The disappearance of Jose Santiago: The man who wasn't missing
Author: Destiny Johnson
Published: 12:13 PM EST November 20, 2018
Updated: 9:29 PM EST November 20, 2018
LOCAL 0 Articles

How does someone disappear in 2018? Turns out, it’s scarily easy.

Jose Hernandez-Santiago was Baker Acted in Jacksonville in July 2018. His parents haven't heard from him since.

And because he's not a teenager, they weren't notified when he was released.

He has seemingly just vanished.

A FAMILY'S LOVE

His parents said they have tried to report him missing but he does not have a last known address. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokesperson says you don't need a last known address, just a last known sighting to report someone missing.

Jose is 24-years-old with black hair, brown eyes, average height and build. His mother says he’s friendly but reserved. When he's medicated, she says, he is a stable and happy young adult. Off his medication, he sees the devil in people and becomes frightened; he talks to himself.

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“He’s very respectful, and he is very smart, and he has a lot of vocabulary,” said Camille Santiago of her son. “He loves to read and he is very, he likes to do research in things, since he was at a young age. He knew everything about dinosaurs and science -- things you have a lot of questions about."

Jose left St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for Jacksonville in June 2017 to join ResCare Job Corps, a vocational training program for island residents. Though he was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen, Camille said she was assured that while in the job corps he would be looked after. She said officials there were well aware of his condition.

“We were very serious about his medication,” she said. “He is a schizophrenic patient and he was treated like a normal person [in the Job Corps].”

Santiago hoped to become a registered nurse. When he finished the program he intended to return to St. Thomas. Instead, he met and began living with a girl.

A police report indicates that in July 2018 he was arrested after being asked several times to leave her property. A video taken by the ex-girlfriend's family during the incident shows Jose calmly being taken into custody. This video is the last time any of his known friends or family saw him and after this incident he was Baker Acted.

The girl, whom First Coast News is not identifying, says she hasn't seen Jose since.

IN SEARCH OF A BRIGHT FUTURE

Camille said his mental illness is not always apparent. “You have to have a complete conversation with him to understand he is sick. He is very mild,” she said. “He’s a scaredy cat.”

Camille says as a young child, he showed no signs of mental illness.

“He was part of the honors society until we started having issues, like family issues, and I think that’s when his condition started to flourish,” said Camille.

She and her husband separated some seven years ago. She now lives in Texas and Jose’s father, Jose Hernandez Sr., lives in St. Thomas. “He was getting all this like, conflict within himself. He was bullied a lot in school so he started being by himself, studying by himself was his way of staying away in his own world.”

In 2012 and 2013, Santiago worked as a fashion model in St. Thomas.

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“He was really into art, he was studying humanities in St. Thomas but then his condition really started to kick in so he dropped out. We put him in the hospital and he didn’t even recognize himself,” Camille said. “He didn’t even know his name the first time but they thought he was on drugs when that happened and he didn’t have any traces of drugs in his system which was why he was not diagnosed the first time.” She said he was suicidal and scared.

He had a second mental break a year or so later where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Jose lived on his own and was doing well on his medication. But it began to have side effects, like heavy weight gain that affected Jose’s self-esteem. He went off of the medicine and had another episode.

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That’s when Jose was switched to a monthly shot, according to Camille. When he began to complain that he wasn't being accommodated in his classes, Camille said she was afraid he was off his medication. Feeling as though he was being ganged up on was a symptom of his psychotic breaks, she said.

“It was fine and controlled when he was in St. Thomas,” said Camille, “When he went to Florida, they told him that he was an adult and he needed to be responsible for his medication. We are talking about a person who is schizophrenic.”

When he quit the job corps, Jose’s father, Jose Hernandez Sr. was concerned. “I asked ‘How are you going to live, mijo?’ He said he had Social Security.” Jose received disability payments for his mental illness.

SEEN BUT NOT FOUND

The last time anyone saw Jose was in August at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Jacksonville. He had been in and out of the hotel several times that week and had been asked to leave. A JSO incident report states that Jose “had been causing concern amongst staff members because he asks personal questions about them, and other staff members, giving everyone in contact with him a generally uncomfortable feeling.”

Jose Sr. said neither he nor his ex-wife has the financial means to leave to try and find their son. “I can call the police but they say because he doesn’t have an address, I can’t report him missing.” Jose had been living with his now ex-girlfriend but his name wasn’t on the lease, he was simply staying with her and her family.

He even called the FBI; they said it was not their jurisdiction.

“I am worried he is not even alive. My heart doesn’t say so, but lately, my mind says maybe,” said Jose Sr.

Jose Sr. said that Jose used to call his mother a lot. They have tried to call his old number, but it doesn’t work. She last spoke to him in May and she said she knew he was off his medication. He asked for $400, and she said she did not have the money but offered to put a motel for a couple of nights on a credit card if he called back.

He never did.

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Jose’s parents feel they have exhausted all options.

“How do you protect your people then? Especially people without good reasoning?” asked Jose Sr.

Kathleen Conran of Conran Investigations said finding people once they’ve wandered off is mostly a matter of luck.

“We get lucky sometimes,” said Conran, “But there isn’t a lot families can do. These families are desperate. We get lucky, you hit the homeless shelters, you hit tent city, you hit Philips Highway.”

She said she has seen this before, the cycle of going on medication, finding stability, then coming off of it.

“You just gotta get lucky.” Because like Jose, most of the people in these cases have no last known address or if they were sighted somewhere, they have since moved on.

TALK NOW, NOT LATER

But there are measures you can take to make sure this does not happen to your loved one. It's usually a matter of signing the right papers.

Wendy Hughes is president and CEO of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida. She says that a conversation needs to be had long before these times of crisis.

“It is a difficult situation when you have family members living with mental illness and they’re going through this,” said Hughes. “My recommendation to families that they need to work with individuals, and I personally live with mental illness and I talk really openly with my family about it.”

Hughes says it is important to make sure that there is a medical power of attorney in place and paperwork to allow parents or loved ones access to medical records. Those documents are available through a lawyer or doctor’s office.

“It’s not that those barriers are put up to keep family members from gaining knowledge about that’s going on with their loved ones, but it is to protect medical information of the individual and now knowing what that individual wants is the problem. When they’re in crisis it’s hard to know what they want.”

A support system in place is the key to a speedy recovery after crisis. Hughes suggests getting in touch with organizations like NAMI and the Northeast Florida peer support group.

“You don’t always know when that crisis is imminent so having that discussion in advance is best,” said Hughes. “It’s time to talk about it.”

Eileen Briggs at the Sulzbacher Center could not say whether Jose had been there or not. “We do have a policy of confidentiality where we can’t confirm or deny that a person is staying with us but what we do is we take a message," said Briggs, "and if that person is one of our clients we make sure that we deliver that message to them as quickly as possible and then provide them access to a phone or email so they can communicate with their family.”

First Coast News left a message for Jose with the Sulzbacher Center letting him know his family was looking for him in case he might be there.

“I want to know if he’s fine, if he’s eating, if he has a place to live, that’s my main concern. Of course, if he is taking his medications I don’t know if he wants to come home," said Camille. "I don’t know. If he actually is trying to hide from us or what because he doesn’t want us to take care of him. But I am pretty worried about the weather. It’s going to get cold and if he doesn’t have a place to live what is he going to do? He gets sick in the cold. He was asthmatic as a child and since he started in Florida he was getting sick all the time."

Jose is the older brother to a 13-year-old brother and a 21-year-old sister. When Jose is doing well, he is very close with his brother who Camille says misses him.

“I love him that I want the best for him and that I am here for him. No matter what.”

Jose will be turning 25 on Nov. 28.

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If you or a loved one are in crisis please seek help through MHA Jax or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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