During the 2019 investigation into Belmont resident Paul Farmers disappearance, Belmont Police Department officers such as Corporal Brian Vogel, coordinated with the Belmont community to assist with the search. So when we get a missing persons case its going to take high priority. Were going to take all of our available officers and as many community members as possible to get into the area and start looking for that person, Vogel said. Thats where social media has been great. Being able to use platforms like Twitter and Next Door, those are our two primary uses of social media to be able to get that persons picture out, be able to get their description out, because that really helped in terms of us getting a lead on where he may be.
During the 2019 investigation into Belmont resident Paul Farmer’s disappearance, Belmont Police Department officers such as Corporal Brian Vogel, coordinated with the Belmont community to assist with the search. “So when we get a missing persons case it’s going to take high priority. We’re going to take all of our available officers and as many community members as possible to get into the area and start looking for that person,” Vogel said. “That’s where social media has been great. Being able to use platforms like Twitter and Next Door, those are our two primary uses of social media to be able to get that person’s picture out, be able to get their description out, because that really helped in terms of us getting a lead on where he may be.”
Emma Yin

Gone but not forgotten

The aftermath of Paul Farmer’s disappearance on the Belmont community

One out of 26 in San Mateo County. Yet one of very few in Belmont. An evening stroll turned sour as Paul Farmer left his home in 2019 and vanished, spawning a citywide search and a collaboration to ensure nobody shared the same unfortunate fate. 

According to the State of California Department of Justice, 2019 saw 27 missing persons cases where a dependent adult or an adult with “physical or mental limitation that restricts his or her ability to carry out normal activities” was reported missing to law enforcement. In 2022, the number jumped to 31 dependent adult cases, contributing to the 580 missing adult cases in San Mateo County of that year. 

Of those cases, 469 ended with the person being found by law enforcement or returning on their own. 

Unfortunately, Farmer’s case ended in tragedy. 

In a press release by the Belmont Police Department (PD), officers reported that Farmer’s ID card was located near Highway 92 in March. In June, the Belmont PD partnered with the San Mateo County Search and Rescue and The Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit to locate remains later identified as Farmer’s.

During the investigation in 2019, officers quickly learned the dire circumstances of his disappearance, namely his neurological health.

“We had officers conducting a search. Once we determined that he had early onset dementia, which really leads to a lot of confusion and mental disorientation. We brought in search and rescue teams, we brought in canines, just a host of resources to begin trying to look for him because time is really not on our side in that type of a situation,” said Corporal Brian Vogel of the Belmont PD. “The longer a person goes missing, the less likely we are that we’re going to find them in a healthy situation.”

Despite the tragic end to the case, this was one of many cases that the Belmont Police Department has had to respond to. According to Vogel, in cases of missing people, officers respond in full force every time a case is reported, often momentarily putting other duties on hold to begin a search.

“When we get a missing persons case, it takes high priority. And so we’re going to take all of our available officers to be able to get into the area and start circulating and looking for that person,” Vogel said. 

Furthermore, no matter where the missing person originated from, whether from a different city or even another state, the Belmont PD is required by California law to accept and respond to every report of a missing person.

“If I don’t take that report, I lose my job. It’s that serious. So whether the person has been missing out of Belmont or they’ve been missing out of Washington, it doesn’t matter. I have to take that report,” Vogel said. 

However, in cases of missing persons such as Farmer, extensive police attention is necessary, where often one department cannot handle the entire search alone. 

“That’s where San Mateo County is great. We have great relationships with all of our neighboring agencies. So we’ve helped the San Mateo Police Department on their cases, we’ve helped the Sheriff’s Office, and they have all definitely helped us as well,” Vogel said. “In our county, we are there for each other.”

Despite the immense effort by law enforcement, missing persons cases in 2022 were still a significant problem for the county. In addition to the 580 adults, 379 children were reported missing to San Mateo County Law Enforcement. In particular, most children’s cases were “runaway children.” 

According to the Child Crime Prevention and Safety Center, runaway children are defined as “a minor who leaves their parent or guardian without permission or has been dismissed by their parents. A child is considered to be a runaway when he or she is 14 or under or mentally disabled and leaves home without permission and stays away for at least one night or is 15 or older and is away from home without permission for two nights and elects not to return home.”

Therefore, some have called for preemptive action to help mitigate future cases. 

Following the investigation into Farmer’s disappearance, the Belmont PD announced a new program to help families feel more secure about loved ones. Belmont Tracking & Recovery of Adults & Children (TRAC) program was dedicated to Farmer and gives a small GPS tracker to participating families and allows families to keep track of their family members.

“We wanted to be able to recognize that the Farmer family worked well with us; they appreciated everything we did,” Vogel said. “I’ve personally handed out at least eight to 10 of those to other families. 

According to the official press release, the tracker is beneficial in cases of dependent adults or runaway children, particularly those with cognitive disabilities such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, or autism. 

“Think about kids with autism. They tend to wander too. So we’ve given them out to families with kids who wander. So it’s really a great program to be able to try to give back to the community and make sure that we don’t have these types of situations again,” Vogel said.

Furthermore, the person with the tracker can only be tracked by the family; the Police Department relinquishes any involvement with the tracker until families consent to release the tracker’s information. 

Despite efforts from the city of Belmont, some community members are wary of the program. Carlmont Special Education General Aide Paulina Peña is wary of accepting such programs for fear of losing independence, especially for the Carlmont students with mental disabilities. 

“I understand what they’re trying to do try to help but sometimes that tether isn’t needed,” Peña said. “I just can’t imagine a student wanting to be tracked by the police.” 

Peña often assists various students across all grades at Carlmont in class. She primarily helps to accommodate students who require special needs or special accommodations in class and develops comprehensive relationships between herself and students to understand better how to help them. 

“Sometimes students don’t like being told what to do. Or sometimes they don’t like it when you tell them, ‘Give me your phone. It’s distracting. So they’ll have a negative reaction,” Peña said. “Having that relationship with them, diminishes that emotional reaction and you can have that trust that they’re just playing, they’re on their phone right now, but I know that they’re gonna put it away in a few minutes because they need to do something with their hands.”

Despite her reservations, Peña also understands that the program could benefit our community, especially because of the sheer amount of differences in each family that lives in Belmont. 

“I can see it both ways. It’s positive because if a student, young child, or adult has a severe, severe disability it would be beneficial to know where they are at all times. But it could be taking away the right to privacy,” Peña said. “You don’t want to blur the line of privacy. and freedom. Everybody deserves freedom, no matter what your mental capacity is.”

Furthermore, at Carlmont alone, students with autism represent a small minority of the student body, with many not even being considered for the extra involvement TRAC would provide.

“Currently on campus, I can’t think of any student that TRAC would be appropriate for,” said Jason Selli, the Carlmont Special Education Department Chair. “Our main goal will always be to have by the time a student is in the 12th grade, they have gained a higher level of independence, so they become strong self-advocates for whatever their next steps are going to be.” 

Even in the cases of older members of the Belmont community, Vogel agrees that police involvement could be a very sensitive topic. 

“Let’s take driving as an example. When you get your license, it’s very freeing. You can go basically anywhere you want. However, we have the ability to send somebody to the DMV if we think their driving isn’t up to par and it’s scary to be told you aren’t safe to drive,” Vogel said.

Therefore, for officers like Vogel, who often face these difficult conversations, it has become increasingly important for families to converse on sensitive subjects like cognitive impairments. 

“Here I am, an officer, talking to someone who I don’t know and telling them they are unsafe to drive,” Vogel said. “When families start seeing differences in behavior, don’t wait for something to happen. Start having these conversations about memory loss, driving, losing their way.” 

The more individualized conversations allow families to prevent future catastrophes and even help the Police Department preemptively be more prepared to handle a catastrophe before it happens, with or without TRAC. 

“Some families have even started giving us a current picture of their loved ones or even information of where they like to walk,” Vogel said. “We’re not going track them 24/7 but in these cases, time is distance and distance is time and so the more you can pre-plan and give us that information, the better.” 

In addition, Peña agrees that having conversations within the family is far more impactful than TRAC, especially for the individual’s comfort. 

“Family should come first. They should have the final say for everything,” Peña said. 

Even in conversations about TRAC, Selli believes that TRAC could include more information to help determine if it is necessary to use or not. 

“There should be standards that need to be hit in order to determine if this is a function that is needed for the individual, almost like a medical diagnosis,” Selli said. 

Ultimately, Farmer’s disappearance has sparked massive change in the Belmont community. The result has struck a deep note within the community to come together and prevent further cases like Farmer’s. Vogel and his fellow officers believe that as Belmont and its residents continue to age, the time has come to take action immediately and seek police help immediately when something goes wrong.

“It’s very difficult when your parent or loved one starts to age because it means you’re starting to age too. But cases like Farmer’s are getting more and more common and some people think you need to wait 24 hours in order to report a person missing. You don’t. They could be missing for one minute and you can call 911 and report them missing,” Vogel said. “In general, if there is ever any doubt, call 911.”

About the Contributors
Erik Cheng
Erik Cheng, Scot Scoop Managing Editor
Erik Cheng (Class of 2024) enjoys camping, backpacking, cooking, and photography. He currently serves as Managing Editor of Scot Scoop but continues to explore his passion for discovering local stories and investigation. You can find him discovering new communities in the area, hiking up mountains, desperately trying not to burn down his parents' kitchen, working at REI, or taking photos of the local flora and fauna. View his portfolio here.
Emma Yin
Emma Yin, Staff Writer
Emma Yin is a senior at Carlmont High School. This is her third year in the journalism program and currently serves as a staff writer and cartoonist. She is interested in art and dabbling in global news. You can find her drawing on her iPad, playing badminton and music, and hunting for a new boba shop. Follow her on Instagram @em.24.ma

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