Soon after 27-year-old Romain Mpoko disappeared, his friends and family began posting in the Facebook group “Missing in Baltimore City” and on other social media sites — a modern-day version of tacking fliers to telephone poles.

Mpoko was last seen late April 21 near Ruth’s Chris Steak House, walking the route he usually took after leaving his job as a cook at the Sagamore Pendry hotel in Fells Point. A week later, his body was pulled from the Inner Harbor.

In the photo accompanying his missing-person social media posts, Mpoko is smiling and wearing a black ball cap and a white T-shirt. Underneath, the comments evolved with the news.

First: Prayers. Shared. Please come home safely.

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Later: I’m so sorry for your loss. I was truly praying for him.

Social media has helped bridge the gap between the scant police resources dedicated to locating missing people and the Maryland families who are searching for answers.

One of the top destinations for those families is the “Missing in Baltimore City” Facebook group. A mother desperate to find her daughter founded it in 2021. Now, it has almost 12,000 members.

“There’s a lot that I’ve learned through this process about Baltimore City,” founder Bonnie Marquez said. “Baltimore City does not have the resources. They need the resources, but don’t have it.”

More than 3,000 people are reported missing each year in Baltimore.

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The Baltimore Police Department’s missing persons unit is staffed with just two detectives and one supervisor, and actively works on about 400 of the “most critical or vulnerable” cases per year, police spokesperson Chakia Fennoy said in an email. The department’s policy is to prioritize missing people who are 13-years-old or younger, are cognitively impaired, or are thought to be suicidal.

That enforcement approach leaves thousands of cases without much police support. So families have begun crowdsourcing.

Within a couple of days after Marquez started the Facebook group, it had gained hundreds of followers, she said. They posted messages of support and potential clues. Soon after, she located her daughter.

But the messages kept coming — this time from other families looking for help finding their own missing relatives.

Many members have told Marquez that they haven’t had much help from the police. Sometimes, officers have refused to file a missing-persons report. Without a report, Marquez said, the state might not be able to associate a body with a missing person, instead labeling them a “John Doe,” and preventing relatives from getting closure.

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But Marquez said she also understands that some officers are just overwhelmed and doing their best.

“I do maintain contact with a couple of detectives who’ve reached out to me being, like, ‘This group is awesome. Thank you for doing this,’” Marquez said.’

Every now and then, the Facebook group has happy news. “THANKS SO MUCH FOR SHARING MY POST FOR MY SISTER….SHE HAS BEEN FOUND SAFE….We Appreciate Your Help,” a post last week read. It was followed by a chorus of congratulations and hearts.

Baltimore is far from alone in its struggle to address missing people. Monica Caison, who founded the CUE Center for Missing Persons, based in Wilmington, North Carolina, said it’s a national problem without signs of slowing down.

Like Marquez, Caison founded CUE for personal reasons. During her rebellious teenage years, she met families of three missing people and in 1994 started a nonprofit dedicated to finding missing people across the country, according to CUE’s webpage.

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Caison said that while it’s not uncommon for families to report negative experiences with law enforcement, she has also worked with many dedicated departments and officers.

The crux of this issue, she said, is how vast and sprawling the universe of missing people is. According to the federally funded National Missing and Unidentified Persons database, more than 600,000 people go missing annually.

“There’s never going to be enough police,” Caison said. “There’s never going to be enough people to go out and find every single person on day one.”

As daunting as the problem seems, Caison said she remains undeterred — truly believing anyone can be found.

Marquez’s Missing in Baltimore City group also remains busy, with Facebook posters delving into an average of 28 cases a month statewide, and even aiding families across the country who think their loved ones might be in Baltimore.

“I want to give these parents the answers because I’ve been there,” Marquez said. “I know how they’re feeling.”