Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
at the 2003 Missing Children's Day Ceremony
May 20, 2003

(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)

     Good afternoon. Thank you, Deborah, and thanks to all of you for joining us here in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice.

     We meet here to renew our resolve to defend and protect America's greatest resource, our children.

     When a child is taken, a family is devastated. This heartless crime sends a ripple effect through the community, even the country.

     When a child disappears, a bit of our future disappears.

     When a child is exploited or mistreated, and that natural spark in their eyes is diminished, our world is diminished.

     Spoken out loud, the words, "Missing and Exploited Child" are wrenching emotionally. The images the words create are heartbreaking.

     President Ronald Reagan created "National Missing Children's Day" 21 years ago to draw attention to the tragedy of kidnapped, runaway and exploited children.

     Every child deserves the opportunity to be cared for and loved. Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up safe, strong and free. That is our goal. That is why we are gathered here today.

     The efforts of the Department of Justice, the Federal Agency Task Force on Missing and Exploited Children, and state and local law enforcement agencies would not be possible without the efforts of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Association of Missing and Exploited Children, and Fox Valley Technical College, which trains law enforcement to handle missing and exploited children cases. Together, we are working to keep our nation's children safe, and this year we have had some successes.

     On October 2, 2002, we held the first national White House Conference on Missing and Exploited Children, attended by more than 600 experts. The conference demonstrated the commitment of President George W. Bush and this administration to protect our children from those who would do them harm.

     As a result of the conference, hundreds of thousands of copies of the handbook, "Personal Safety for Children: A Guide for Parents," were distributed to parents online and through schools across the country. The guides highlight the risks to children and what steps parents can take to keep their children secure.

     Three weeks ago, many of us joined the President for the signing of the Protect Act of 2003. It is a comprehensive defense of children. It delivers on our promise to thwart child pornography and prosecute offenders. It increases penalties for convicted child predators to ensure they do not strike again and again.

     The Protect Act of 2003 also creates a seamless national Amber Alert system in support of state and local Alert programs. Last year, I named Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels to serve as Amber Alert national coordinator.

     The Justice Department is also working to protect children from sexual exploitation. As technology has evolved, the means of exploiting our children have become increasingly sophisticated. When misused, the Internet can be a significant threat to the health and safety of young people, as well as a formidable challenge for law enforcement.

     In response to this challenge, we established the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to help state and local law enforcement develop effective responses to cyber-enticement and child pornography. In 2002 alone, these task forces:

     We know, though, that there is still much to do.

     We know that almost 800,000 children are reported missing each year, while another 500,000 children go missing without being reported to authorities.

     We know that combined, hundreds of thousands of these children will be endangered by the use of hard drugs or alcohol, sexual or physical abuse. And while 75 percent of them will return home within one week, tens of thousands will not.

     We know this year 200,000 children will be abducted by members of their family. While 46 percent of family-abducted children will be gone less than one week, more than 20 percent will be gone one month or more.

     We also know that the stereotypical stranger kidnapping cases that parents fear most number approximately 100 annually. Fortunately, the rate of recovery of the child is 97 percent.

     But even one child victimized is one too many.

     We must continue our efforts to teach children how to protect themselves, to teach law enforcement ways to intervene early and effectively, and to teach families what to do in the event that their child is victimized. All Americans play a vital role in protecting our children. A national awareness means more homecomings.

     Today, we are gathered to praise the law enforcement officers and others who vigorously defend and protect children throughout the country every second of every day. But we do so remembering and praying for the many children who remain missing, and for the families who are anxiously awaiting their return.

* * *

     In February of 1999, three-year-old Sara Brin was abducted violently in France by her non-custodial father. French police issued an arrest warrant for him believing he had fled to America with Sara.

     FBI Special Agent Stacey Mitry (MEE-tree) was assigned to the case. She immediately reviewed the case documents, contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and interviewed people familiar with the case, including Fabienne Brin, Sara's mother.

     Based on her interviews, Special Agent Mitry identified an area in Canada where she thought the suspect and child might be.

     Mitry enlisted the assistance of the Toronto Police Department Fugitive Squad, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the U.S. Customs Service in her efforts to locate Sara.

     The National Center created an age progressed image of Sara. Distribution of this image throughout the Canadian province led to tips. In February 2002 - two years after her abduction - Sara was located and returned to her very grateful mother in France.

     Special Agent Mitry, and Fabienne, Sara, and Eva Brin, would you please join me?

     Special Agent Mitry, on behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Department of Justice, I present you with the National Missing Children Award.

* * *

     In August of 2002, a 16-year-old girl was brutally raped in Box Elder County, Utah, by a biker. After the attack, DNA was recovered from the victim and a composite sketch of the suspect was made.

     The case generated media attention and Box Elder County Sheriff Detective Larry Johnston appealed to the public for leads in the case. A Utah Highway Patrol Officer reported sighting the biker to Detective Johnston, who traced the plate to Montana.

     Detective Johnston investigated and learned that the motorcycle belonged to Mark Jensen of Hyrum, Utah. Detective Johnston found that Jensen had been convicted of various crimes and had submitted a mandatory DNA sample to the national data bank.

     Weeks later, a 17-year-old girl from Ogden, Utah, was found raped and murdered. A tip pointed, again, to Jensen as the culprit.

     Less than two months after the assault, Detective Johnston found and arrested Jensen, who was formally charged with kidnapping and capital homicide for the abduction and murder of the 17-year-old girl. Upon DNA testing, he was also charged with the 16-year-old's rape and another rape of a six-year-old girl from Wyoming.

     Detective Johnston, would you please join me? On behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Department of Justice, I present you with the National Missing Children Award.

* * *

     On August 1, 2002, 16-year-old Tamara Brooks and 17-year-old Jacqueline Marris, were abducted at gunpoint in Los Angeles County, California. Immediately, the Los Angeles County Police Department (LACPD) and Kern County Sheriff's Department (KCSD) activated California's first official AMBER Alert.

     Later that day, their work paid off. An animal control officer heard the AMBER Alert and recognized the suspect's vehicle. When the officers approached the vehicle, a standoff ensued resulting in the suspect being shot and killed by law enforcement. Thankfully, both Marris and Brooks were recovered safely.

     Lieutenant Stephen Smith of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Senior Deputy Lawrence Thatcher and Senior Deputy James Stratton of the Kern County Sheriff's Department, would you please join me?

     On behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Department of Justice, I present you with the National Missing Children Award.

     * * *

     In August of 2002, the FBI's Innocent Images Task Force received a case involving a 17-year-old female runaway from Ottawa, Canada. FBI Special Agent Benjamin Yen was assigned to the case.

     According to an e-mail the teen sent her mother, the girl had met a man known as Ray on the Internet, who brought her to California and forced her into a life of prostitution. The e-mail stated that the teen wanted to come home.

     Special Agent Yen worked with the Ottawa Police Department to devise a recovery plan after he determined the girl's whereabouts. Special Agent Yen went undercover and made an appointment with the juvenile at a local hotel.

     The girl, Ray, and another accomplice were nabbed by Agent Yen and other federal officers. Ray and his accomplice were arrested, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. This investigation led Special Agent Yen to uncover and breakup an extensive interstate prostitution ring.

     Special Agent Benjamin Yen of the Oakland, California, FBI office, would you please join me? On behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Department of Justice, I present you with the National Exploited Children Award.

* * *

     In August of 2001, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received a CyberTipline report from a European hotline that indicated child pornography was being posted in an online club.

      The National Center confirmed the illegal content and contacted Assistant Attorney General Maya Guerra Gamble of the Internet Bureau of the Texas Attorney General's Office for investigation.

     Gamble worked closely with her colleague, Sergeant Dave Torsiello, on the CyberTipline lead. Together, they identified two male suspects, 41 year-old Raymond Monroe Ames, Jr., and 35 year-old Timothy Allen Clanton. Upon execution of a search warrant, the officers found two young boys, along with more than 100 images of child pornography.

     Six indictments incorporating sixty-five counts were handed down. Charges ranged from aggravated sexual assault of a child to possession and promotion of child pornography.

     Assistant Attorney General Maya Guerra Gamble and Sergeant David Torsiello of the Texas Attorney General's Internet Bureau, would you please join me? On behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Department of Justice, I present you with the National Exploited Children Award.

* * *

     During an investigation in April of 2002, police uncovered a suspicious video-mailing envelope that bore a Florida return address. Postal Inspector Elizabeth Bendel was assigned the case and identified Angel Mariscal as being involved in the mailing.

     For four months, Inspector Bendel coordinated investigative activities that included surveillance of Mariscal, searches of his mail drop, as well as of the homes of several of Mariscal's customers.

     Inspector Bendel arrested Angel Mariscal and uncovered hundreds of videotapes, discs, computers, and related records of his child pornography "business." Mariscal also confessed to Bendel that he was HIV positive.

     Inspector Bendel feared for the health and well being of the young victims, so postal inspectors reviewed all the seized material in an effort to identify the children.

     Inspector Bendel's evidence was given to the national police in Ecuador and passed to officials in Cuba. Both countries launched investigations. As a result, four co-conspirators were arrested and ten child victims were identified and tested for HIV.

      Postal Inspector Elizabeth Bendel of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Miramar, Florida, would you please join me? On behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Department of Justice, I present you with the National Exploited Children Award.

* * *

     Let's give a round of applause for this year's law enforcement award winners for Missing and Exploited Children. They have demonstrated that we can protect our children by working as a team.

     Thank you all for your dedication to protecting our children and providing them with the chance to embrace the blessings of American freedom.

     With each act of leadership, you reaffirm our commitment to the youth of America. With each act of kindness, you change a life forever. Thank you for your sacrifices, your service, and for working every day to protect our children

     God bless you and God bless America.