Montessori teacher Hannah Upp, who went missing from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, just before Hurricane Marie hit, is still missing a month later. Upp, 32, was last seen on the morning of September 14, leaving her home to take a swim. The next day a construction crew at Sapphire Beach found Hannah Upp’s car keys, clothing, and sandals up by the beach bar. Upp’s car was also found at Sapphire with her purse, phone, wallet, and identification inside.
Friends started searching for Hannah Upp in an effort to find her before Hurricane Marie hit the Caribbean island, but they were unsuccessful. Hannah Upp has now been missing for one month. Complicating the disappearance of Hannah Upp is her medical condition, which is a rare form of amnesia known as dissociative fugue. The form of amnesia Hannah Upp suffers from has been likened to that of the fictional character Jason Bourne.
In a fugue state, people like Hannah Upp can go on with their normal functions of life but they are unable to remember any personal details and may be unsure of who they are. Sufferers like Hannah Upp also frequently travel with no clear destination. Maggie Guzman, a friend of Hannah who teaches at the Montessori school, was aware of her medical condition and is leading the search.
“We have reason to believe that she [Hannah Upp] has entered a dissociative fugue state. She may be high-functioning, and if she’s found, she should immediately be brought to a hospital or the police should be called because she may resist.”
To help find Hannah Upp and educate the public on her medical condition, friends of Upp in St. Thomas have created a Find Hannah Upp Facebook page.
“If anyone sees Hannah [Upp], please go to her. She has a rare dissociative amnesia disorder that may be in play. If so, she may not know where she is, or who she is.”
Many people fleeing St. Thomas before Hurricane Marie took a ferry to Puerto Rico, so friends of Upp have also posted flyers there. But it is unlikely that Hannah Upp traveled to Puerto Rico without identification and money.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time one of Hannah Upp’s medical crises has hit the news. Back in 2008, Hannah Upp, then 23, was living and teaching Spanish in New York when she left her apartment one day to go jogging and disappeared. Three weeks later a Staten Island Ferry captain saw Hannah Upp floating face-down in the New York Harbor. Luckily, Upp recovered physically, but it was then that doctors diagnosed Upp with dissociative fugue.
Dr. David Spiegel, Willson professor and associate chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, says that those with dissociative fugue, like Upp, frequently don’t know who they are, where they are, or where they are supposed to be.
“[Dissociative fugue sufferers] lose awareness for a lot of memory that has to do with their own identity and recent experience.”
The most famous mention of dissociative fugue is in the Bourne Identity series of books and movies with Jason Bourne struggling with the rare form of amnesia.
“Normally, we forget things in little pieces. These people forget things in large pieces that involve what they’ve done for the last year or two years.”
After Hannah Upp recovered physically from her ordeal, she gave an interview to the New York Times. Upp said she remembers nothing of her time before she ended up in the New York Harbor.
“I went from going for a run to being in the ambulance. It was like 10 minutes had passed. But it was almost three weeks.”
New York police used security cameras and CCTV to retrace some of the places Hannah Upp went during the three weeks, like Starbucks and the Midtown Apple store, but none of it jogged her memory.
“It’s weird. How do you feel guilty for something you didn’t even know you did? It’s not your fault, but it’s still somehow you. So it’s definitely made me reconsider everything. Who was I before? Who was I then — is that part of me? Who am I now?”
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Hannah Upp moved to St. Thomas to teach at the Montessori school for a new start. The head of school describes Upp as a valued member of the staff. The family of Hannah Upp has declined to speak publicly, but they have released a statement.
“Our beloved Hannah has disappeared. We do not know what has happened and we are hopeful that she will be found alive and well. Our thoughts and prayers are with Hannah and all those who continue to search tirelessly for her. We know our fear and uncertainty is shared by many others, and our hearts go out to all who wait.”
Friends of Hannah Upp are pleading people to keep her on their radar, as they are optimistic that she will be located.
Have you seen Hannah Upp? Anyone who has seen Hannah Upp or might have information is asked to call 340-474-9774 or post a message on Facebook on the Find Hannah Upp page.
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]