Hannah Upp was 32 when she vanished in St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in 2017. She remains missing to this day.
Hannah’s mother is Rev. Barbara Bellus, a United Methodist Pastor. Her father David Upp is also a pastor and her brother ended up in the Navy and was stationed in Japan. Hannah grew up in Oregon, around Japanese-American churches where her parents were pastors. Both of her parents are American but Barbara taught in Japan and is fluent in Japanese.
Hannah’s parents divorced when she was 15. Their divorce was not amicable and they did not speak following it.
She graduated from Pennsylvania’s Seven Sisters School in 2007. She then moved to NYC where she taught at Thurgood Marshall, volunteered for AIDS organizations and worked towards her master’s degree in education at Pace University.
Hannah was an avid traveller and had travelled to places such as Ghana and Poland in her younger years.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Hannah has been missing. She first vanished in NYC in 2008 when she was 23.
This article is from the Daily News:
Hannah Upp was last seen by a friend at about 2 p.m. last Friday as she was getting ready to leave her Hamilton Heights apartment for a school function at nearby Thurgood Marshall Academy.
She was about to start her second year there teaching Spanish as an NYC Teaching Fellow.
“The thought that she would walk off right before school started just doesn’t sound like her,” said Ann Huntwork, a friend from Upp’s native Portland, Ore.
“It doesn’t sound like she left of her own free will.
“It’s very scary.”
The Bryn Mawr, Pa., graduate last used her debit card that day to go to a movie alone in Times Square and told friends she was spending the weekend at her mother’s home in Philadelphia.
When she hadn’t returned Monday, her roommates began to panic. Calls to her cell phone went straight to voice mail, and calls to her friends turned up only others concerned for her whereabouts.
The roommates’ worry grew when they went into Upp’s room and found her keys, phone, ATM card, MetroCard, wallet and passport.
“Everything that could identify her was in her room,” said her friend Amy Scott, 22.
Hannah was spotted at the Apple store in midtown Manhattan and her mother identified her by CCTV. Two days after that sighting, she was seen at a SoHo Starbucks.
On September 16th, the twentieth day she’d been missing, the captain of a Staten Island ferry saw a woman’s body bobbing in the water near Robbins Reef, a rocky outcropping with a lighthouse south of the Statue of Liberty. Two deckhands steered a rescue boat toward the body, which was floating face down. “I honestly thought she was dead,” one of the men said. A deckhand lifted her ankles, and the other picked up her shoulders. She took a gasp of air and began crying.
When she was taken to hospital, Hannah was able to tell doctors the name of her mother. Barbara said that Hannah looked “both sunburned and pale, like she’d been pulled behind a boat for three weeks.” The first thing she said was “Why am I wet?”
She was treated for hypothermia, dehydration, and a severe sunburn on the left side of her body, and her condition rapidly improved. Four friends came to the hospital that afternoon. Manuel Ramirez, her roommate, said, “She saw me and smiled and said something like ‘I hope they release me soon, because I have to set up my classroom.’ She clearly didn’t get that three weeks had passed.”
Hannah told police that her last memory was going for a jog in Riverside Park, on the day she vanished.
Hannah underwent psychiatric testing but the doctors couldn’t find any neurological condition that would cause her to forget her identity. They concluded that the episode was psychological in nature.
She was given a diagnosis of dissociative fugue, a rare condition in which people lose access to their autobiographical memory and personal identity, occasionally adopting a new one, and may abruptly embark on a long journey. The state is typically triggered by trauma—often sexual or physical abuse, a combat experience, or exposure to a natural disaster—or by an unbearable internal conflict.
A year after her recovery, Hannah left New York and went to live with Barbara at Pendle Hill.
Pendle Hill is a Quaker center welcoming all for Spirit-led learning, retreat, and community. Our Vision: To create peace with justice in the world by transforming lives.
Hannah worked in the kitchen and attended daily meetings for worship, a half hour of silence. She dated an intern there, named Patrick Roesle. He later told the New Yorker that “Hannah gives so much to other people that at a certain point there is literally nothing left, and she departs from herself.”
Hannah worked there for three years before taking a job as a teaching assistant at a Montessori school for underserved children in Kensington, Maryland.
Patrick spoke about the job and Hannah’s devotion to it:
“She flung herself—all of her weight—into learning Montessori, internalizing Montessori, loving Montessori.”
If you aren’t familiar with the Montessori principle, Maria Montessori’s notion of an “education capable of saving humanity”: by protecting the autonomy of children, society would become more loving, peaceful, and unified.
On the morning that Hannah was due to take her first class, Barbara got a call from police.
They told her that Hannah’s purse, wallet, and cell phone had been found on a footpath in Kensington. They said that Hannah had been seen walking quickly, away from the school in the wrong direction. Barbara found out that nobody had talked to Hannah in the 24 hours prior to this incident.
The next day, at 10:30 p.m., Barbara received a call from an unknown number. “All she said was ‘Mom?’ ” Barbara said. Hannah had found herself in a dirty creek in a residential area in Wheaton, Maryland, a mile and a half from her school. There was a shopping cart beside her. Barbara’s housemate at the time, Jennifer Beer, recalled that Hannah “regathered herself instantly—it was sort of like her soul getting sucked back in.” Hannah walked to the closest commercial area and borrowed a stranger’s phone. She realized that she had been walking for more than two days.
Hannah ended up starting her job and she remained in Kensington for another year. She was then hired to teach at a Montessori school for pre-schoolers in St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands.
Hannah’s mother was worried that she may have another episode. The police in Maryland had proposed using the type of ankle bracelet designed for people who are under house arrest as a way to track where Hannah was. “She didn’t want to pursue it—she refused to be defined by this—and I chose to honor her decision,” Barbara said. “I had to be clear that I’m not living my daughter’s life—she’s living it, and she needed to have the freedom to make choices.”
Hannah loved living in St Thomas. A parent of one of her students described her as a “modern-day Mary Poppins.” The head of the school, Michael Bornn, said, “Whenever a parent showed up for a tour, we took them to Hannah’s classroom.”
Hannah was so absorbed by the Montessori theory that she even took a trip to Maria Montessori’s grave, on the Dutch coast.
Hannah believed that her physical health was integral to the upkeep of her mental health and she started doing long ocean swims. She could swim to cays up to 2 miles away.
On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma hit St Thomas. Wind gusts during the storm reached speeds of up to 185mph. St Thomas was destroyed.
Suzanne Carlson, a reporter at the Virgin Islands Daily News, told the New Yorker, “I heard a lot of people say, ‘This is it—St. Thomas is over.’ ” Hannah texted friends that she was safe but the island was devastated. “I don’t recognize anything,” she wrote.
After Hannah’s first disappearance in 2008, her friend Manuel Ramirez made a code word to check up on her. In a 2008 article, Hannah was described as a “friendly vegetarian who constantly experimented with new dishes.” After the storm, Manuel texted her “friendly vegetarian.” Hannah wrote back, “I like to try new dishes.”
After the storm, Hannah went to the home of Joe Spallino, her ex-boyfriend, to check on him. She found all his belongings had gone. He was on his way to leave the island on a ‘mercy ship’. Hurricane Maria which was another Category 5 storm was scheduled to hit St Thomas two weeks after Irma. Hannah drove to the marina to say goodbye to Joe. After she left the marina, Hannah never used her phone again.
Her colleague Norma Bollinger asked her the following day to help prepare the school for Hurricane Maria by taking pictures off the walls. Norma said “She responded to everything I asked with ‘Yes, Norma.’ ‘Yes, Norma.’ ‘Yes, Norma.’ Which normally wasn’t her tone of voice to me. Hannah was not a ‘yes’ sort of person. If you asked her to do something, she would want to know why.”
Hannah’s three roommates told her that night that they were going to leave the island before Maria hit. Hannah told them “I’m staying—that’s where my heart is. School is going to be the first step toward normality for these kids.”
The next morning, Hannah told her roommates she was going to the school and they watched her get in her car. She never arrived. The following day, she also missed a faculty meeting.
One of Hannah’s friends, Maggie Guzman started looking for her. They went to Sapphire Beach, where Hannah liked to snorkel. On a stool, they found Hannah’s sundress, her sandals, and her car keys. Workers from a nearby barsaid that they had discovered the belongings in the sand when they were clearing debris from the storm. Hannah’s car was in the parking lot. Inside were her purse, wallet, passport, and cell phone.
Hannah’s friends started searching for her by boat. They also checked her name on lists of people who had left the island and she was not on any.
After three days of searching, they had to call off the search for Hannah due to the approaching Hurricane Maria. After the storm, an EMT named Jacob Bradley resumed the search. He went around the entire island in a rescue boat and also canvassed the airport, the homeless shelters, the beaches, and the hospitals, and interviewed captains who came in and out of the island’s marinas. He went to the morgue and looked at ten unclaimed bodies. None of them were Hannah.
Barbara arrived in St Thomas to look for her daughter on November 21, 2017.
Hannah’s friends developed a range of theories for what had happened, all of which they acknowledged were unlikely. But her survival in New York had been improbable, too. One friend from St. Thomas said, “There are pockets of communities in the bush, and she could be living there.” Others thought that Hannah, who is fluent in Spanish, might have got on a boat to Puerto Rico or St. Croix or Miami without I.D. and integrated into a community of displaced people. “Even if she doesn’t have a grip on her past, she’s still Hannah, and she’s probably doing what she can to be of service to the people around her,” Roesle, her ex-boyfriend, said. Hannah Wood said, “Even if she’s not aware that she’s herself, she’s a very charming person. If someone was inclined to do a good deed, she’d be the kind of person who would persuade someone to do it.”
Jacob Bradley who searched for Hannah said:
“I definitely think she went into the water,” he said.
“What happened when she got in the water? That’s kind of where the debates start. But the evidence clearly shows that she got in the water.”
Workers at the small bar close to where Hannah’s car was found also said they had seen her that day and she “wasn’t acting like herself,” Bradley said.
“It seemed pretty clear that she went into a disorientated state and then decided to go for a swim,” he added.
“The oceans were doing some very abnormal stuff, current-wise, after Irma. At one point it was registering almost at eight-and-a-half knots, which is pretty substantial for an open-water current.
“Even if you’re an Olympic swimmer that current is pretty hard to fight against […] there were three and four-foot waves in the days after, so it wasn’t optimum conditions for swimming.”
He said: “Either she never came out of the water or she intentionally faked her own death.
“They are the only reasonable explanations at this point and I don’t think the second option is all that likely.
There are five people still missing after the St Thomas Hurricanes. Hannah is one.
Sokotto “Baba” Clendinen Jr., has been missing since Hurricane Irma hit St. Thomas on Sept. 6, 2017.
Panicked by the storm, he ran from his grandmother’s home in West Caret Bay as soon as the weather had calmed, and his family have been seeking information about his whereabouts ever since.
Scott Paul Hansen and Jennifer Stephens Robinson left St. Croix on their sailboat “Briseis” headed for Maho Bay, St. John, on Sept. 19, 2017 in an effort to avoid Hurricane Maria. Their boat was found near Puerto Rico without a dinghy, and the couple have not been seen or heard from since.
Georgia Anne Murphy was last seen on St. Thomas when Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 19, 2017. Pastor Jeffrey Neevel of the St. Thomas Reformed Church filed a missing person report for Murphy on Dec. 14, 2017.
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