volunteer to find missing children

Henry Gamber

The Big Search KC, a nonprofit group that raises awareness for missing people through organized drives, found nine missing children and teens during the weekend of Oct. 19.

“People had no idea no idea that there were even missing kids,” UMKC Adjunct Instructor Alison Phillips said. “If we don’t know there’s a problem, how can we even take action?”

The Big Search is a national movement that has held similar drives in Las Vegas and several other cities. The Big Search established the Kansas City branch in 2018 and found four people in its first drive.

“Due to leads that were garnered during The Big Search, and combined with other information, 20 were found in the months to follow,” Operations Director Rick Morris said.

Kansas City is a hub for human trafficking because of its central location and status as a transportation hub. Morris explained missing youth are “especially at risk” for exploitation and trafficking. Many working with the organization believe that this is an epidemic that doesn’t get enough attention in Kansas City, and that is something The Big Search hopes to change. 

“It’s raising the public consciousness about how big of a problem this is around our city and how inexcusable it is that we don’t even know that it is a problem,” Phillips said.

Nearly 300 volunteers, 42 of them UMKC students, worked during the weekend drive of Oct. 19 to change that. During the drive, volunteers handed out booklets with information about the 32 missing people they were looking for at the time. 

“I’m really into helping youth in the community,” UMKC senior Victoria Gomez said. “If you can save them before it gets worse, that’s a win.”

The Big Search works in tandem with law enforcement to use the information they gather through canvassing to find the missing people. 

“This is an intelligence-gathering operation,” Morris stated. “There is collaboration with agencies that track missing kids.” 

The Big Search drive was successful. Volunteers found nine of the 32 current missing youth. The information gathered will likely aid in finding many more of the children and teens in the coming months.

To learn more and review the missing persons booklet, please visit If you have any information about a missing person, please contact:

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 1-800-842-5678

National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-7888

[email protected]