Justice Department Observes National Missing Children’s Day
As part of the 39th annual National Missing Children’s Day commemoration, the Department of Justice today honored 12 courageous individuals for their extraordinary efforts to recover missing children and bring sexual predators to justice.
“Every day, law enforcement professionals, advocates, and citizens alike step up to protect children from harm, reunite missing children with their families, and provide support in the aftermath of a traumatic event,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Today, the Justice Department is proud to honor some of these heroes and recognize them for their tireless work to create a safer and better world.”
The Department’s Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) leads the nation in observing National Missing Children’s Day. The observance was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 in memory of six-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared while walking to his bus stop in lower Manhattan on May 25, 1979. National Missing Children’s Day honors his memory and those children still missing. Etan’s killer was convicted in February 2017.
“We are at our best as a nation when we are working to secure a brighter future for our children,” said OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon. “There is no better reflection of our values as a society than our concern for the welfare of our young people, and these committed professionals have given clear expression to our aspirations.”
In lieu of an in-person ceremony, OJJDP has launched a website today featuring information about the awardees and statements from OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Solomon, OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan and President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Michelle DeLaune.
“We are deeply grateful to these 12 individuals for their exceptional deeds of bravery, vigilance and compassion on behalf of our nation’s children,” said OJJDP Administrator Ryan. “We could not be more proud to honor them on this special day.”
This year’s recipients are honored with the following awards:
Attorney General’s Special Commendation: This commendation recognizes the extraordinary efforts of an Internet Crimes Against Children task force, an affiliate agency or an individual assigned to either for making a significant investigative or program contribution to the ICAC task force program.
Recipients: Special Agent Theodore Indermuehle, Special Agent Wade Beardsley, Victim Service Specialist Leeana Liska and Senior Digital Forensic Examiner Tyrel Olsen of the Wisconsin ICAC task force, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman for the Western District of Wisconsin. They participated in an investigation that resulted in the arrest, prosecution and conviction of a high school teacher who was a sexual predator and who communicated directly with underage girls across many states to obtain sexually explicit videos.
Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Award: This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of law enforcement officers who have made a significant investigative or program contribution to the safety of children.
Recipients: Special Agents Maria Markley, Star'Shemah Sylvestre, Kelli Johnson, Lisa Carroll, and Brandy Nettles of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) headquarters and field offices. They led NCIS efforts related to two significant initiatives, Operation Stolen Innocence and a cyber operation targeting Navy offenders. These included building a complex computer program to collect and analyze data from multiple sources.
Missing Children’s Child Protection Award: This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of child protective service agency personnel, law enforcement officers, or other professionals who have made a significant investigative or program contribution to protecting children from abuse or victimization.
Recipients: Assistant Special Agent in Charge Shelly Smitherman and Intelligence Analyst Emily Keifer of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Nashville. In coordination with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, they spearheaded Operation Volunteer Strong, a bold effort to identify and locate missing children in the state, leading to the recovery of 150 children in Tennessee. In some cases, the recovered children were identified as victims of human trafficking, which resulted in further investigative efforts.
The Department also named Sue Lee, a 5th grader at St. James Episcopal School in Los Angeles, California, as the winner of the 2022 National Missing Children’s Day poster contest. The contest creates an opportunity for schools, law enforcement, and child advocates to discuss the issue of child safety with youth and their parents.
OJP provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance, and other resources to improve the nation’s capacity to prevent and reduce crime, advance racial equity in the administration of justice, assist victims, and strengthen the criminal and juvenile justice systems. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.