Teacher with rare ‘Bourne Identity’ amnesia disorder missing in hurricane-ravaged Virgin Islands

A teacher in the Virgin Islands with a rare memory disorder has been missing since shortly after Hurricane Irma hit, and fears are growing for her well-being.

The New York Times reports that Hannah Upp, 32, left her apartment on September 14, a week after Hurricane Irma ravaged the islands, to go for a swim at the beach. She reportedly told friends she was planning on heading to her teaching job at the Virgin Islands Montessori School after that.

She hasn’t been seen since. Two days later, police found her car parked near the beach, with her wallet, phone, and passport left inside.

This isn’t the first time Hannah has disappeared without a trace. The former New York City resident suffers from a rare form of amnesia called dissociative fugue, in which sufferers “lose awareness for a lot of memory that has to do with their own identity and recent experience,” Dr. David Spiegel, the associate chairman of psychology and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, told the New York Times. 

“Normally, we forget things in little pieces,” Dr. Speigel said. “These people forget things in large pieces that involve what they’ve done for the last year or two years.”

“Those with the disorder lose all sense of who and where they are, and often engage in spontaneous travel. The lead character in the Bourne Identity movie franchise, Jason Bourne, has the disorder.

Almost ten years ago, Upp disappeared for three weeks after leaving her apartment to go running in Hamilton Heights, in New York City. Eventually a Staten Island Ferry captain saw her floating, facedown, in the New York Harbor. Fortunately, Upp hadn’t been seriously hurt, but the incident led to the serious, and terrifying, diagnosis.

“I went from going for a run to being in the ambulance,” she said in an interview with the New York Times a few months later. “It was like 10 minutes had passed. But it was almost three weeks.”

In part because authorities in the Virgin Islands are facing the aftermath of the devastating hurricane and its massive cleanup effort, Upp’s friends, family and co-workers have organized search efforts and social media campaigns to get the word out about the young teacher’s disappearance and to remind possible witnesses that she may appear to be fine when she is in a fugue state.

That’s one of the frustrating things we haven’t been able to get across to the public…Just because she said ‘hi’ to you, don’t take her off your radar screen,” Michael Bornn, the head of the school where Upp works, told the New York Times.

Upp’s family released a media statement about her disappearance.

“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.”

A Facebook page, “Find Hannah Upp,” has been launched to help the search for the missing woman.

Anyone with information is urged to call 911 or 340-474-9774.

Though the conditions in the Virgin Islands are no doubt an added concern, there is no doubt that the teacher’s loved ones must be encouraged by the knowledge that Upp has surfaced safely after a similar episode in the past.

“We’re still optimistic,” Bornn told the newspaper. “We still have hope.”


Feature photo: Facebook