All over the land, people are running away.

Many of the missing are teens and preteens. They pack their bags and slip off in the night to protest abuse or what they deem injustice in their home lives. Or perhaps they have fallen in love and the lure of young romance on the road is too great to resist.

The police will find those young runaways crashed on a friend’s couch 95 percent of the time. Others come home tired, hungry and heartbroken after the romance falls apart in just its third day. They are wounded, these sad Romeos and forlorn Juliets, but wiser because of it.

Grown-ups run away, too, and plenty of them. They walk away from their jobs and families and just go. Sometimes, as with teens, it is a complicated idea of love that entices them away — a nice young lady met on a dating site, perhaps. Or an allegedly handsome prince who emerged, charming and full of promises, on a singles chat board.

Imagine it! A whole new life with a beautiful stranger, and all you have to do to get it, my friend, is walk out that door. Free yourself of all the tiresome obligations of marriage and begin the adventurous life you’ve always felt you deserved!

That’s how it goes, in theory, anyway. I’d wager that 95 percent of those runaways end up back home, too, disappointed, shamed and begging for forgiveness.

From a reporter’s standpoint, dealing with runaways is always a bit of a chore. Whether it’s a teen or an adult who’s flown the coop, chances are really good they’re going to show up unharmed and without drama, and you’ll have spent all that time writing about it for nothing.

Who needs it?

In 1995, a Lewiston teen went missing. He was a 17-year-old football star, and when word of the disappearance found my ear, it sounded like a variation of the same old thing.

“Why do we cover these things?” I implored an editor. “You just know he’s going to turn up safe and sound on a buddy’s couch and we’re going to look like fools for making a big thing out of it.”

But we did report the vanishing, and for the next 10 days so did dozens of media outlets from around the world. This wasn’t one of the 95 percent, as it turned out. When this teen was finally found, he was hanging from a tree, the result of a suicide that saddened all of Lewiston and much of the world beyond.

After the tragedy, I made it a personal mission to never overlook a reported missing person, no matter how innocuous it might seem on its face.

In 2007, a 38-year-old pregnant woman vanished after leaving her place of work near downtown Lewiston. Again, it sounded like another case of an adult trying to run away from a crushing pile of personal problems, but no.

A few days after she was reported missing, the woman was found nude and partially buried in an empty lot along Lisbon Street. She had been bound, raped and strangled, police said, and then tumbled into that hastily dug grave.

These days, you couldn’t ignore reports of missing persons even if you wanted to. Those reports are shared heavily on social media, for one thing, complete with photos of the vanished and all of the pertinent details passed along by worried friends and family. The media dutifully pick up the reports so that everywhere you turn, you’ll see the face of a missing person — young or not-so-young — staring out at you from one screen or another.

I feel blessed that social media wasn’t a thing when I was a boy. Imagine if Facebook had been around when I was 5 years old and ran away to take a bath with a neighbor girl. The scandal! The embarrassment!

But then, who among us hasn’t made a bid for freedom at one time or another? I put out a simple query on Facebook and the responses came back fast and thick.

Michelle: “I packed a suitcase at the age of 5. In my suitcase I packed two cans of tomato soup, my peejays, some books and a couple stuffed animals. I walked all the way to the end of my block then sat on my suitcase for a while. My mom came looking for me a couple hours later. She found me still sitting on my suitcase. My mom asked me why I didn’t keep going. My reply was because I am not allowed to cross the road.”

Linda: “I packed a suitcase with saltine crackers and a book when I was probably 8 or 9 years old and ‘moved’ to a rock about 20 feet from my house. My mother called me to dinner later that evening and I moved back into the house.”

Tony: “At the age of 7 my cousin and I took off for the North Pole looking for old Santy Claus. We made it from Dresden to Wiscasset before the posse was sent.”

Christina: “I ran away for a week when I was 16 because my mom wouldn’t let me go to a Guns N’ Roses concert on a school night. I stayed at various friends’ houses. I went back because where else was I going to go?”

Devon Rose: “I was maybe 8 or 9 years old and I was upset at my parents for sending me to my room while it was still daylight outside. I devised a plan and the next morning I filled two baggies with Froot Loops and Cocoa Puffs, brought my mess kit, and I walked to the top of the hill that was our road and I decided I was going to live in the bus stop up there my Great Uncle Bert built years ago. I set my stuff down in the surety of ‘Stand By Me’ and with the ingenuity of ‘The Boxcar Children’ and then I heard it: a big raunchy hornets nest up in the corner. Nope … booked it home.”

John: “I remember leaving a note for my mom one morning in the the early ’70s. Must have been 8, 9 or 10. I left the house and walked to the end of Center Street in Lisbon Falls. It was (very) cold so I came back home and hid in the closet. I remember her yelling for me once she read the note and realized I was not in bed. I immediately came out of the closet. … To this day I can’t remember why I wanted to run away or where the hell I was going to go.”

Megan: “I took money out of my bank account and walked to the travel agency in the Bradlees mall and bought a plane ticket to Virginia to visit a friend when I was 12 or 13. I took a bus to Portland and got on the plane, all on my own. My mom wasn’t too happy when she found out I was in Virginia.”

Fun stories all around. These folks look back at their flights of freedom with fondness and a kind of cringing amusement at their own young melodrama. None was running from any real hardship and all were returned safely to their happy homes.

It’s nice when things turn out that way, but woe to us all if we ever convince ourselves that all runaways and missing persons will find their way to happy endings.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer who likes to run away from editors. Email him at [email protected]


Comments are not available on this story.