A Quad-City man’s personal loss continues to help others who seek their loved ones.

Dennis Harker founded the Quad Cities Missing Persons Network in 2014 after his son, David, went missing. Harker, who helped with information for our QC Vanished series, says it’s important to keep missing-persons cases in front of the public.

“The family of a missing person needs to have the knowledge that other people care … that people are trying. That is important,” he told Local 4 News.

It’s OK for others to mention the missing person to loved ones, he said.

“What they’ll say is ‘I’m sorry I made you think about him.’ I think about him every day. For somebody who’s got a missing person they’ve never found, it just brings home to them we’re keeping that name alive.”

At the moment, dozens of people are missing in the Quad-City area.

“In the Quad City area right now – I’ll go regionally, because we serve a region beyond the Quad-Cities, pretty much 100 miles – probably 70 to 75 people that have never been found that are out there,” Harker said.

The word “network” is key, he said.

“Me alone, I type up the files, I talk to the families … it would stop there if it wasn’t for the community. We see lots of horrible things happening on social media, a lot of inappropriate things. But there’s this one use that’s actually put to good purpose. When we have a missing person case, simply posting it on Facebok (helps.)”

“I look at the dynamics of what we post and how quickly that number grows. It grows by the thousands every hour. People who see it and are going to share it. It’s that network that spreads the word.”

He has story after story about people who have been found, including a girl who had gone missing recognized by a neighbor in Wisconsin. Another time, a woman waiting for a family member scrolled through Facebook while she waited in an emergency room. The missing woman she had just read about was being wheeled in as a patient, and she was reconnected with her family.

“When we first started the Missing Persons Network, the first goal was to be social media only.  We realized quickly on that we really needed to have trained searchers. There really isn’t a group that does trained searches in the field.”

Now the group members do regular search training. The network is part of the Illinois Search and Rescue Council.

“We’ve had our team travel to Elgin, Illinois, and to other areas and conduct searches for missing people,” he said. “Our staff is trained. We’re trained on how to preserve evidence.”

Anyone interested can be trained to do searches.

“If you’re physically fit, age doesn’t matter,” said Harker, soon to be 71. “And if you’re not afraid of snakes, spiders, or poison ivy. Once you’ve shadowed (a search session) “We will sponsor your training to become certified through Illinois Search and Rescue Council.”

The major way to help is to share posts the network makes on social media. The group also has fundraisers, takes donations, and is supported by The Treasure Chest in Rock Island, where donated items are sold.

The group now owns a John Deere Gator to pick up worn-out searchers. Among the other items that have been purchased for the group are life vests for searchers to wear near the water.

“A couple of our members are currently training search and rescue dogs … cadaver dogs,” he said. “It’s very, very involved and expensive. You do training almost every week with your dog.”

Harker says even older cold cases can be solved, especially in light of advancements in DNA testing.

“They can take the tiniest bit of informing and get DNA off it – things they couldn’t identify 20 years ago,” he said.

Cases are listed here on the group’s website.

“I’m always encountering somebody else,” said Harker. Some family members whose loved ones are missing have joined the network and are active volunteers.

A loss … and a beginning

The group began after Dennis Harker’s son, David Harker, of Rock Island, disappeared Sept. 29, 2013.

“David went to a birthday party on the top of the hill in Moline. When that party was tapering down, his friend said ‘Let’s go down to the sports bar downtown.’ So he did that. He was down there until about 2 in the morning, got into a little bit of an argument with another patron, and they told him to leave.:”

A friend offered David a ride to his car, but he said he would walk.

“How he got from there into the Mississippi we’ll never know,” Dennis Harker said.

His son’s body was found in Buffalo on Wednesday, Oct. 2, in the Mississippi River.

“It’s like anybody who suffers through a personal tragedy.  So many people who have done that have lobbied for new laws, and started other organizations and nonprofits. It’s what drives us.”

“That’s all I do. I live and breathe this stuff.” The Quad Cities Missing Persons Network Facebook page is here.