Bipolar N.H. Artist Found Frozen in Snow

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

ByABC News
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.