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When a Child Goes Missing

Annually in Virginia over 1,000 children are reported as missing.

— What started as a missing child report on April 27 has since been resolved by the Mount Vernon police. On Friday, May 4, the police determined that the 12-year-old girl is in the custody of a family member. The investigation is ongoing but no charges have been placed at this time.

The reported disappearance was a reminder that no parents, no matter where they live, are immune from the possibility of one’s child becoming lost or kidnapped.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that in a one year period 797,500 children younger than 18 are reported missing — resulting in an average of 2,185 children reported missing each day. Of these the estimate is 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions, and 58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions. Estimates of how many of the rest of the reported missing annually was due to runaways is not included.

Family abductions, non-family abductions, runaways: All are reported as missing children according to Virginia State Police Statistical Policies. Local police, education and training counselors, and Fairfax County school system counselors offer a variety of counseling and education programs at all levels in the public school system. Ask a principal or a counselor and the school will respond with information and advice. County social workers also do their part to help prevent and protect children from becoming lost, abducted, or exploited.

According to experts in the field the most important step in preventing a child from being missing begins with a parent or guardian communicating security and safety practices with a child.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children offers these tips for parents or guardian in instructing children going to and from school:

  • Always take a friend when walking, biking, or standing at a bus stop. Make sure to know the bus number and which bus to ride.

  • Say no if stranger offers a ride.

  • Quickly get away and yell, “this person is not my mother/father/guardian” if anyone tries to take you somewhere or is following you. If anyone tries to grab you, make a scene and every effort to get away by kicking, screaming, and resisting.

  • Never leave school grounds before the regular school day ends. Always check with the office and me before leaving the school early.

  • Never take shortcuts or walk through parks to get to or from school.

IN ADDITION, present day technological advances provide the concerned parent with the option of including a GPS tracking device to attach to a child or enclose in a backpack. There are a number of miniaturized tracking or warning devices available to purchase online or at local retail stores should a parent wish to have the ability to locate a child at any time during the day. A cell phone is also a tracking device.

“Children every day are taken from parks, roadways, and public areas such as shopping centers. In most of the missing children cases time is an important factor. When a child is the victim of a non-family abduction, the two days following the abduction are what is most important. After forty-eight hours have passed the chance is much lower that the child will be found alive, or that they will be found at all,” according to the Virginia Missing Persons Directory.

ONE MORE protective feature of the current state of the art in identifying and finding missing children is the Amber Alert program.

Created in 1996 as a legacy to 9-year old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and murdered while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, Amber Alert is a state-wide and national program in which broadcasters and transportation officials, working with local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities immediately distribute information about a recently abducted child to the public, enabling the entire community to assist in the search of the missing child. However, for this program to be put in play, specific criteria, evaluated by local law enforcement officials, determine if the case meets the Amber Alert program standard. The criteria are:

  • Reasonable belief that an abduction has occurred.

  • Abduction is of a child age 17 and under

  • Law enforcement believes the child is in imminent danger of serious

bodily harm or death

  • Sufficient descriptive information about the victim and abduction circumstances. This latter includes vehicle identifying information, and other specifics for which a media and state-wide alert would be helpful.

For additional information about this program contact Fairfax County, Alexandria City, Arlington County or other law enforcement authorities and/or go Online and access the AmberAlert website. The State of Virginia is an active Amber Alert program participant.