I normally write about Real Estate or Mortgage-related issues. My hope is to educate and share knowledge with the people in our community around these topics.
Recent events in our area caused me to stray from that to help answer other questions.
One incident, which thankfully turned out well, caused many of us to wonder:
What are the steps I need to take immediately if someone turns up missing? Who do I call first? What actions can I, as an ordinary citizen, take? Where do I turn when time is critical?
We wanted to do some research and hope that no one ever needs to use the information we’ve gathered here.
It’s also important to realize that true child abductions, as we imagine them, are rare. Very rare.
According to statistics gathered by The Department of Justice in 2002, there were roughly 800,000 children reported as missing each year, during the time span studied.
That’s about 2,000 kids a day.
Digging into those frightening numbers:
- 204,000 were taken by a family member. Disputed custody cases, or illegally extending a parental visit accounting for the vast majority of these.
- 58,000 were taken by a non-family member.
- 115 out of the total 800,000 were abducted by someone qualifying as a stranger.
- The remaining vast majority of cases were runaway scenarios.
- Over 98% of children are found. In the rare case of a stranger abduction, 80% of those are found and returned home alive.
These statistics may help our logical minds rest a little easier. I know that as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, our heart and imagination still run wild with “worse case scenarios”. Just try to remember the odds are vastly in your favor.
What to do if a child has gone missing
If you find yourself in a situation where a child has gone missing the Office Dept of Justice – Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), has put together the following list of things to do:
The First 24 Hours
- Immediately report your child as missing to your local law enforcement agency. Ask investigators to enter your child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons File. There is no waiting period for entry into NCIC for children under age 18.
- Request that law enforcement put out a Be On the Look Out (BOLO) bulletin. Ask them about involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the search for your child.
- Limit access to your home until law enforcement arrives and has collected possible evidence. Do not touch or remove anything from your child’s room or from your home. Remember that clothing, sheets, personal items, computers, and even trash may hold clues to the whereabouts of your child. The checklist in chapter 1 (Gathering Evidence in the First 48 Hours) contains detailed information about securing your child’s room and preserving evidence.
- Ask for the name and telephone number of the law enforcement investigator assigned to your case, and keep this information in a safe and convenient place.
- Give law enforcement investigators all the facts and circumstances related to the disappearance of your child, including what efforts have already been made to search for your child.
- Write a detailed description of the clothing worn by your child and the personal items he or she had at the time of the disappearance. Include in your description any personal identification marks, such as birthmarks, scars, tattoos, or mannerisms, that may help in finding your child. If possible, find a picture of your child that shows these identification marks and give it to law enforcement.
- Make a list of friends, acquaintances, and anyone else who might have information or clues about your child’s whereabouts. Include telephone numbers and addresses, if possible. Tell your law enforcement investigator about anyone who moved in or out of the neighborhood within the past year, anyone whose interest in or involvement with the family changed in recent months, and anyone who appeared to be overly interested in your child.
- Find recent photographs of your child in both black and white and color. Make copies of these pictures for your law enforcement agency, the media, your State missing children’s clearinghouse, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and other nonprofit organizations. Chapter 4 (Photo and Flier Distribution) contains suggestions on how to produce and distribute fliers and posters.
- Call NCMEC at 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678) to ask for help with photo distribution. Ask for the telephone numbers of other nonprofit organizations that might be able to help.
- Contact your State’s missing children’s clearinghouse. In North Carolina it is the NC Department of Public Safety, In South Carolina, it would be the SC Law Enforcement Division. Contacting them to learn what resources and services they can provide in the search for your child.
- Ask your law enforcement agency to organize a search for your child. Inquire about using tracking or trailing dogs (preferably bloodhounds) in the search effort.
- Ask your law enforcement agency for help in contacting the media.
- Designate one person to answer your telephone. Keep a notebook or pad of paper by the telephone so this person can jot down names, telephone numbers, dates and times of calls, and other information relating to each call.
- Keep a notebook or pad of paper with you at all times to write down your thoughts or questions and record important information, such as names, dates, or telephone numbers.
- Take good care of yourself and your family, because your child needs you to be strong. As hard as it may be, force yourself to get rest, eat nourishing food, and talk to someone about your tumultuous feelings.
The Second 24 Hours
- Talk with your law enforcement investigator about the steps that are being taken to find your child. If your law enforcement investigator does not have a copy of Missing and Abducted Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management, suggest that he or she call NCMEC at 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678) to obtain one. Also, your law enforcement investigator can contact the Crimes Against Children Coordinator in the local FBI Field Office to obtain a copy of the FBI’s Child Abduction Response Plan.
- Expand your list of friends, acquaintances, extended family members, yard workers, delivery persons, and anyone who may have seen your child during or following the abduction.
- Look at personal calendars, community events calendars, and newspapers to see if there are any clues as to who was in the vicinity and might be the abductor or a possible witness. Give this information to law enforcement.
- Expect that you will be asked to take a polygraph test, which is standard procedure.
- Ask your law enforcement agency to request that NCMEC issue a broadcast fax to law enforcement agencies around the country.
- Work with your law enforcement agency to schedule press releases and media events. If necessary, ask someone close to you to serve as your media spokesperson.
- Talk to your law enforcement agency about the use of a reward.
- Report all extortion attempts to law enforcement.
- Have a second telephone line installed with call forwarding. Get caller ID and call waiting. Ask law enforcement to install a trap-and-trace feature on your phone. Get a cellular phone or pager so you can be reached when you are away from home.
- Take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask others to take care of your physical and emotional needs and those of your family.
- Make a list of things that volunteers can do for you and your family.
- Call your child’s doctor and dentist and ask for copies of medical records and x rays. Give them to law enforcement.
The full Survival Guide issued by the OJJDP can be found HERE.
Additionally, the National Center For Missing And Exploited Children has the ability to connect you with local resources to assist with everything from creating posters, to finding safety vests, and placing you in contact with the appropriate media channels.
Finally, it’s really important to remind everyone that while we prepare for the worst in all cases, we hope and are blessed that in the vast majority of situations, things work out all right.
In my chosen profession, I meet with families and their beautiful children day after day. I help finance their new homes in safe, beautiful communities filled with caring neighbors. In the unlikely event any of them were to need my assistance in locating a lost child, I’d want to be prepared.