Courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP)
As we pause to commemorate Missing Children’s Day on May 25, we remember the high profile disappearances of six-year-old Etan Patz on May 25, 1979, of Adam Walsh in 1981, and the murders of 29 children in Atlanta, which resulted in a nationwide movement to raise awareness for children’s safety and to honor the memory of missing children.
This movement’s hallmark is persistence – the dogged persistence of the dedicated law enforcement professionals tracking down every lead – and the faithful persistence of the families, friends and volunteers who never give up hope that these beloved children will be found.
We saw 10 years’ worth of that persistent hope rewarded a few weeks ago in Cleveland when three victims were rescued more than a decade after their abduction. Their alleged kidnapper is now facing justice. And last year – 33 years after Etan Patz’s disappearance – his alleged abductor was found and arrested. We learned last week that his case is going to trial.
On May 15, Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West honored nine people
for their persistent efforts to find and rescue missing and exploited children and to bring perpetrators to justice.
Among the honorees:
- three law enforcement officers, a prosecutor and a child advocate whose efforts led to the arrest and conviction of a North Carolina elementary school teacher who had for years been sexually molesting children and producing pornographic images of them;
- an Illinois detective whose work as a computer forensic specialist led to the arrest and guilty plea of a man who was producing and distributing pornographic images of children;
- two Walmart employees in Washington State whose quick response led to the recovery of a missing Arkansas teenager about to leave the country; and
- an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Louisiana, the lead prosecutor and driving force behind the largest child exploitation case ever prosecuted. His efforts resulted in more than 29 convictions, including a teacher, a police officer and a high-ranking member of the military.
I’m especially proud that OJP and our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention have been in the forefront of the Department of Justice’s work in this area.
Our progress has been both measurable and extraordinary. Last year, investigations initiated by the 61 Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces led to more than 6,200 arrests and conducted more than 51,000 forensic exams.
The AMBER Alert program, of which I am the national coordinator, now has returned 642 abducted children to their homes. Today, more than a decade after the last comprehensive study of missing and abducted children, we are engaged in a new national effort to collect data on these victimized and vulnerable populations.
I’ve spent much of my career working to strengthen our responses to victims, and I’m always amazed by the dedication of child advocates – whether they work in a child advocacy center, a law enforcement agency, or as a volunteer in the community.
We thank all of you who spend your days working to find missing children. We are grateful for your persistence – and we are proud to stand beside you.
Also: Today we join the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in urging everyone to “Take 25” minutes to talk about safety with the kids in your lives. For more information, visit www.take25.org