Good afternoon. Thank you, Tracy, for that introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and families, thank you for coming to the Department of Justice on this very special day.
This is the 22 nd annual National Missing Children’s Day. It is a day for us to remember those who are gone, but whose lives and dreams and smiles still touch us deeply. This is a day to reflect on our calling as a free people to shape a society that protects and cares for the lives of our most precious and vulnerable citizens—our children. And this is a day to honor those who work tirelessly to find missing children and bring them home to their mommies and daddies… to their families.
Incredibly, every year nearly 800,000 children are reported missing. While most of these children return home safely, the death or disappearance of just one child is a price that no parent should have to bear—and no civilized society should accept.
Nothing could possibly be more devastating to a parent than the loss of a child. As a father of three sons, I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow of losing one of my boys. Yet with God’s help and the support of family and friends, many of you are here today turning your own tragedy into hope for others. Just as nothing can compare to the death or kidnapping of a child, I have to believe there is no more joyous feeling in the world than being reunited with a son or daughter who was missing or abducted. The people in this room are ensuring that even more families feel the triumph and elation of holding a missing child in their arms once again.
The hope and dreams of every parent lives within their children. Our sons and daughters are our future. There is no greater measure of our Nation’s compassion or our humanity as a people than how we protect, raise, and care for our children.
That is why we are grateful for the commitment and sacrifice of people from every walk of life who have worked on behalf of children: the families of victims; child survivors; law enforcement agents and officers; teachers and school personnel; family services; missing children’s organizations; and all those who have devoted themselves to the safe recovery of missing children and to the punishment of all those who would harm children.
The Department of Justice under the direction of President Bush leads our federal government’s commitment to protecting children and to supporting families at every possible place of vulnerability in our society.
We are working to build a society that protects children from online predators and explicit material. We are seeking and training prosecutors and law enforcement in the best practices to identify and incarcerate abusers, predators, and child pornographers.
We are building a justice system that is tracking missing children more quickly and alerting citizens and police as soon as possible. In the event a child is taken, we intend to deploy all the resources and teamwork of every level of law enforcement to return that child safely to his or her family.
The AMBER Alert Program is part of the PROTECT Act signed into law by President Bush in 2003. It is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement agencies and broadcasters to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child abduction cases. Broadcasters use the Emergency Alert System to deliver critical and immediate information to the community.
In 2001, there were only four states with the Amber Alert system. As of this year, in part due to your voices, all 50 states have AMBER programs.
This year alone, around the Nation, we have already recovered and returned seventeen missing children to grateful families. Last year this alert system helped us to recover seventy-one children.
n our efforts to protect children, we are working to build a justice system that supports and informs families throughout the process of recovering children. And when tragedy does strike, we want a justice system that remembers and respects each victim and that supports every family—especially through the capture and prosecution of the predator.
As these efforts show, our Nation, our President, and the Department of Justice are committed to protecting children. Our sons and daughters hold the promise and potential of America, and no effort is too small to protect their lives and hopes from abductors and predators.
Over the past 22 years our Nation has made tremendous strides in protecting children. But we still have much farther to go—as the heart-breaking tragedies of Jessica Lunsford, Sarah Lunde, and Samantha Runnion have so painfully reminded our Nation.
As President Bush has said, “No child should ever have to experience the terror of abduction, or worse. No family should ever have to endure the nightmare of losing a child. Our Nation grieves with every family that has suffered unbearable loss. And our Nation will fight threats against our children.”
On National Missing Children’s Day, we have the opportunity to rally our fellow citizens, to recognize those who have accomplished extraordinary things, and to rejoice in miraculous recoveries. On this day we hold up all those examples of bravery, persistence, and unyielding dedication to the protection of children—and rededicate ourselves to the work that remains to be done.
Each of the individuals who are about to receive awards exemplifies our Nation’s continuing dedication to protect our children. I commend them for their hard work and dedication to this cause.
In addition, I want to thank all the parents and families who are here and all those who are involved in working to build a justice system that protects the promise and potential of every young life.
Now it is my great privilege to honor the 2005 National Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Awardees:
[The Attorney General and Tracy Henke present the 2005 National Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Awards.]