No, I haven’t gotten any since last week’s lawsuit threat, but for whatever reason I’ve been thinking about the nasty and/or bizarre letters I have gotten about Charley over the last six years. They don’t come terribly often, mind, and they are vastly outnumbered by the kind letters I get from people who appreciate my work.
Sometimes people are justifiably angry. One mother of a missing child was extremely angry because I said some things about her in the casefile, not good things, that were untrue. This wasn’t my fault — it was my source, a newspaper article, that was incorrect — but I certainly don’t blame her for being pissed off. She produced documents to show that I had been wrong. I apologized and changed the casefile, and she calmed down and even said she was sorry for being rude earlier. I didn’t blame her for being mad. If it had been me in her place, I would have been mad too. Another parent of a missing child was upset by what I’d written and actually contacted the NCMEC to ask me to remove a few sentences from the casefile. It wasn’t inaccurate information, I don’t think, felt like it made them look bad. I did remove it. It wasn’t essential to the missing boy’s story and his parents weren’t considered suspects in his disappearance. I felt kind of bad about hurting their feelings. Certainly it wasn’t my intention to try to make them look like bad parents. I did wonder why they felt the need to go through the NCMEC rather than straight to me, and told the NCMEC staff member who contacted me that perhaps the parent ought to just write to me directly. In any case, I never heard from them.
And some people might have reason to dispute me, but it seems to me that they are really overreacting. One young woman was practically frothing at the mouth, all capital letters and lawsuit threats etc., because she had run away once and then was found, and she didn’t want her resolved notice on my site. She said she felt like her privacy had been violated and she was embarrassed etc. I can understand that. I do feel a bit uneasy about posting resolved notices for runaways, since college admissions people and employers and so on can see them. But there’s no other way to let the reader know the person has been found. And you could argue — and I have before — that this kind of publicity is simply one of the consequences of running away. Also, even if I didn’t put up the notices, a lot of other sites will, so it’s not like my stopping would really help protect the runaway’s privacy very much.
Anyway, I removed her resolved notice and told her that, no, actually, I was not trying to ruin her life, and all she would have had to do was ask me politely to take it off. She shot back an email claiming she could still see the notice and demanding to know why I’d lied to her. Feeling rather weary by then, I replied suggesting she empty her cache or just reload the page. I didn’t hear from her again, thank goodness. With me, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I’ve had a few other people (not just family abductors) request resolved notices be removed. Some of them are MPs who were found and want their privacy, like the woman I was just talking about. In other cases it’s relatives of a deceased person and I guess they want fewer reminders of their dead loved one, or whatever. “Please remove his name and picture,” one woman wrote of her dead father. “OK,” I wrote back, “he’s gone.” End of story.
And then there are hate mailers who are just nuts. A particularly painful memory is of an email I got only a month or so after the Charley Project opened for business, so to speak. Someone claiming to be the wife of a missing man was furious at me (again, more capital letters) and made a few of personal insults and also accused me of copyright violation and exploiting the missing. Why? Because I had posted her husband’s case on my site without asking her permission. “I only gave my permission for him to be listed on two sites,” she wrote, “and your site was not one of those.” Um…why would a family member of an MP be angry at publicity about the MP’s disappearance? It wasn’t like I said anything bad about the MP or his wife in the casefile. I don’t recall that I had many details in there at all. You’d think the wife would want people to know about the disappearance so it could be solved. A few years later, she was quoted in a newspaper article about the case, which remains unsolved.
So I removed his casefile — though I didn’t like doing it — but the woman was apparently not done with me yet, and it seems she bad-mouthed me online to some other people involved in missing persons stuff. She claimed that I had said something to her that was “cruel and in poor taste.” This was a lie — I didn’t say ANYTHING to her but “I will remove the casefile. I didn’t mean to violate anyone’s copyright.” That was literally all I said. But as a result of the complaints from that woman about my supposed rudeness, a person with whom I had corresponded about MPs and who had occasionally sent me updates and information, wrote to me to tell me she didn’t want to know me anymore and wished she had never written to me in the first place. I was actually really hurt by the whole thing and very confused. I was, after all, just starting out, and the sheer vitriolic quality of the wife’s email to me and her later actions made me feel kind of sick and I wondered if I was doing something wrong and should shut down the site or what. Obviously, I didn’t do so. The feeling passed after a few days and I kind of shrugged it off.
Looking back, I’m not at all sure that that nasty emailer was really the missing man’s wife or had any connection to him at all. I wonder if someone (not saying who) just didn’t like me for some reason and didn’t want the Charley Project to exist, and sent me this really nasty email deliberately trying to get a rise out of me, hoping to provoke me into snapping back, so he/she could show my response to others and claim that I was a bad person who didn’t really care about MPs or their families. And then, when I failed to lower myself to her level, she made something up instead and told the false story to others. This is all just speculation on my part, of course, but it would explain a lot of things about that whole bizarre episode.