Justice Department Observes National Missing Children’s Day
As part of the 40th annual commemoration of National Missing Children’s Day, the Justice Department today honored nine individuals in Washington, D.C. for their extraordinary efforts to recover and help missing children and to hold those who commit child sexual abuse and crimes against children legally responsible for their actions.
“Whether a child has been abducted, or has just wandered away, the terror felt by a parent when their child has disappeared is overwhelming,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “I have great respect for the brave, resourceful, and dedicated professionals who work every day to protect children from harm, reunite missing children with their families, and provide support in the aftermath of a traumatic event. There is no cause more worthy of honor. The Department of Justice is proud to stand with them.”
The Office of Justice Programs’ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention leads the nation in observing Missing Children’s Day, which was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 in memory of six-year-old Etan Patz, who was abducted while walking to his bus stop in Manhattan on May 25, 1979. National Missing Children’s Day honors his memory and those children who are still missing. Etan’s killer was convicted in February 2017, but the case remains active because his body was never found.
“It is difficult to even imagine all of the emotions — panic, fear, heartbreak — when a child goes missing,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The Justice Department commemorates National Missing Children’s Day not only to remember the solemn impact that missing children have on parents and caregivers, families and communities, but also to honor the individuals, organizations, and agencies that have made extraordinary efforts to find and rescue missing and exploited children.”
“On this day, we remember that some 460,000 children go missing from the United States every year – and we take this opportunity to remind ourselves of both the scope of the challenge before us and the depth of our collective commitment to the safety and welfare of America’s youth,” said Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs. “The incredible people we honor today – and so many dedicated professionals across the country – deserve our deep appreciation and gratitude for all they do to protect children and our communities.”
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 (ICAC) task force, an affiliate agency or an individual assigned to an ICAC task force or affiliate agency for making a significant investigative or program contribution to the ICAC task force program.
Recipients: The following members from the North Texas ICAC task force – Lieutenant Cyrus Zafrani, Task Force Commander; Sergeant Kellie Renfro, Deputy Task Force Commander; Detective Tony Godwin; Detective Chris Meehan; Texas Ranger Bruce Sherman; Detective Jeffrey Rich; and Community Outreach Officer Anthony Newsom – all received the Attorney General’s Special Commendation for their actions in processing more than 22,000 tips from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline, resulting in more than 500 arrests and the rescue of more than 50 children between Nov. 1, 2021, and Oct. 31, 2022.
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.
Recipient: Detective Agnes Watson from the Rialto Police Department in Rialto, California, received the Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Award for her actions in investigating a 23-year-old man who had abducted and assaulted a 17-year-old girl with the intention of taking her to Puerto Rico and trafficking her.
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.
Recipient: Detective Mike Myerson from the Palatine, Illinois, Police Department received the Missing Children’s Child Protection Award for investigating the disappearance of a 14-year-old who was in contact with an adult male who wanted to engage in sexual acts with the teen. Myerson apprehended the suspect and charged him with traveling to meet a minor, which is a felony.
The Department also named Ayoub Alsaidi, a 5th grader from P.S. 251 in Brooklyn, New York, the winner of the 2023 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.
“Through their resourcefulness, their exceptional savvy and, most of all, their tenacious commitment to the health and safety of our nation’s young people, these award recipients have saved and protected hundreds of children from abduction, exploitation and further harm,” said Administrator Liz Ryan of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “We are honored to recognize them for their extraordinary efforts to secure a bright future for our youngest generation.”