Ames police are becoming increasingly concerned about an Iowa State University student who has not been seen or heard from in two weeks, and investigators are using social media and partnering with authorities across the region to find her.
Tong Shao, a 20-year-old ISU junior from China, last contacted friends Sept. 8 via text to say she was in Iowa City and headed to Minnesota to visit friends, said Ames police Cmdr. Geoff Huff. But none of Shao’s Minnesota friends said they’ve seen her, and she has not returned to Ames.
“We are very concerned at this point,” Huff said. “We have Iowa City (police) looking into it as well, because that was possibly her last known location. And we are using social media — Facebook and Twitter — to get the word out.”
Investigators also are working with members of the Chinese community in Ames and across the region to spread the message of Shao’s disappearance. Officers are working to contact her family members in China, who friends say are worried but have no information on Shao’s whereabouts.
“We don’t have much to go on right now,” Huff said. “It’s pretty frustrating.”
Shao’s friends at Iowa State first reported her missing Sept. 17 — more than a week after last hearing from her. They told police it wasn’t unusual for Shao to take off for a weekend or a few days longer, but they were growing increasingly concerned after being out of touch with her for so long.
Shao texted friends Sept. 8 to let them know she was in Iowa City to visit a friend, who investigators have not been able to find.
“We are trying to locate that friend, but we believe he has left the country and gone back to China,” Huff said. “So we are having a bit of an issue getting a hold of that person.”
Shao’s text message said she planned to take a bus north to Minnesota, but no one knows who she was planning to visit specifically.
“We have contacted people in Minnesota who were listed as friends, and they haven’t seen her and said she’s not visited them,” Huff said.
Shao doesn’t have a car and the phone she had been using has been disconnected. Efforts to track her use of public transportation have been fruitless, Huff said.
“We can’t find records from the bus lines that show she was even on a bus,” he said. “That doesn’t mean she wasn’t. But it’s not helping.”
Efforts to reach family in China have been hampered by language and distance barriers, according to Huff. Police have been relying on friends to make contact with them and, based on that outreach, “We know they are concerned.”
“They don’t have any idea where she might be either,” he said.
Shao, who goes by her last name, is listed as an ISU junior studying chemical engineering on the Iowa State website. Police say she speaks English well, and communication is not a barrier for her.
On her Google-plus profile page, Shao says she’s been studying biological system engineering at ISU since 2012. Shao last shared something publicly on that page in 2012 — a picture of herself sitting in what appears to be a restaurant. One person commented on that photo Friday.
“Your daddy looking for u, please contact with us,” the commenter wrote.
In March, Iowa State’s “Wang lab” posted on its website that Shao had joined its research in biomaterials, intestinal stem cells, nanotechnology and drug delivery, and she would continue as a summer intern.
Missing person cases are not uncommon in Ames, according to Huff. But they usually are resolved within one or two days.
“This case is different because it’s been two weeks,” he said.
Police don’t have any evidence to support foul play at this time, and no one reported that Shao was upset or dealing with any specific problems.
“But she has been missing for two weeks for no reason,” Huff said.