Teacher's Disappearance Baffles Friends, Family

A young New York woman disappeared days before the new school year began.


Sept. 5, 2008 — -- The disappearance of a young New York City school teacher just days before classes began has launched a massive search by her army of friends.

Hannah Upp, 23, a second-year Spanish teacher at Thurgood Marshall Academy who lives in Harlem, was last seen Friday afternoon, Aug. 29, in her apartment by a friend, according to police.

Upp's distraught mother, Barbara Bellus, is keeping a vigil in her daughter's apartment.

"She is a bright, beautiful young woman and a dedicated teacher, who has so much to offer the world and an overwhelming desire to contribute to its betterment in any possible way," Bellus said in an e-mailed statement. "We cannot imagine what has taken her away, but we want her back, whatever the circumstances."

Upp's two roommates, a man and a woman, became worried about her Sunday night when they hadn't heard from her, roommate Samantha Gallardo, 25, told ABCNews.com.

According to Gallardo, Upp's other roommate, fellow teacher Manny Ramirez, searched her room and saw that her purse, wallet, cell phone, ATM card and subway card were all there.

"My roommate woke me up and we went down to the police station. They didn't seem too concerned about it at first, but at 4 a.m. that night there were already detectives in our apartment," Gallardo said. "There's been police in our apartment since."

Upp is friendly vegetarian who constantly experimented with new dishes, Gallardo said.

"[She's] quirky in a really endearing and wonderful way and she has so many friends. She is always going to visit friends or having friends come to visit her," she said.

Upp's 28-year-old brother, Dan Upp, who is in the Navy and stationed in Japan, said leaving town without notifying anyone would be very out of character for his sister.

"She isn't some naive small-town girl off to the glorious big city thinking the world is made of cotton candy and gumdrops. She's a very smart, very sensible young woman who is always aware of where she is and what's going on around her, and who is conscious of the fact that not everyone she may meet has good intentions," he wrote in an e-mail from Japan. "We just want her to know that we love her very much, no matter what, that we're praying for her, and we just want her home safe."

When they found out she was missing, Upp's network of friends from around the city and from her alma mater, Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania, sprang into action. Several flew in from out of town and plastered the city with flyers.

"It's really heartening to see this many people supporting us," Gallardo said.

Hannah Wood, 22, who describes herself as one of Upp's closest friends in New York, started a Facebook page devoted to finding Upp. The group already has more than 1,200 members.

"We called the hospitals and on Tuesday evening we sent out a bulletin we had been e-mailing among her most intimate friends," Wood said. "I decided I would make a Facebook group and I took out an ad on Facebook asking if anyone had seen her. ... That has proven a phenomenal way of getting the word out."

Sarah Caldwell, a 22-year-old publicist for a book publisher, used her contacts to get additional help in the search. By Thursday night, New York magazine had posted information about the missing Upp, and the New York Daily News and New York Post have both written stories about the "Teacher Vanish Mystery."

"Her very close friend called me in a panic and let me know what was happening. We were waiting to hear that the police were officially launching an investigation so I sent the e-mail yesterday," said Caldwell, who attended college with Upp. "She was always super sweet and super welcoming. She was pretty much the nicest person you'd ever want to know."

Upp's outgoing nature makes her disappearance even more baffling to her friends and family.

"I refuse to believe that she would run away without taking [her purse or clothes] with her. There's not clothing missing that would suggest she had packed for a trip," Wood said. "None of it makes any sense, which is so weird."

Despite the confusion, Upp's friends and family remain determined to find their friend.

"What we're trying to do is get the word out to as many people as possible to see if anyone can provide a missing piece," Wood said.