Sebastian Chase's family and friends say Pacific Police's response to his disappearance has been tepid, but Police Chief Craig Schwartz disagrees. Courtesy photo, Renee  Cruickshank.

Family struggles to find missing homeless man

A human being goes missing, and family and friends set out to find him or her, summoning to the task whatever community resources are at hand.

Local police put out a bulletin.

Posters sprout on walls, signs and telephone poles, with photographs and information about age, height and appearance, and what the person was wearing the last time he or she was seen.

That’s how things usually go.

Only, that’s not how things have gone in the case of Sebastian Chase, 32, who’s been missing since Nov. 12 or Nov. 13, friends and family say.

Because, they claim, people like Chase, who was born in Pacific but is now homeless, who is beset with long-standing mental health and substance-abuse problems, and who has has had run-ins with police, is not a top priority to law enforcement.

For Chase’s mother, Renee Cruickshank, the difference has manifested as an exercise in pounding her head repeatedly against a brick wall.

She said when she and Sebastian’s stepfather, Kurt Henneck, called the Pacific Police Department for help, the response they got was that the city lacked jurisdiction because, police said, Chase lived on the wayward side of the King-Pierce county divide.

Pierce County claimed it had no jurisdiction to investigate the case, for the opposite reason.

Most of the family’s frustration centers on Pacific police.

“When I called Pacific to ask some questions, I felt like the questions were not welcome,” said Cruickshank, who had never before reported anyone missing and did not know what to ask.

“I know the person was not trying to frustrate me,” said Cruickshank. “If someone is calling about a missing person, chances are they need a bit of care. Perhaps in training they could learn common questions, and then say to the person, ‘Here are some things lots of others ask. Do you want me to go over any of them?’”

Cruickshank said that when she presented a form to Pacific Police that she had already filled out for the Washington State Patrol, staff asked her questions that she had already fully answered on the form but said nothing about the search process she anticipated would follow.

Nothing about time-honored strategies, she said, like talking to local people, nothing about checking local cameras or pinging her son’s cellphone or checking to see who was using his EBT card and where and when. Nothing, in fact, except a staff member who informed her she would check in once a week and later an e-mail from an officer informing her he would try to get in touch with the Pierce County Sheriff on her behalf.

“He also felt a need to remind me that Sebastian is an adult,” Cruickshank said.

A deflating experience.

“I don’t know where to look,” said Cruickshank. “I don’t have access to cell phone records, the hospital and other institutional databases. There is not much we can do here. We are relying on the local law enforcement to help.”

Lori Dutting, a peer-support specialist for Navos, an inpatient and outpatient child, adult, family and older adult mental health facility in Seattle, worked with Chase through its Peer Bridger Program, which provides patients “a bridge” from the hospital back into the community.

A program, she said, that was working for him.

“I was able to do outreach with him and get him signed up for medical, cash benefits and food stamps, and we’d begun the disability-Social Security application processes as well. Then he went off his meds, and within three or four days he’d totally de compensated and wandered off, and no one can find him now,” said Dutting.

Dutting said she doesn’t know if foul play was involved or if Chase fell victim to an accident, but the record shows his food stamps were last used in Tacoma.

“That’s all the information I could gather without a public disclosure request, which should be done by a police station, but police stations have not been been very cooperative at helping the family, or in coordinating efforts because he’s right on the King-Pierce County line and was last known to be in Tacoma or possibly Sumner.

“It’s been a real struggle for the parents,” Dutting continued. “I know that Renee cares greatly about her son, and so does his stepfather, Kurt. I’ve become kind of attached to him myself and am very concerned about his safety at this point.”

Dutting’s decades of experience as a homeless person herself, taught her, she said, that the relationship between police and homeless people with substance abuse or mental health challenges is often strained.

“From my personal experience, police don’t show them much respect, and neither do hospitals in general,” Dutting said.

Not so, said Pacific Police Chief Craig Schwartz.

Although, he said, Chase doesn’t live in the city of Pacific and his camp is in unincorporated Pierce County, still his department has been actively working the case and trying to follow-up on leads that come in.

“We got some leads on Facebook that he may have been seen Tuesday night at a store in Sumner, and we’ve been trying to get Sumner PD to pull video from the store where that happened. We’ve been in touch with DSHS to check on the potential that his EBT card may have been used in Tacoma. No, we’re actively working the case,” Schwartz said.

Homeless, mentally troubled, substance dependent or not, none of that should ever matter, said Mark Gause, pastor at New Hope Lutheran Church in Pacific. For 30 years he’s worked with homeless people who live near the Stuck River and about and around the city.

Including Sebastian Chase, who’d often stop by the church for a coffee and a smoke, and to whom he took a personal liking.

He described Chase as generally affable, but when when his delusions kick in, potentially aggressive toward people whom he does not know.

A guy who goes about without shoes because he likes to feel the earth between his toes, a philosophical sort who is s constantly trying to connect the various pieces of reality to make sense of the cosmos whirling around him.

“This is Renee’s child, but these young people – I say young, but some them are in their 30s or 40s plus — they grew up here, they went to our schools, though many dropped out in the 7th or 8th grade. If mental health is an issue especially, or if one’s life is a wreck, all that stuff, they are still our kids,” Gause said.

“I’ve gone round and round the block with folks in town, on the city council and with officers about this in the past. I’ve been talked to by groups in town who say, ‘We gotta clean the park out, we gotta get those guys out, they’re ruining the park.’ If I decided to get rid of my next-door neighbor, that would not be acceptable, he’s my neighbor. Well, those folks are our neighbors, too. Not only are they our children, they are full-fledged residents in the community as much as anyone else.”

Gause added: “I don’t think a mother should have to badger the police to get help.”

In the missing person’s poster Cruickshank put together and posted on Facebook, she described her son as 5 feet nine inches tall, 175 pounds, with a ruddy skin tone, dark brown hair and beard. and brown or hazel eyes. He was last seen Nov. 12 or 13 in Pacific or north Sumner near the Stuck River. At the time, he was wearing green coveralls and a pair of boots in good condition, perhaps North Face.

Cruickshank said her son needs to be on medications for his emotional health. Although she describes him as “a wanderer,” she said it would be out-of-character for him not to have touched base with someone about his plans to leave if he had such plans.

She said he tends to stay close to his home base, New Hope Lutheran Church and the Stuck River.

“I think one of my biggest frustrations is all these agencies that don’t seem willing or able to communicate with one another,” said Cruickshank. “They track everything, can put people in space, can ID people across a stadium from their iris and tell you everything I bought in the last three years, but they can’t have a shared-system-database. Really?”

One bright spot: the Washington State Patrol has made its own flyer about the missing man, and posted it on its Missing Adult page.

On Monday evening, the Pacific Police Department posted the following on its Facebook Page: “If you have any information on Sebastian Chase, who was reported missing, please contact the Pacific Police Department at 253-929-1130 ext. 4 during business hours, or 253-288-2121 after hours. Reference case #20-P0904.”

“This is now three weeks since I last saw Sebastian,” said Gause, “and about two weeks since the Pacific Police Dept. was notified through a missing persons report of concerns about his situation, and the first contact with me.”

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