Australia

AFP’s Traceless Postcards Could Help Connect Families with Missing Loved Ones this Christmas

For more than a decade, Lily Parmenter has struggled to celebrate Christmas.

“To be very honest, this is the worst time of year for me,” she said.

“I guess I hope that it gets a little bit easier but it gets a bit worse because I have been relentlessly searching for answers.”

Ms Parmenter was just 19 years old when her mother Kathleen O’Shea disappeared.

She was last seen on December 29, 2005 at the Atherton Hotel in far north Queensland.

“I often think to myself, who would I be if Mum was still here?” Ms Parmenter said.

“I used to want kids and stuff like that [and now] I think I’m a little bit scared to bring anything into this world because I know how soon it can be snatched away from you.”

Ms Parmenter’s story is all too common, with 38,000 people reported missing in Australia every year.

‘Going missing is not a crime’

Some cases are suspicious, but there are a number of people who disappear on purpose and cut all ties with friends and family.

It is those people the Australian Federal Police are hoping to reach in a new initiative this Christmas, in conjunction with the Salvation Army and Australia Post.

Eight thousand postage-paid Christmas themed cards have been issued and are available at nearly 400 Salvation Army centres across Australia.

“We’re hoping to have a number of missing persons come forward, write on the postcards and let their families know that they are ok,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz said.

“Going missing is not a crime. So all we are trying to do is reconnect families so there can be less stress among our community.”

Assistant Commissioner Platz said the postcards were not traceable.

“You will get the postcard from the Salvation Army, it will be put into an envelope, and that will go to the Australia Post central facility where it will be opened and then your postcard will be sent to the address on the card,” she said.

“So it will have no identifying features as to where the postcard was actually handed in or sent from.”

Federal police are hopeful at least 1,000 people will take up the offer.

Salvation Army lieutenant Brad McIver is confident some will write a card to their family because they do not have to disclose their location.

“Sometimes we do find with the people that we are working with, they are happy to let family members know that they are ok, they are safe, but they are not quite ready to take that initial step further into relationships,” he said.

He said for some people, it will help them start what could be a slow but positive step towards reaching out for help.

“It really is about providing that safe way for them to reconnect.”

However, the initiative is unlikely to help Ms Parmenter — in 2014 a coroner ruled her mother died and the cause of death was most likely by another person.

No charges have been laid and Ms O’Shea is yet to be located.

“Ultimately I just want answers and it is not just about me, I have four siblings, and it has ripped our family open,” she said.

Despite this, Ms Parmenter is confident the postcard initiative will provide the most important Christmas gift to other families.

“I think it is a worthwhile idea and it is going to bring at least some form of closure or hope to families that have lost someone.”

If you have any information about a missing person you can call the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre on 1800 000 634.

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