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Over 1,400 people are missing in San Francisco. For most, we don’t even know their names

The California Department of Justice only lists 199 named missing persons in San Francisco. But the city's police know of 1,264 more. | Source: Courtesy California Department of Justice

A Pokémon ball sits on his bookshelf, along with a model boat he made in elementary school. Pictures of his childhood soccer teams hang on the wall. The colorful sheets on his bunk bed are slightly unmade.

Over a decade after his disappearance, Sean Sidi’s room in his parents’ Bernal Heights home remains almost exactly how he left it.

The 19-year-old vanished around Golden Gate Park in May 2013. To this day, his parents still have no idea what happened to their son.

A cardboard bear figure stands near a crocodile skull and a birthday message on a shelf.
A gift from Sean Sidi's sister for his birthday sits on his desk at his family home, which is nearly untouched from the time he went missing. | Source: Jana Asenbrennerova for The Standard
Two hands hold two photos of a smiling young man in a striped shirt, with one photo overlaid partially on the other.
Lynn Ching, mother of Sean Sidi, holds photos of her missing son. | Source: Jana Asenbrennerova for The Standard

Sean is among 1,463 people who have gone missing in San Francisco and have yet to be found, according to the city’s police department. But most of their names remain sealed to the public, and many of their stories may never be told.

When Mint Butterfield, the teenage child of a billionaire who co-founded Slack, went missing for a week in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood last month, the saga was widely publicized across international media, including in The Standard.

In contrast, most cases of missing people in the city are never reported in the press. The reasons can vary, but parents of the missing often cite cultural and socioeconomic issues.

“We’re not wealthy,” said Ed Ryan, whose son, Eamon Ryan, disappeared in San Francisco in 2020. “So it’s not news.”

A man stands by a keyboard in a room with a bunk bed and a window with blinds.
Ed Ryan stands in the room that once belonged to his son Eamon in Palm Bay, Florida. Eamon Ryan went missing in San Francisco in 2020. | Source: Joel Estrada for The Standard
A person holds a photo of a football player (#46) and a scrapbook with sports images on a wooden table.
Ed Ryan shows a photo of Eamon Ryan, his son, who played football in Palm Bay, Florida. | Source: Saúl Martinez for The Standard

The San Francisco Police Department says it’s actively investigating cases on its missing persons list, which numbers over 1,400 people, but families who have long-missing loved ones say they’ve seen little evidence of that ongoing detective work. Several told The Standard they haven’t received as much as a phone call from the police department in over a decade.

“They never call you—never,” said Lynn Ching, Sean's mom. “You have to make it happen yourself.”

Missing in plain sight

The Tenderloin neighborhood in downtown San Francisco has been called a “containment zone” by critics of how the city has handled the drug and homelessness crises.

Roughly 1,900 homeless people live in the surrounding district, according to a count conducted in February 2022. Among the tents and crowds of people suffering are lost loved ones whose families are looking for them.

Six varied photos of people: a formal dressed man, a child in overalls, a woman in a visor, a woman with a turtleneck, a smiling man in blue, and a grinning young man.
People that have been identified as missing from San Francisco include, from top left clockwise, Amador Garcia, Sean Dubs, Selena Edon, Clayton Kangiser, Cameron Remmer and Pamela Schlitz. | Source: Courtesy California Department of Justice

Liz Breuilly, a volunteer detective who locates missing people in San Francisco, said that teen disappearances in the neighborhood are not uncommon. She hears about a teen who’s gone missing in the Tenderloin roughly once a month, she said.

Breuilly said she found 11 missing people in San Francisco in April alone. Many of the people Breuilly finds have no idea anyone was looking for them. Almost all are unaware of how much time has passed since they last spoke to their family.

A man with dark hair, stubble, and a gray t-shirt smiles softly, with a blurred cityscape and sky in the background.
Eamon Ryan was last seen in San Francisco in June 2020. His father has visited San Francisco's Tenderloin four times to look for him. | Source: Courtesy Ed Ryan

The Butterfield case represented a rare moment when the public seemingly cared about someone on the Tenderloin’s streets, she said.

“I think a lot of us walk by these people, and we think they don't have families that are desperately searching for them,” she said. “But there are hundreds and hundreds of Mint Butterfields out there.” 

Bruce Maitland, founder of the group Private Investigations for the Missing, said he’s found that areas with large concentrations of homeless people tend to have a correspondingly high number of missing people. In such cases, Maitland said he sometimes discovers people who have “chosen” to go missing.

However, Breuilly said the people she locates are usually grateful to know their family still cares.

“They're just happy to know that their families are looking for them,” Breuilly said. “Once they know, people can be motivated to do a lot of different things.”

According to a state database, some of the city’s cases date back multiple decades. 

A missing daughter's poster is attached to a pole with photos and contact details.
A sign for a missing person named Mimi is taped on a street light pole in the Tenderloin on Tuesday. According to sources, Mimi is frequently reported missing and was recently located. However, she remains on the city's streets. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

SFPD spokesperson Evan Sernoffsky said police officers regularly check in with family members about their missing loved ones. But unlike the Butterfield case, which he noted was led by the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, none of the 1,436 people on the San Francisco department’s missing persons list are considered “at risk.”

The families of the missing argue to the contrary.

In the days immediately following Sean Sidi's disappearance, his mother fought for coverage in the local media, organizing vigils and even leading a call for action at the Mayor’s Office. For at least a week after the 19-year-old went missing, however, search crews were apparently looking in the wrong location.

Police claimed officers located a signal for Sean's phone near Lands End in the Richmond neighborhood, Ching said, but after a week of searching, officers discovered his phone was actually on the eastern end of Golden Gate Park. 

“If you waste away the first few days, that’s a problem,” she said. “When you have a [police] team that doesn’t care, then the consequences for us with the missing kid can be significant.” 

A woman in sunglasses with her hand on her forehead, wearing a black shirt and a necklace.
Lynn Ching, mother of Sean Sidi, speaks on her struggle to bring attention to her son's missing person case. | Source: Jana Asenbrennerova for The Standard

Sean is among a group of five young men known as the California Missing Five, who went missing over a three-year span in San Francisco between 2010 and 2013. Their mothers formed a group to seek answers for their sons’ disappearances, garnering attention from national news outlets and documentary filmmakers. But three of the mothers told The Standard the police have shown few outward signs of maintaining interest in their cases.

Valerie Sorrells, whose son Cameron Remmer went missing in October 2011 at the age of 29, said the police department destroyed his belongings without notifying her.

“When I called to get his backpack two years ago, the officer laughed in my face and said they burned it,” Sorrells said. “That was the last time I heard from them.”

Sernoffsky, the police spokesperson, didn’t respond to specific claims made by the mothers but said the department treats missing person cases “extremely seriously” and that it has a fully staffed department dedicated to finding lost people.

People hold signs seeking information about a missing person called Sean, as a uniformed officer stands in the foreground.
A group of people supporting the Sidi family and their search for their missing son, Sean, stand outside 850 Bryant St. in San Francisco in 2015. | Source: Courtesy California Missing Five

He added that the department sends press releases and posts about “dozens of similar missing person cases” each year on its social media accounts, but those cases often go unreported by news outlets.

The Standard asked the police department to release the names of people on its missing persons list, but the department declined to do so, citing ongoing investigations. Sernoffsky pointed The Standard to a state database where a portion of the department’s missing persons are listed. 

The public dashboard on the state Department of Justice’s website lists just 198 people identified as missing in San Francisco. By comparison, the website shows Los Angeles, a city with over three times the population of San Francisco, has just over 500 missing people.

A smiling man with short hair in a blue shirt, indoors, with a reflection in a mirror.
Jackson Miller went missing in San Francisco in 2010. | Source: Courtesy NCMEC

The Department of Justice didn’t respond to multiple inquiries asking why over 1,000 people from San Francisco are not included in the searchable database, but its website cautions that the database is merely a “subset of all persons reported as missing.” 

Some unknown number of those classified as missing may be dead. One factor experts say could be driving up the missing count in San Francisco is the city's miles of shoreline and surrounding waters, where bodies can disappear without a trace.

‘Hope is not easy’

Ed Ryan, whose 31-year-old son, Eamon, went missing in 2020, told of how frustrating it can feel to look for a missing child in San Francisco. 

Eamon was a star football player in college before injuring his knee and eventually becoming addicted to opioids, his father said. In early 2020, Eamon came to San Francisco to visit his uncle and, shortly after, stopped picking up the phone. 

Ed Ryan, who lives in Florida, said he’s visited the city four times since his son disappeared, wandering the Tenderloin’s streets looking for clues.

Residents of the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco are seen in tents and encampments. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard; Mike Kuba/the Standard

“I could’ve walked right by him,” Ryan said. “Everyone in the street was in tents or had covers over them.”

In May 2020, Eamon Ryan posted a Facebook photo of himself and an unknown gray-haired man in the Presidio neighborhood—the last documentation of his whereabouts. 

“He was the man everyone wanted to be,” Ed Ryan said, holding back tears. “Then he got injured and started doing OxyContin.”

Many parents who have a child go missing suffer from a condition called ambiguous grief, meaning they’re unable to fully process their loss.

An older man with a beard wears a cap and sunglasses, looking to the side thoughtfully.
Ed Ryan at his home in Palm Bay, Florida, on Tuesday. His son Eamon went missing in San Francisco in 2020. | Source: Saúl Martinez for The Standard
Two men, one in a cap and mask, another in sunglasses and mask, stand side by side outdoors.
In 2020, shortly before his disappearance, Eamon Ryan, right, posted a photo with an unidentified man, which was the last correspondence his family had with him. | Source: Courtesy Ryan family

Even after a decade since Sean's disappearance, Ching said she still receives calls from people who mistakenly believe they’ve spotted her son. Others call her phone demanding ransom money, claiming they have Sean “locked in a basement.” 

Nonetheless, she still holds out hope she’ll see her son again. 

“Hope is not easy, I’ll put it that way,” Ching said. “Tips aren’t flowing in by the thousands or hundreds anymore. But in the end, that’s all you have. You have to hang on to hope.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at