The mother of a missing Norridgewock man who fled Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor last week said that law enforcement have failed to share much information about the search for her son, frustrating her family and leaving them wondering who is in charge of finding him.
Graham Lacher, 37, bolted from the hospital, where he was being treated for schizophrenia and was a voluntary patient, at 4:40 p.m. last Monday, his mother, Tammy Scully, said.
Bangor police attempted a search for him with dogs on Friday that ended in the woods near Mount Hope Avenue, and the Maine Warden Service conducted searches Friday and Saturday without success. But Scully didn’t learn for a few days whether the Bangor police had assigned anyone to her son’s case, and it took persuasion on her and her husband’s part to get the department to issue a Silver Alert.
It’s not clear now if another search will be conducted or what the standard procedure is when mentally ill, vulnerable people like him go missing, Scully said.
She and her husband reported his disappearance to the Bangor Police Department around 9 p.m., and asked police to issue a Silver Alert. Dorothea Dix staffers had called 911 about Lacher’s disappearance earlier that evening.
The responding officer told her that he didn’t know Silver Alerts, which are typically used for elderly people with dementia or people with developmental disabilities, could be used for “people like Graham,” who is also on the autism spectrum.
A Silver Alert was then issued that night to news media at 10:20 p.m., and a second one with a more recent photo of Lacher with long hair and a beard was issued at 11:50 p.m.
“It shouldn’t be on us to fight for it,” Scully said.
Maine’s Silver Alert program was established in 2010, with the alerts to be issued for seniors 60 or older who have dementia or whose disappearance “poses a credible threat to [their] safety and health.” Alerts for the disappearance of adults younger than 60 were to be issued “under extraordinary circumstances,” according to the original law governing the program.
The program was expanded just last year to cover younger adults thought to be in danger because of their “mental or physical health or intellectual or developmental disability.”
Scully said that should apply to people like her son, who is “non-social” and has paranoid tendencies that lead him to avoid people, making it unlikely that he’ll go to public places where he could be spotted and brought to safety.
The Silver Alert must be initiated by local police and include the person’s description, photo and vehicle information if applicable.
But it isn’t clear what is supposed to happen afterward, like when agencies should start searching for missing people, or what information they must share.
Scully said she did not know whether anyone had been assigned to her son’s case until a Bangor detective contacted her on Thursday after she repeatedly reached out to Bangor police.
In addition, no public safety agency has asked her for an article of Lacher’s clothing to give search dogs a scent to detect, and now it’s “too late” to conduct a scent search for her son, Scully said.
Bangor police responded to a call about Lacher’s disappearance at 4:41 p.m. last Monday, and began searching for him using a police dog, spokesperson Wade Betters said.
The search ended near Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, and police entered Lacher into their system as a missing person at 8:30 p.m., he said.
Betters said he wasn’t able to confirm when a detective was first assigned to Lacher’s case, but said delays like the one Scully described were common when the missing person didn’t have a cell phone or credit card to conduct transactions that could generate leads for a detective to track during an initial search.
The Maine Warden Service began patrolling the woods where Lacher was last seen last Tuesday via vehicle, then returned to conduct searches on Friday and Saturday using dogs after receiving new information, spokesperson Mark Latti said.
The agency that receives a missing persons report is the one in charge of leading the search for that person, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Shannon Moss said.
If the agency doesn’t find the person immediately and determines that they’re eligible for a Silver Alert, that agency then contacts the Augusta Regional Communication Center, which activates the alert. The alert goes out to the media, the Maine Lottery Commission, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority, Moss said.
Bangor police are “actively searching for Graham” and have conducted “several” searches using foot patrols, unmanned aircraft and a helicopter, Chief Mark Hathaway said in a Monday afternoon email to state Rep. Laura Supica, D-Bangor, that she shared with the BDN.
“As I write this, we have a crew fixed on various tasks, all focused on finding Graham” including a supervisor and two lead investigators, Hathaway said. “The Maine Warden Service has provided us with support and conducted two additional searches with specialized canines.”
He also recommended that volunteers drive around “the Stillwater Avenue and Hogan Road corridor” [including] “the mall area, surface stores and the residential area off Howard Street” and report any sightings of Lacher to law enforcement.
Scully was previously unaware that the Bangor Police Department had assigned two investigators to her son’s case, nor was she aware of any information “that they’ve so far compiled or conclusions they’ve made,” she said.
The all-volunteer Down East Emergency Medicine Institute search and rescue team in Orono has also conducted its own ongoing search since last Tuesday, director of operations Richard Bowie said.
Volunteers cordoned off the area where Lacher fled from, have knocked on doors asking if people have seen him and followed up tips about reported sightings of Lacher in Northport and Belfast, where his family has an apartment.
The U.S. Border Patrol also loaned a helicopter for the search effort, Bowie said.
The Bangor police detective assigned to the case, Jordan Perry, has been “very helpful” in coordinating efforts with the Maine Warden Service, Bowie said.
Lacher did not have any money, food or water on him when he fled Dorothea Dix. Some of the information in the Silver Alert is also outdated, Scully said.
It listed his weight as 265 pounds, when in reality, he’s “much leaner” and weighs less than 200 pounds, Scully said.
Lacher is “incredibly intelligent” and fluent in Spanish. He also speaks some French, and loves writing poetry, painting, drawing and reading, his mother said.
He had 800 books at his room in a Norridgewock group home, so his family has looked for him at Books-A-Million and the Bangor Public Library, but it’s unlikely that he’ll go to other public settings, Scully said.
“All the typical things that [police] think he will do, he won’t,” she said.
This also isn’t the first time he’s gone missing.
Lacher previously fled his group home in November. Law enforcement quickly mobilized and found him three days later, in Waterville, Scully said.
Lacher went temporarily mute after that, and only started speaking out loud to his caretakers and family two weeks ago, she said.
Despite her current frustrations with police, Scully said her family was thankful for support they received in the past from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, Belfast police and the Maine Warden Service when Lacher went missing.
“I don’t know that we would have found him” without their assistance, Scully said.