22-year-old Jacob Neil Boehm, a rising senior at Stanford University, was traveling alone in Southeast Asia when he was reported missing on Friday. His regular correspondence with friends and family suddenly stopped after six days, and his parents understandably got worried. Jacob's mother, Nancy Luberoff, and his father, Bruce Boehm, turned to Facebook to locate him.
Boehm traveled to Japan in June to sing with the Stanford Chamber Chorale during a two-week tour. While the rest of the singers headed home, Boehm used money he saved coaching the Palo Alto High School debate team and flew to Thailand, with plans to travel in East Asian. He was last seen in Jerantut, a city in the Pahang District of Malaysia.
Boehm didn't have a set itinerary but he was publicly sharing his trip on Google Maps and posting regularly on his Google+ page. When the updates stopped (no calls, no Skype, no e-mails, and no ATM or credit card use), his parents contacted the local Malaysian police, as well as the American and German embassies (Boehm is a dual citizen).
Boehm's parents then e-mailed 12 of their son's friends to ask them about the world's most popular social network. "We sent a message saying, 'We don't know Facebook like you guys do, can you help?'" Bruce Boehm told the Huffington Post.
One friend created the Facebook event "Jacob Boehm -- missing in Malaysia." "Do you know anyone in Malaysia?" the page reads. "Feel free to post, invite, and forward as you see fit. If you have other ideas on how to continue the search, please pursue and share them."
The event, which was also posted to Couchsurfing's Malaysian page, quickly garnered almost 5,000 attendees. Friends, Stanford alumni, and even strangers immediately offered to help. Some were on their way to Malaysia, others called hostels from around the world, and local residents put up posters with Boehm's photo on them. The missing-person poster was translated into Malay: "JACOB NEIL BOEHM, age 22, last seen in Jerantut, Pahang District, Malaysia. Traveling on U.S. and German passports, 5'11", thin, brown curly hair and eyeglasses."
19-year-old Misha Nasrollahzadeh, a rising junior at Stanford and Facebook intern, doesn't know Boehm but joined in the search. "I thought, I work at Facebook, they need help and he's part of the Stanford family," she said. "We all get credit to run Facebook ads once a month, so I reached out to co-workers and we pooled our credits to help." The ad (pictured above) ran in both English and Malay, targeting users in Malaysia and other regions in Southeast Asia.
21-year-old Timothy Tam, another Stanford senior who hasn't met Boehm, called his father, a director general in the Malaysian Prime Minister's office in Kuala Lumpur. It was 3:00 AM, but the director general called the Pahang division and discovered an entry record from Boehm. Early Saturday morning, a search team of park rangers was dispatched, and after 11 hours, they found him hiking with a guided group.
Taman Negara National Park, which covers a total area of 4,343 square kilometers, is one of the world's oldest tropical rainforest and doesn't have any cell phone reception. Boehm thus made a short call to his mother from a two-way radio: "Hi Mom, it's me Jacob. I just wanted to let you know I'm safe. It's a long story but I'll call you in a few days."
After hearing the news, Bruce sent an e-mail to those who assisted in the search efforts: "Early this morning we got a note from the US Consul in KL [Kuala Lumpur] saying that a person on his staff had actually talked to Jacob using some sort of 2 way radio that works in Taman Negara national park. Many thanks for all the efforts you put into this project," Boehm wrote. "The Facebook effort surfaced a Malaysian student at Stanford whose dad works in the Prime Minister's office. It appears that his connection coupled with the hard work of the US Consulate surfaced Jacob so quickly. We are forever grateful for your help."
Nancy posted a thank you message on the Wall of the Facebook event: "The information that we have received on Jacob's whereabouts has come about directly as a result of this extraordinary facebook community."