Remarks as Delivered
Thank you, Liz.
Before we begin today’s program, I want to acknowledge the weight of this day for the community of Uvalde, Texas.
I know that every day since May 24, 2022, has been a difficult one for Uvalde – but today is particularly painful.
Today marks one year since 19 children, and two of their teachers, were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary school.
Today marks one year that the families of those victims have spent mourning an unimaginable loss.
And today marks one year since that act of unspeakable violence devastated the Uvalde community and shook our country.
In the wake of that horrific mass shooting, the Justice Department launched a Critical Incident Review of the law enforcement response that day.
Since then, the Department’s COPS Office has been working closely with subject-matter experts to conduct the review.
Last month, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta traveled to Uvalde to meet with the families and community members, and to reiterate the Department’s continued commitment to a thorough and substantive review.
We know that nothing we can do can undo the pain inflicted on the loved ones of the victims, the survivors, and the entire community of Uvalde.
But the Justice Department is doing everything in its power to assess what happened that day and to provide the answers the Uvalde community deserves.
It is an honor to join with you today, as we commemorate the 40th annual National Missing Children’s Day.
Last year, the FBI received more than 359,000 reports of missing children.
Thankfully, many returned home safely within a short time. But sadly, many others did not. Children and teens under the age of 18 account for almost a third of the FBI’s active missing person reports.
Whether a child has been abducted, or has just wandered away, the terror felt by a parent when their child has disappeared is overwhelming.
I have great respect for the brave, resourceful, and dedicated professionals – like those in this room – who work every day to protect children from harm, reunite missing children with their families, and provide support for the community in the aftermath of a traumatic event.
There is no cause more worthy of honor. The Department of Justice is honored to stand with you.
At the Justice Department, we also know that this work is too important for any one of us to take on alone.
And we know that our partnerships – among law enforcement agencies and with advocates – are some of the most effective tools we have to keep our communities and our children safe.
That is why in March, the United States Marshals Service launched a first-of-its-kind national missing children operation.
Together with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, U.S. Marshals identified and focused their efforts on 15 geographical areas that showed a high cluster of missing children.
Operation We Will Find You, which ended on May 15, resulted in the location of 225 children. That includes the recovery of 169 missing children, and the safe location of an additional 56 children.
This is an important achievement, but we know how much more work remains to be done.
Last year, our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded more than $50 million to support nationwide efforts to locate missing children, prevent child abduction, and provide technical training and assistance.
We will continue that work in the year ahead.
As many of you know, National Missing Children’s Day was established 40 years ago in memory of a six-year-old boy named Etan Patz. He vanished while walking to his bus stop in New York City in 1979.
His memory is a tragic reminder of why we do this work – and of what is at stake.
I know this work is challenging. These cases – especially those involving children who have been harmed or exploited – are among our most difficult. And I recognize the emotional toll these cases can take on investigators and on their colleagues.
To everyone here who has taken on the job of protecting our children – our future – I say thank you.
The extraordinary individuals we are recognizing in today’s ceremony represent the very best of that work.
It is my privilege to be here to honor these heroes, who have found missing or kidnapped children and reunited them with their families;
Who have protected children from exploitation and abuse;
Who have brought their predators to justice.
I would also like to acknowledge the winner of the poster contest, fifth grader Ayoub Alsaidi. Ayoub, your artwork is an inspiration to all of us.
To all of today’s honorees – you have worked to create a safer and a better world for our children. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
And now, it is my particular honor to present this year’s Attorney General’s Special Commendation.
This award recognizes Internet Crimes Against Children task forces or affiliate agencies for making significant investigative or program contributions.
This year’s award goes to Lieutenant Cyrus Zafrani, Task Force Commander;
Sergeant Kellie Renfro, Deputy Task Force Commander;
Texas Ranger Bruce Sherman;
Detectives Jeffrey Rich, Tony Godwin, and Chris Meehan;
and Community Outreach Officer Anthony Newsom.
They are all from the North Texas Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
This Task Force encompasses 112 counties, spans more than 96,000 square miles, and has more than 250 active affiliate agencies.
Between November 1, 2021, and October 31, 2022, the Task Force processed more than 22,000 tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline. This work resulted in more than 500 arrests and the rescues of more than 50 children.
In addition to their successful investigative work, our honorees have also dedicated themselves to training others on investigative techniques related to Internet Crimes Against Children cases.
To our awardees from the North Texas Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force: You have my unending gratitude.
Our communities are safer because of you.
And our children are safer because of you.
And thanks to all of you.