The Justice Department today paid tribute to nine individuals for their extraordinary efforts to recover missing children, rescue children from abuse and prosecute sexual predators during its annual commemoration of National Missing Children’s Day.
“The achievements of these honorees, and the stories behind them, remind us that it takes someone very special to do the work that they do,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West. “Days, weeks, months, and as we saw in Cleveland last week, even years can pass between a child’s disappearance and her recovery. It takes tremendous faith, but more importantly, it takes incredible resolve and resourcefulness to pursue those cases to certain resolution.”
“As our Missing Children’s Day honorees demonstrate, community members who remain alert and respond, rescue children every day,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary. “Through support for programs such as AMBER Alert and Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, our office remains committed to assisting communities across the country in protecting the lives and safety of children.”
Other speakers included Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator Robert L. Listenbee; child protection advocate Heather Bish, whose sister Molly Bish was abducted from her lifeguard job and later found murdered; and John Ryan, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The nearly 300 ceremony attendees included families of missing children, child advocates and others who support programs to recover missing children.
“On this day each year, we pause for a few moments to remember those children who are lost and the families who have been torn apart apart by this unspeakable tragedy,” said OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee. “We are also here today to celebrate those children and families who have been reunited and to honor the dedicated citizens who work tirelessly to bring these missing children home.”
During the ceremony, Acting Associate Attorney General West presented the following awards:
Attorney General’s Special Commendation: Recognizes the extraordinary efforts of an Internet Crimes Against Children task force or affiliate agency for making significant investigative or program contributions. Recipients: Assistant District Attorney Eric R. Bellas, North Carolina’s 25th Prosecutorial District; Det. Scott Carico, Burke County, N.C. Sheriff’s Office; Special Agent Casey Drake, N.C. State Bureau of Investigation; Selena Moretz, Burke County Child Advocacy Center; and Special Agent John D. Wydra, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose efforts led to the arrest and conviction of a N.C. elementary school teacher who had been sexually molesting children and videotaping and photographing pornographic images of them for many years.
Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Award: Recognizes the extraordinary efforts of a law enforcement officer who made a significant investigative or program contribution to the safety of children. Recipient: Det. Anjanette Biswell of the Quincy, Ill. Police Department, whose work as a computer forensic specialist led to the arrest and guilty plea of a man who was producing, downloading, and distributing pornographic images of two young relatives and other children in Quincy.
Missing Children’s Citizen Award: Honors the extraordinary efforts of private citizens for their unselfish acts to safely recover missing or abducted children. Recipients: Brandy V. Hinesly and Casey Quillman, Walmart employees in Aberdeen, Wash., for their quick response that led to the rescue of a missing Arkansas teenager who was about to leave the country with her former boyfriend.
Missing Children’s Child Protection Award: Honors the extraordinary efforts of a law enforcement officer who made a significant investigative or program contribution to protect children from abuse or victimization. Recipient: Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker for the Western District of Louisiana, who served as the lead prosecutor and a driving force behind Operation Delego, 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.
Esther Jung, a fifth grader from Edwin Rhodes Elementary School in Chino, Calif., received the award as the 14th winner of the Annual National Missing Children’s Day Art Contest.
President Ronald Reagan proclaimed May 25, 1983, the first National Missing Children’s Day to remember Etan Patz, a six-year-old boy who disappeared from a New York City street corner on May 25, 1979. Missing Children’s Day honors his memory and the memories of children still missing.
The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. For more information about OJP, please visit: www.ojp.gov.