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Missing Man: Siphat Chau - MA - 12/24/2005

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Public Asked To Help Find Missing Man

Siphat Chau Last Seen On Christmas Eve

POSTED: 10:19 am EST December 30, 2005

UPDATED: 10:35 am EST December 30, 2005

PORTLAND, Maine -- Portland police are asking the public for help in finding a man who was last seen on Christmas Eve.

The family of Siphat Chau, 19, of Portland, said it is not like him to leave without telling anyone.

Chau is described as 5 feet 8 inches tall, about 140 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a red sweatshirt with blue jeans and might have been wearing a beanie-style hat.

Police would not say whether they suspect foul play was involved, but hope that getting the word out will help solve the mystery of the man's disappearance.

"If we can utilize the public, the press, to really help us, maybe somebody knows where he is," said Portland police Lt. Judy Ridge. "I'm not sure the reasons why he left home, but maybe somebody will be able to call us and let us know."

People with information about Chau's whereabouts were asked to call the Portland Police Department at (207) 874-8575.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Tough questions, no easy answers for student journalist

By JUSTIN ELLIS, Staff Writer

Follow along: Two people are missing.

One, after a night in the Old Port, the other last seen leaving his family's home.

In the ensuing weeks posters go up for both, and police investigate the case.

This is where the similarities end and the differences begin.

You may remember the disappearance of Lynn Moran, 24, last October. After nearly a monthlong search, the young woman's body was found in Portland Harbor.

The other case, you may not be entirely familiar with. Siphat Chau, 19, a student at the University of Maine, has not been seen since Christmas Eve.

If you were to check the archives of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram you get these tallies: Lynn Moran - nine stories and briefs combined. Siphat Chau - three stories and briefs.

This is something that caught Joseph Thompson's eye.

What is it that makes one missing person case different from another? What makes it a story?

Thompson, 24, is a student at the University of Southern Maine and an editor for the Free Press, the campus newspaper.

"Going around town you see the posters (of Chau) and you look in the paper and do not see any coverage of it," he said.

That includes not just us, but also our other counterparts in the print game as well as TV.

It was almost an invitation to write, but it was also a challenge to be certain. Taking on a full-fledged investigation not only into Chau's disappearance, but the resulting media coverage, would present a steep learning curve. Especially for someone who freely admits to missing writing "museum reviews" from time to time.

The basic facts of both stories are this: Police say Moran separated from friends after a night of drinking in the Old Port. Her family offered a reward and posters went up around the state as the search went on for weeks, spreading as far as South Portland.

Three weeks later her body was found in Portland harbor. Police say video confirms that she wandered off the Maine State Pier late at night.

Chau was in Portland visiting family during vacation from UMaine. His family says he was last seen leaving a get-together on Dec. 24, wearing a sweatshirt, hat and possibly a black coat. Police say his belongings and car remained untouched at the family's house. Posters of Chau can be seen throughout southern Maine.

Of course, it should be said there are a different set of circumstances for each case. Moran's situation closely mirrored that of Amy St. Laurent, a 25-year-old South Berwick woman who also went missing after a night out in the Old Port in 2001. Police later charged a man for her murder.

Safety in the area was a big concern in both cases. Coincidentally, police had less information to work with when they began looking into Chau's disappearance.

Taking in all of that, Thompson started by getting background on missing-persons cases and consulting journalism think tanks like the Poynter Institute on how the media handles them. The results, it turns out, are not good.

"There's more coverage if you're a white female, but minimal coverage of minorities and males," he said.

Thompson followed it up by canvassing the USM campus and spots around Portland to pick up people's thoughts on the coverage.

As a student of journalism, he knows that thousands of people go missing each year and that it's sometimes not possible for each one to make it into the news.

Press Herald/Sunday Telegram managing editor Eric Conrad said the newspaper determines how it covers stories by considering things like recency, proximity and impact. Going forward, writing stories depends on a handful of things, least of which is community interest. "Once you do the reporting you can make a decision based on what your reporters hear," he said.

Conrad said the Press Herald/Sunday Telegram is still keeping an eye on the Chau investigation.

On balance, Thompson is talking to people like Conrad at local journalism outlets for more answers. It's something he didn't anticipate he'd have to do at this point in his career.

"I didn't really know how to go about it," he says. "In a sense I'm writing about myself . . . the profession I've chosen."

But he's also had to try to get inside unfamiliar world of dealing with police and the job that never gets easy for any journalist: facing a grieving family.

He has spoken with Chau's sister and is trying to get in touch with his father. Chau's friends, Thompson has learned, have since started posting messages for him on

Needless to say, this isn't a typical outing, Thompson has had to figure out how to put the story together on the fly. He's spinning plates - the story, school work, his other responsibilities at the Free Press and, of course, the rest of his life.

So far it works for him, but it helps that Thompson has an evolving view of journalism. He's a supporter of blogs - even writing one himself - and the unstructured freedom it allows writers. But he's also a believer in the ethical and objective ideas every reporter is supposed to keep close.

When stories like this don't make it into the traditional media, or fall too quickly out of view, that's where alternative media step in, he said.

That's at least one reason why he took the chance of losing his own story by winding up in this column. I have no intention of spiking the story - for the full read you'll have to pick up a Free Press, or go online to

As always, the bigger point is to start that public discussion, getting journalists and other people to talk about their community, but also their media, he said.

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Portland Teenager Still Missing After Two Months

It's been nearly two months since a 19-year-old University of Maine student disappeared from his parents' home in Portland, but family members cling to hope that he's still alive.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Siphat Chau vanished during Christmas break, and friends plastered the city with posters of the missing man. His sister, Phuong Neang, said the family is trying to think positively, even though her brother may be dead.

Police investigate hundreds of missing person reports each year. Most are teenage runaways who return safely or are found. But some turn up dead, a result of suicide, accident or foul play. And others are never found, leaving family members to struggle with uncertainty.

Chau, an honor student at Portland High School, did not enroll for the spring semester at Orono. According to his father, Chau had money problems due to gambling on the Internet.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

'You can't help but...hope'

Phuong Neang is conflicted. Her brother Siphat Chau, a 19-year-old Portland High School graduate, has been missing for nearly two months.

He may be dead, but she feels compelled to hope that he's alive.

"We try to think in a positive way," said Neang, 25. "It was hard for us to accept the fact he was missing. After that, we ran out of ideas of what else we could do. . . . At some point, you have to go on."

Chau is one of the hundreds of missing persons reported to police every year. In Portland alone, police investigate roughly 180 to 200 reports annually. The vast majority are teen runaways who return safely or are found. A few turn up dead, either from suicide, an accident or foul play.

Others are never found. Their disappearances leave family members torn, trapped in a limbo of wanting to be hopeful but facing a grim reality. Some families have struggled to accept their loss and grieve their loved one, despite the uncertainty. Others, like Claire Moulton, cannot let go.

"It's bad not knowing because I keep hoping maybe somewhere she's out there and has amnesia or something," said Moulton, whose 16-year-old daughter Cathy disappeared from Portland in 1971.

Moulton and her husband never moved and never changed their telephone number on the remote chance that their daughter, who would now be 50, might make contact. Moulton concedes it's not a likely or logical hope, but she can't bring herself to give up.

"We have tried to face the reality that chances are she might not be alive, but you can't help but hold out hope," she said. "I certainly hope (Chau's relatives) don't go through years like we did before they find out something."

Chau's case is one of several in Portland each year that do not involve young runaways, said police Lt. Vern Malloch, head of Portland's criminal investigations division.

"Most of them are resolved sooner than this," Malloch said. "People either have left and establish contact on their own, or they are the victim of foul play or met some type of untimely death - suicide, overdose, something along those lines."

Chau, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam, came to Portland as a child. He was an honor student at Portland High, attended the Seeds of Peace camp and earned a partial college scholarship when he graduated in 2005. Friends say he was charming and outgoing.

Chau could be withdrawn, however, when it came to personal problems. And he was uncertain about his future, waiting until the last minute to enroll as a freshman business major at the University of Maine in Orono last fall. He did not enroll for the spring semester.

Chau had money problems as a result of gambling on the Internet, his father said, so he was asked to come home to be close to the family.

"I didn't even know he was doing that," John Chau said of the gambling. "I asked him all the time and he said, 'No more.' "

Siphat Chau was very upset about the situation, his father said, but the pair had grown distant in the past year and he said his son would not listen to his advice.

"He's always thinking he wants to do everything by himself, not depend on family," John Chau said. "I still feel very bad I didn't keep close with him. . . . He's always thinking I don't love him. I love him very much."

Chau was visiting his parents' East Deering home during Christmas break when he disappeared. His sister saw him on the living room couch, with his computer, just before 1 a.m. on Dec. 24. Later that morning, his mother woke and found he was gone. He'd left his car keys and wallet.

After searching the city, friends alerted police to Chau's disappearance on Dec. 27. Friends put up posters around Portland, appealing for help. Police interviewed people who knew him, developing a timeline of the hours and days before his disappearance, and searched tidal waters near the family home.

"So much time goes by, and they haven't reached out to family or friends," Malloch said. "The person just seems to have disappeared, which always raises our concern that the person may have met with foul play or death."

Deputy Chief William Ridge said Chau's disappearance is similar in some ways to that of Margaret Tevanian, a 65-year-old woman who vanished from her home on Cedar Street in 1996.

"We had nothing to work on. . . . If they came into foul play, we found no crime scene for either of them. If it was suicide, they left no notice of that," Ridge said. "I would put every resource I had into this if I knew where to put them."

John Chau thinks searching the shore for his son's body is a logical next step. Finding the truth, even if it's painful, is crucial, he said.

"Sometimes when there's a car around my neighborhood here, they open or close the door, we're thinking 'Oh, my son comes back,' " John Chau said. "If he's missing, we're still thinking from year to year, never able to sleep well, and crying all the time."

Narciso Torres understands that feeling. He has come to accept the reality that his son Angel is dead, though there are times when he reacts expectantly to a telephone ringing, or an answering machine message. Angel "Tony" Torres, 21, was last seen with friends in Biddeford in 1999.

"The more time that has gone by, the more we have accepted that he's gone," his father said. "We got a death certificate from the state of Maine and that has some closure to it. There will never be any real closure until we find his remains.

"I think it's harder when someone has disappeared as opposed to someone you know is dead," Torres said. "We don't know what happened. He's just gone. We've never really got to say goodbye."


A poster hanging in a doorway on Middle Street in Portland asks for help in locating Siphat Chau, 19, who was last seen at his East Deering home just before 1 a.m. on Dec. 24. Portland police investigate about 180 to 200 missing persons cases annually.

In 1999, Angel Torres, 21, was a student at the University of Framingham in Massachusetts. He had returned to Maine and was out with friends when he disappeared.


In 1996, 65-year-old Margaret Tevanian walked out of her home on Cedar Street in Portland wearing her pajamas and a robe. She hasn't been seen since.


Lyman auctioneer Claude VanTassel was 65 when he disappeared from a Dover, N.H., shopping plaza in 2002. It was his second disappearance, having been gone for 10 weeks a year earlier before being found at a shelter in Ohio.


In 1971, Cathy Moulton, a 16-year-old Deering High School student, was on her way to a dance at the YWCA when she disappeared. Thirty-five years later, police still don't know what happened to her.

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

Missing Since: December 24, 2005 from Portland, Maine

Classification: Missing

Age: 19 years old

Height and Weight: 5'8, 140 pounds

Distinguishing Characteristics: Asian (Vietnamese) male. Black hair, brown eyes.

Clothing/Jewelry Description: A red sweatshirt, blue jeans, and possibly a black coat and a beanie hat.

Details of Disappearance

Chau was last seen in Portland, Maine on December 24, 2005. He was visiting his family for the Christmas holidays at the time. He was last seen on the couch at his family's residence shortly after 1:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve. Later that morning, his loved ones discovered he was missing. He left behind his wallet and car keys.

Chau had been an honors student at Portland High School, and after graduating he enrolled in the University of Maine at Orono on a partial scholarship. He majored in business. He had not registered for spring semester classes, however. He had financial problems due to internet gambling, and his family asked him to come home to be closer to them. Chau's loved ones stated he did not often discuss his personal problems with them, but it is uncharacteristic of him to leave without warning; they fear for his safety.

Investigating Agency

If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:

Portland Police Department


Source Information


The Portland Press-Herald

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Siphat has now been missing 3 years.  Our thoughts and prayer are with his family and loved ones.

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This month marks 5 years since Siphat disappeared.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones.

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Siphat is still missing.


Portland Police Department

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