Thank you, Regina. Thank you all. It’s a privilege to be with concerned and dedicated citizens such as yourselves.
Many of us have experienced the panic of temporarily losing a child in a crowd, at a picnic or leaving a ball game. When we find the lost daughter or the lost son, or they find us, you can’t even describe the instant feeling of relief. And then, more irked than anxious, we urge our child to take more care. And we make a mental note to ourselves, as well: We should take more care.
But for far too many of the parents of some 800,000 missing children this past year, there will be no such feeling of relief. There will be no comfort for them, no opportunity to discipline and guide, no chance at helping their child become an adult.
Today is the day we remember those children, offer support to those parents, and recognize those who have taken action to reunite them and to reduce tragedy in what should be a more joyful world.
As the father of three sons, I cannot imagine having to deal with the loss of one of them. Yet you who have suffered such a loss, with all your courage, the support of your family and friends, and God’s help, are overcoming your personal tragedy and creating hope for others. I admire you beyond words. May you gain strength in the knowledge that your work has lifted the burdens of others and replaced the pain in aching hearts with peace.
Today we honor all those who have worked for our children, who are our dreams and our future. We honor the families of victims; child survivors; law enforcement; teachers and school personnel; family services; missing children’s organizations; and all those who have devoted themselves to the recovery of missing children and to the punishment of any who would harm children.
But as well as commemorating, we take action. We are taking the most far-reaching steps in our Nation’s history to deal with these most dreaded of crimes. As John and Magi, the parents of Molly Bish, put it so simply and well: “The bad guys are not going away.” We have to protect our children and our future from “bad guys” such as kidnappers, predators, and pornographers:
With the 10-year old AMBER alert system now covering all 50 States and the District, AMBER recoveries now number 266. Eighty-seven percent of those recoveries have occurred since President Bush called for national coordination of AMBER Alert systems in October 2002. We are confident as well that AMBER has deterred kidnappings, since we know that abductors have released their captives upon hearing that AMBER is on to them.
Speed is of the essence in returning the children unharmed, and AMBER is just the start of enabling rapid recoveries.
You’ll hear from Steve Largent later on about how AMBER’s effectiveness can be multiplied through cell phone technology. Here at the Department of Justice, our employees and those of our component offices will receive emailed AMBER alerts. The audience of informed citizens, such as those we will later recognize, will grow greater and greater. These criminals can run, but we hope that AMBER alerts won’t let them get far.
We know that many of these abductions are the work of sexual predators who inflict their perversion on the innocence of children, increasingly through the Internet. For this reason, I have made the prosecution of Internet crimes, especially that directed against children, a major Department of Justice priority.
So, just last week, we launched Project Safe Childhood, a major Department endeavor where U.S. Attorneys will work together with local Department-funded Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, and all their other federal, state, and local partners, in unprecedented cooperative efforts to attack online pedophiles and pornographers.
The Internet Crimes Against Children task forces now number 46. They stand at the front lines on this electronic battlefield, and they will be critical to the success of Project Safe Childhood.
For his extraordinary contribution to cybercrime investigations we are honoring Special Agent Flint Waters, the head of the Wyoming ICAC, with the Attorney General’s Special Commendation Award. He has taught law enforcement officers nationally and internationally in the use of software he developed. Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will honor him with its Law Enforcement award as well.
We clearly need to fight these criminals even more systematically. Our Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section has more than quadrupled its caseload over the last four years. They and all our United States Attorneys will continue to ramp up their efforts to fight this battle.
As President Bush has declared, “anyone who takes the life or innocence of a child will be punished to the full extent of the law.” And that means full sentencing, not slaps on the wrist — full justice, not a watered-down version.
In honoring a few today, we recognize all of you who have pursued justice and worked to prevent future tragedies. The work of our honorees includes keen judgment and dogged investigations in recovering missing children, patiently connecting the dots and uncovering sexual exploitation rings, and out-smarting the criminals on the Internet.
We honor as well alert citizens who took pains to use AMBER Alert information to pursue the kidnappers and help recover abducted children. We are inspired by the example of the children who courageously fought and escaped their abductors, and we recognize them. And we pay tribute to those who educate the community through their engagement and their inspiring artwork.
On this day of both sadness and pride, we remember those who mean so much to us and honor those who have done so much for this cause. Both will inspire us to redouble our efforts. It is an honor to participate in your day. Thank you and God bless you.