UC Santa Barbara alum Riley Hsieh was reported missing on March 27. Now, two months into the search with no leads found, efforts to spread awareness continue throughout the UCSB campus and Isla Vista community in hopes of connecting others to the cause.
Though she can’t help in the immediate area and is aware that this could be a long running case, Amanda Hsieh — Riley Hsieh’s older sister — continues contributing to the search efforts by regularly updating various social media accounts like Instagram, in hopes that it will reach a wider audience and spread awareness about the case.
“With missing persons’ cases, people could really be anywhere,” she said. “We’re just trying to use social media to reach more people, so that way somebody will spot him, and we can bring him home.”
Petrona Garcia — one of his close friends from university — reached out to their friend group and the UCSB campus community to increase search efforts and let people know that they can still help remotely by distributing information and potentially making contact with those who may recognize him.
“People don’t realize college campuses are probably one of the only hubs where people of so many different cities and communities and states come together. So it’s such a core place to spread the word,” Garcia said.
The week before Riley Hsieh was reported missing, Garcia said he had gone to visit her in Los Angeles since he was in the area to check out UC Riverside following a recent acceptance into their ethnic studies graduate program.
Garcia said she’d frequently kept in touch with Riley Hsieh, from FaceTime calls to iMessage games. When she had heard from his sister about his going missing, Garcia and Amanda Hsieh flew to Willits to help with the search for Riley Hsieh.
“I was there for a couple of days, maybe like five, six days up there with two other friends who joined me, and we just looked around, but there’s so much woods [in Willits],” Garcia said. “At the time, we thought he was gonna come back, and I just wanted to be there to support him.”
Associate professor and chair in the Department of Asian American Studies Erin Khuê Ninh had Riley Hsieh in a few of her classes during his time at the university. They would speak in office hours about his applications to graduate school.
She learned about the cause through an email from one of her colleagues and was asked to spread the word throughout the Asian American studies department by distributing fliers to inform the campus community about the search for a fellow Gaucho.
“I hadn’t been in touch since he graduated — it’s typical, right? When Riley and I had last spoken, he said it was hard being in his hometown, it did not feel very welcoming. He was looking forward to getting to a place of community and safety again,” Ninh said.
“He’s one of us,” she continued.
Fourth-year communication and sociology double major Emily Duong was a programming assistant with Riley Hsieh at the MultiCultural Center. She found out about his disappearance through an Instagram post and got in touch with Garcia to find ways she could help remotely.
“My jaw was on the floor because I had just talked to him like the day before, like two days before this was happening,” Duong said. “I’ve tried to touch base with Petrona now and then just to see like, ‘Hey, is there anything that I can do from afar?’”
Duong said she felt helpless being unable to contribute to the search in-person, but she still found value in spreading awareness on campus and within the community to ensure efforts will not die out.
“Extending support to people that know Riley and also the people leading the effort, I feel like is really important and something they definitely need to hear because it’s difficult since everyone is in different locations,” she said. “It can be very isolating in terms of them probably not knowing that a lot of people do care and are still invested even though it’s been such a long time.”
“It is really difficult. No one really knows how to navigate the situation,” Duong continued. “But I think the best we can do is stay hopeful and just really manifest things will be coming together.”
“I just really wanna hug him and not let go, not let him out of my sight,” Amanda Hsieh said. “I have to just keep hope that he’ll come home one day.”
Any information about Riley Hsieh’s whereabouts can be reported to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at 707-463-4086.
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the May 25, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.