The woman who puts families back together
Reading a report about a missing person near her home in 2011, Angie Sivagnanasundaram had no idea it would change her life.
Shedding tears as she imagined how she would feel if one of her family was missing, the case stayed with her and she decided to try to help.
Seven years later, a Facebook post shared amongst her family has turned into a priceless resource for people searching for missing or lost loved ones.
Angie’s Missing People Scotland Facebook page now has more than 80,000 members and Angie, 49, sees every one of those members as a chance to find a missing person as quickly as possible.
The page now has 11 people working on it and Angie says there is even more to be done.
The first one
Angie told BBC Scotland’s Kaye Adams programme what started it all off.
“It was the case of Susan Marshall who went missing in Braehead in 2011,” Angie said.
“Susan had some learning difficulties. I remember I sat and read about the story, crying over the story, thinking about people I know, and how I would feel and how the family would feel, and how the woman would feel, lost and confused and scared out there.
“I started the group, sharing stories amongst my family and a few people and their shares were shared. It wasn’t a good ending for Susan but it is something that never went away for me.”
For the first few years, Angie got her stories from the Police and local incidents. People would share pictures and details of missing people widely and quickly to try to locate them as fast as possible.
Her family helped her moderate the group as it grew. Within two years, people started to know about the group and started to come to her when people were missing.
Then she started to get inquiries about finding lost family members.
She said; “I wasn’t sure about that at first but the outcomes were so lovely, I thought it was a nice balance to the sadder stories. Plus it was bringing more people to the page and more people means more shares.”
She said the page “grew arms and legs” and the membership numbers soared.
“I wasn’t expecting to put in the hours I put in and have an amazing team. We now have 11 admins and moderators – all over Scotland and one in Australia who does the night shift.”
Over the past few years, the Missing People Scotland page has shared many high-profile cases in Scotland – from teenager Paige Doherty, who was eventually found murdered, to missing deaf mother Kirsty Aitchison whose body was found in the River Clyde and most recently, six-year-old Alesha Macphail who disappeared on the Isle of Bute before her body was discovered.
But it is also becoming known for its work in reuniting lost families. Moderators work behind the scenes to support families and help in searches.
Angie, from Langbank in Renfrewshire, explained: “The admin work mostly online, learning as they go along. First it was Facebook they used, now we use birth links – births, deaths and marriages. And sometimes we advise people how to look into things themselves because there are times when we learned when not to look into things – in the case of adoptions etc.”
Lost for 52 years
The page has helped more than 3,000 people looking for family members.
One of those is the family of Helen Simpson.
Helen’s father James and his brother Robbie and sister Isabella from North Lanarkshire were fostered out as young children.
The brothers were kept together but his sister went to another foster family. They lost contact for 52 years.
But thanks to the Missing People Scotland staff, the family was reunited last year.
Helen said: “We were searching the Scottish records and the admin Vivienne came up with the idea to search the English records. I would never have thought of that. And she found her.
“Viv gave me the information and I contacted her grandson on Facebook. A few questions later we realised it was the people we were looking for. Then we passed phone numbers on and it was heart-wrenching to see the siblings back in touch.
“Isabella is in Blackpool. Her and her daughter came up and we had a lovely reunion. It was just amazing to see these people smile after all these years.”
One of the Missing People Scotland group’s jobs is to support families. Not everyone wants to be found and they have to make sure families understand that.
Helen said: “We had to be aware that when people are found their wishes have to be respected.
“We would have accepted if she didn’t want to be found. But she was actually searching herself and it went the right way for us.”
Angie added: “It doesn’t happen a great deal but that is when we have to step in and mediate a bit. We speak to the family and ask them to respect that.
She continued: “In the beginning we did make mistakes and we asked authorities what we should do in certain situations.
“The guidelines for the group have changed over the years and they will continue to. We have to be on the ball so that we are always doing the right thing.”
Angie’s vision for the group is to keep on growing.
She wants to turn it into charity and help more people away from the Facebook page.
She said; “We would like to take it offline. To have a base where people can come and talk and we can get more involved with police and families and give more support.
“Eventually I would love to have these bases all over Scotland.”