Bipolar N.H. Artist Found Frozen in Snow

Those who go off meds for bipolar and schizophrenia risk foul play, self-injury.

March 12, 2010, 4:13 PM

March 15, 2010— -- Since 29-year-old artist Sarah Rogers bolted in a manic frenzy from her Barrington, N.H., home last December, her father has been distraught, knowing her history of bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia.

Whenever she would have a psychiatric breakdown, "the voices in her head would say, 'run, run, run,'" according to her father, Robert Rogers, 58, of Davie, Fla.

Over the weekend, Sarah's body was found in the woods, just north of Augusta, Maine, three months after her car was found in a snowbank in the median I-95, without her cell phone and without her beloved 2-year-old son.

"This is something I feared all along from the get-go," said Rogers. "She never called us or her son over Christmas or on his birthday. It was my biggest fear."

A landowner came across a trail of clothes that led to Sarah, who had likely succumbed to the cold within a day after she went missing. Her disappearance had generated national television coverage as her family wondered if her psychiatric state had led to foul play.

"I am 99 percent sure it was hypothermia," Rogers said. "It was a logical scenario -- she went off in a paranoid state, trying to hide in the woods and watched her car get towed away."

Police had only entered her name into the National Crime Information Center(NCIC) two days after Sarah vanished -- enough time for her to wander off and die alone in the snow.

Barrington, N.H., police said a statewide "BOLO" [Be on the Look Out] alert was issued the morning Sarah Rogers went missing. That warning would not have been seen by Maine police, however.

"The inititial call went out within a matter of minutes from when the original call was received," said Chief Richard Conway. "Based on the information we had at the time, we acted appropriately.

About 110,000 missing persons are listed in the NCIC -- about half of those are missing adults and the other half are children under the age of 18. About 30 percent are believed to have some form of psychiatric problem.

But that only counts those who have been reported. Some experts say that number could be significantly more.

"There isn't much attention [or care] put on missing adults cases in America because quite frankly, it isn't illegal for an adult to go missing," said LaDonna Meredith, president of the National Center for Missing Persons, now known as "Let's Bring Them Home."

"We have the right to come and go as we please," she said. "Unfortunately, this mentality has crippled any system that is in place to help find missing adults."

Most missing adults return within 48 to 72 hours, so police often don't take immediate action. But those with manic behavior caused by bipolar disorder can be the most vulnerable to self-injury or foul play.

Sarah Rogers' family knew she was headed for another breakdown when her speech became "irrational and faster," according to her father, but police were unwilling to intervene, even after she disappeared.

Police can enter the name of a missing adult in the FBI's National Crime Information Center, but only if "foul play" or "endangerment" is suspected.

Later that night, Maine police found her car with the door open, engine running and a baby car seat in the back in a snowbank along the highway; they assumed the driver had called for a ride home.

"Even with her purse in the snow and footprints, they only followed a short distance," her father said.

A canine search was not begun until a week after Rogers' car was found.

Bipolar disorder is a serious medical illness that causes shifts in a person's mood, energy and ability to function, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In schizophrenia, patients can become delusional or paranoid and become self-destructive.

Doctors prescribe a variety of drugs to treat both illnesses, but medications are only effective when used continuously over the long term.

Cyndi Caron, president and founder of LostNMissing, the nonprofit organization that helped to find Rogers, said the number of missing adults with psychiatric disorders may be much higher than government statistics, and they are less likely to be found alive.

"Of the 40 to 50 children who are runaways or abductions, only two or three are located deceased," Caron said. "But for missing adults, the numbers are staggering --75 percent who are located are deceased when they are found."

Some kill themselves, others are found murdered, but for many an altered mental state causes their demise.

Eric James, 33, went off his bipolar medications and just walked in to the ocean at Rye Beach, N.H., where authorities found his body four weeks after he went missing.

Christina Whittaker Missing since November

Cynthia Young of Hannibal, Mo., said police have no leads on the whereabouts of her daughter, Christina Whittaker, who is bipolar and has anxiety and panic attacks.

Whittaker, who is 21, was last seen Nov. 13, 2009, leaving a local bar late at night after erratic behavior led to an argument with the bartender.

Since Whittaker's disappearance, her 10-month-old daughter cries every day, too young to understand.

"I honestly don't know if she took off on her own or if the wrong person got a hold of her," said Young, 47. "She's very childlike and had never been away from home."

Young fears that if her daughter is alive, she could be in danger because she has gone "cold turkey" off all the medications she has taken since she was 18.

But she also knows that Whittaker was frustrated with the side effects of those drugs and often took them incorrectly or not at all.

That, says Young, could have actually caused Whittaker's "mood swings" and ultimately her disappearance.

Jarrett Lee Burton disappeared April 4, 2007, near his home in Bethlehem, Penn., after going off his medications for bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder.

"Something is not right about that night," said his sister, Janell Bennett, of Washington, D.C.

Burton, a star student who was a junior usher at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, had his first breakdown while a student at Kenyon College.

"He had early signs and would slip back and forth," she said. "But he started acting weird after that. He was on all different types of meds."

A laboratory microbiologist, Burton had quit his meds, which he claims "weren't working anymore," and precipitated behavioral outbursts, according to his sister.

He had a "horrific fight" with his girlfriend and broke a window in the house, she said, storming into the rain dressed only in a ripped shirt and pants.

Bennett, who looks like Burton's "fraternal twin," said she is convinced he has wandered off and is too ashamed to return to his family.

"We were six years apart, but we had this weird connection," she said. "I get a glow in my chest that says he is alive getting medical help.

"He has a golden tongue, is very intelligent and if he is on medication, I am convinced he has found a way to change his identity."

Medicines used to treat psychiatric disorder have worked miracles, allowing millions of adults with treatable conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to lead near-normal lives.

But the power to heal comes with a caveat: Anti-psychotics come with side effects. And once patients begin to feel better, they sometimes stop taking the medications altogether.

Sarah Rogers' symptoms began her junior year in college. "All of a sudden she had a breakdown," her father said. "She wandered around not seeming to know who she was or where she was."

She went off the drugs when she got pregnant and just after the birth of her son, now 2, she had repeated incidents of wandering away from home -- once from Florida to Oklahoma -- and was hospitalized.

An artist and musician, she had been on anti-psychotics since college. But the drugs made her feel "weird and groggy" and hampered her painting, so she stopped taking them about three weeks before her disappearance.

Bipolar Medications Have Powerful Side Effects

Elizabeth Lindell, who is bipolar and wrote a blog about Rogers for the Web site MomLogic, admits her medications -- zyprexa and topomax -- can make a person feel "weird."

The Los Angeles mother describes it as "a sensation of being in wrapped in a mental straightjacket while you slowly lose access to extreme feelings that have been a comfort to embrace."

Though initially the drugs gave her a "subdued" feeling, now it's like "taking an aspirin."

It took a year to find the right combination of drugs. "At first there's a down period when you don't like it and your mind fights it. You are used to those extreme feelings."

Often, people with bipolar disorder are highly creative like Rogers and use the manic phases to "channel" their art or writing.

"When you first go on meds, your work is affected. You're not able to stay up all night and write and write," Lindell said. "You don't have that charge."

Police have no new leads in the disappearances of Whittaker or Burton, but experts say other families can do more to avert crises like these.

Families of those with a history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia -- even elderly dementia -- can register at before an incident even occurs. Time is always of the essence.

"If they go missing, you have to go to the police and wait until they come to the house to get a report, then they write it up and you wait until they go back to the office and then they may get an emergency call from someone else," said Caron of LostNMissing. "See how much time is lost."

Law enforcement can also tap into a Silver Alert system -- now in 24 states -- that can be used not only for those over 65 who wander off because of cognitive disabilities, regardless of their age. Nine other states have similar programs.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a clearinghouse for missing persons. It is a free online system that can be searched by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials and the general public to solve these cases.

But Sarah Rogers father is convinced that the system for reporting missing adults is flawed.

Just the day before his daughter took off in the middle of a "breakdown," her husband attempted to take her car keys away.

Both Sarah Roberts' husband and father called 911 and reported Sarah was "a danger to herself and to others." But police said she was an adult and they had no power to stop her, according to Robert Rogers.

"We are told when someone is drunk at a party to take the car keys away, but Sarah's husband did that and was under penalty of arrest," he said.

"She was driving nine hours, driving up and down the interstate before she went off the road," said Rogers. "She had distinctive car, a Scion, with Florida tags. That stands out. When [Maine police] came across that car, if they'd had some kind of notation they would have expanded their search."

Meanwhile Robert Rogers and his wife, Marguerite, are making plans for Sarah's funeral and wondering how this tragedy could have been stopped.

"I just hope that something can be done to get the authorities to be more responsible for missing adults," Rogers said. "Waiting for 48 hours when things get critical, this just didn't have to happen. It all could have been stopped that day."

To contact police with more information on Christina Whittaker, call 573-221-0987 or go to .

To report information on Dr. Jarrett Lee Burton, call Salisbury Township Police Deptartment at 610-797- 1447.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events