Stranger Danger

What would you do if your child went missing?

The thought of a missing child brings chills to the average person. But what exactly constitutes a missing child? There are actually three major types of missing children: parental abductions, runaways/throwaways and stranger abductions.

According the Second National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (the NISMART-2 study), about 800,000 children in all three categories go missing each year. An important part of this that I aim to cover is stranger abductions, also known as nonfamily abductions. These are the most serious of the missing children cases. There are approximately 58,200 stranger abductions each year.

NISMART-2 has established the following widely used definition for a stereotypical kidnapping: “A nonfamily abduction perpetrated by a slight acquaintance or stranger in which a child is detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom or abducted with intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.”

This definition generally comes to mind when a person hears the term stranger abduction or missing children. In truth, kidnapping cases likes these comprise about 115 of the total missing child cases— a relatively small number. However, if your child is the victim of such a crime, the statistics mean very little.

What should you do if your child goes missing? In accordance with the authority on the subject, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), I recommend these steps be taken within the first 24 hours of an abduction:

  • Immediately report the matter to your local police department. An officer will create a Missing Persons File in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). There is no waiting period to file a missing child report.
  • Ask your local police to transmit a Be On the Look Out (BOLO) alert. In some cases, it may be prudent to seek the assistance of the FBI.
  • Request that your law enforcement agency considers issuing an America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alert. In order for law enforcement to issue an AMBER alert, certain criteria must be met. It is not automatic. A major obstacle to overcome is the reasonable belief that an abduction has occurred. In other words, if your child has been missing for a lengthy period but there is no evidence to suspect an abduction, an AMBER alert will not be issued. Many times older children are labeled as runaways and an AMBER alert is never issued. Yet, more than half of the victims of stereotypical nonfamily abductions involve female teenagers.
  • Limit the traffic in and out of your house until law enforcement has arrived. Much like a crime scene search, investigators will search for evidence to reveal the location of your child. Even the most innocuous items may provide clues about your child’s whereabouts.
  • Get the names and telephone numbers of all personnel actively involved in the search for your child, particularly the investigator assigned to your case.
  • Provide all information requested by law enforcement officials. Be cooperative even if the questions seem unnecessary, irrelevant and invasive.
  • Compile a detailed description of your child, including the clothing your child was last seen wearing and any identifying marks. Always have a recent photo of your child in your possession to be able to most effectively share what your child looks like.
  • List the names, addresses and telephone numbers of family members, friends and acquaintances. Such people may be contacted by law enforcement as part of the search. Identify anyone who may have shown an interest in your child prior to your the disappearance.
  • Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to obtain the organization’s assistance. NCMEC has expert resources available at no cost. The telephone number of NCMEC is 1-800-THE-LOST. Other nonprofit agencies may be contacted for further assistance. Do your research.

I also recommend appointing a relative or trusted friend as a coordinator and advocate to ensure things get done to aid in the search. It is critical that decisions get made in any crisis. This is such an emotional event, and one in which parents get overwhelmed. Extra support is a blessing. Take preventative measures to avoid facing any of this and to keep your children safe.