Session offers plan for missing children

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
A recent training session in Virginia will benefit Marion County in the terrible event that a local child is reported as a runaway, lost or abducted.

Marion County Sheriff Lee Becker attended the session Aug. 11 and 12 in Alexandria, Va., at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. His travel, food and hotel expenses were paid by the NCMEC.

“What this does for us (in Marion County) is it gave me a policy on what to do in the event of a missing child,” Becker said.

The sheriff said he plans to contact school superintendents and police chiefs with the hope of organizing a trip in November to a safe-school forum at the training center.

The NCMEC is a private non-profit organization cofounded in 1984 by John Walsh, whose 6-year-old son was abducted in 1981 in Florida. Walsh is known to many television viewers as the host of “America’s Most Wanted.”

The purpose of the internationally recognized NCMEC is to provide help for parents, children, law enforcement, schools and the community in recovering missing children-and raise public awareness about ways to prevent child abduction, molestation and sexual exploitation.

In large cities, pooling various community resources and working as a cohesive unit can be difficult, Becker said.

“But in Marion County, we’re already ahead of that game,” he said, “We already (work together) because we’re smaller.”

Having that initial step out of the way, Becker said he can begin implementing some of the information he learned, such as the following:

n?After a runaway has been returned home, law enforcement should continue to follow the case instead of just dropping off the child. The majority of missing children in Marion County are runaways, Becker said.

“Normally they run for a reason,” he said. “You should go back as soon as possible and do a post-interview. Then you should make sure that family has the resources and services that are available to them.”

n Law authorities should conduct a “social autopsy” on at-risk children. Becker said the information would include data such as the number of school detentions they accumulated, the instances and dates they were involved with law enforcement, and if they were taken out of a home and placed in foster care.

n Community resource personnel need to be in place so they can be contacted immediately after a stranger abduction.

“The first two to three hours are critical for a child’s survival,” Becker said. “So the time to form a plan is not after the child is gone.”

One of those resources is a bloodhound. “Both our (county) police dogs are trained to track,” he said. “However, for human tracking, bloodhounds are the best.”

Becker said he has been in contact with the owner of a bloodhound in the area, and he also wants to enlist the help of the bloodhound program in place at the department of corrections.

n A missing child is not just a law-enforcement issue, it is an emergency-management issue, Becker said.

“If we have a missing child, we’re going to use everybody we can to look for that child, including the fire department, Emergency Medical Services and volunteers,” he said.

n Any attempted abductions should be reported, Becker said.

“The reason for that is the predator is practicing. If he tried and failed, that’s his practice, and he can go back and figure out what he did right or wrong for the next time.”

Important information is available on the NCMEC Web site www.missingkids.com. Becker said he is urging communities to look at the site.

It contains safety tips for children, a national CyberTipline to report child sexual exploitation, suggestions on how to safely use the Internet, a live hotline to report information on a missing child, and AMBER-America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response plan.

The AMBER plan was initiated a year ago by the NCMEC. The goal of the program is to help communities create their own emergency-alert plan.

“They sent me back with a packet for the AMBER plan, which Attorney General Carla Stovall is going to bring online in October,” Becker said. “We’ll work on getting that implemented here.”

The plan is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies and broadcasters to air urgent bulletins in child-abduction cases that meet prescribed criteria.

Broadcasters would use an Emergency Alert System, once known as the Emergency Broadcast System, to air a description of the missing child and suspected abductor.

According to NCMEC literature, since the original AMBER plan was established, 27 children have been recovered.

Becker said one thing stressed at the training session was something he believes in.

“Tell your kids every day that you love them, and you’re proud of them,” he said. “If you’re not telling them that, somebody else is-and they may not have your interests at heart.”

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