May 25th – National Missing Children’s Day
May 25th is designated National Missing Children’s Day, as a reminder to keep children safer. When a child is missing, the fear, anguish and tears are endless. The photograph shows convicted pedophiles. They are everywhere, in every profession, in all social settings. Most victims are assaulted by people they know, not strangers.
In the past year, two perpetrators of high profile child abduction and murder finally came to justice. Their convictions took decades.
Six-year-old Etan Patz disappeared on May 25th, 1979, on his way to the school bus stop near his home in Manhattan. National Missing Children’s Day designates the anniversary of his abduction. Pedro Hernandez, a store clerk in the area, was a suspect at the time. But, it took decades and two trials before the Patz family saw him sentenced to life in prison.
In 1989, Jacob Wetterling was eleven-years-old when a man kidnapped him at gunpoint. Jacob was bicycling along a dirt road near his home in rural Minnesota with his brother and a friend. Danny Heinrich, who lived 30-minutes from Jacob’s home, was a person of interest at the time. Later that year Heinrich was arrested on an assault charge involving a juvenile male. He was released.
Authorities re-investigated the Wetterling case in 2015. They noted similarities to the 1989 Heinrich case. DNA from the 1989 case matched Heinrich, prompting a search of his home. Binders filled with graphic images. He was charged with child pornography and ultimately confessed to Jacob Wetterling’s murder. Additional victims came forward. Heinrich was sentenced to 20-years in prison on a plea bargain and will likely never be released under Minnesota’s sex offender laws.
From the tragedies of these and other high profile cases of child abduction, many improvements in safety, education, prosecution and ways to rapidly locate missing children have occurred. The Code Adam alert was devised after the 6-year-old son of John Walsh (host of America’s Most Wanted) was abducted from a department store in Florida and later found murdered.
Code Adam is rapid response designed to stop a child abduction in progress. If a child is reported missing, a Code Adam alert results in an immediate lock-down. It is broadly used in malls and public buildings.
The tireless work of parents of abducted children stimulated the U.S. Congress to pass a law mandating registration of sex offenders to alert neighbors about their residential locations.
Studies show finding an abducted child quickly is prime for a safe return. Hundreds of children have been recovered since the development of the AMBER ALERT system.
Amber Hagerman was a nine-year-old Texas girl who was abducted and murdered. This alert named for her results in rapid dissemination of information about missing children. Call 9-1-1 to report a child abduction and trigger an Amber Alert. Describe the child, perpetrator, incident, location, vehicle and license number. If the missing child is thought to be in imminent danger, law enforcement issues the Amber Alert, interrupting radio and television broadcasts with details. Electronic billboards along highways, the Internet and smart phones flash the information.
The FBI Crimes Against Children program merged with the Innocence Lost National Initiative to form the Violent Crimes Against Children program in the FBI Criminal Investigative Division. The programs provide coordination on a local, state, national and international scope. They provide resources to combat child prostitution, child abduction and child sex tourism.
Comprehensive FBI site: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/cac
Talk to your children about safety but especially on May 25th . Try using discussion scenarios like “What if…What would you do?” Walk through the neighborhood with your kids and show them safe homes to seek refuge in an emergency. Teach crowd safety. Point out situations of potential danger. Tell your kids to avoid traveling alone and if grabbed, scream, kick and try to escape.
May 25th is a reminder day for what caregivers should do all year long to keep children safer. Check online at www.sexoffenders.com to learn addresses of convicted sex offenders near you -particularly the more violent Level 3 offenders. One may be living next door.
Dr. Kuffel is author of Eyes of a Pedophile: Detecting Child Predators, available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B007BI6SW8