Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Speaks at the Justice Department’s National Missing Children’s Day Ceremony
Thank you, Mary Lou, for that kind introduction, and for all that you, Melodee, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention do for our children.
I am so pleased to be here today to honor four individuals for their extraordinary efforts to find and rescue missing and exploited children and bring perpetrators to justice. Their achievements – and the stories behind them – remind us of the special qualities possessed by every single one of you who works to protect our children.
It is a real privilege to be here today, in the presence of so many advocates and law enforcement professionals who work – day in and day out – to secure the safety of one of our most vulnerable populations, our young people. Your jobs are among the most intellectually challenging and emotionally wrenching. You uncover crimes of depravity and cold calculation. Most people would cower from the prospect but you rise to meet the challenge, knowing that these kids and their communities are depending on you. We commend you for your service.
I’m pleased that the Department of Justice has been your partner in this work. Since 1995, when former Attorney General Janet Reno created the Federal Agency Task Force on Missing and Exploited Children, the Department has vigorously pursued child exploitation cases. We have worked closely with Ernie Allen and our friends at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to expand our capacity to bring missing children home safely. And through the dedicated work of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, we have had a long history of supporting states, communities and tribes in their child protection and recovery efforts.
I am especially proud of the progress we have made in recent years. Two years ago, Attorney General Holder issued the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, which provides the first-ever comprehensive threat assessment of the dangers children face through exploitation and outlines a blueprint to fight these crimes.
Last year, we expanded our Project Safe Childhood initiative to address all federal crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children – and we’re coordinating enforcement efforts between federal, state, local and tribal agencies and non-governmental organizations. In 2011, we brought over 2,700 indictments for offenses involving the sexual exploitation of a minor. More importantly, through January of this year, Project Safe Childhood has helped to identify some 3,500 children depicted in child pornography images and taken many of them out of harm’s way.
Our Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program is going strong and is continuing to realize remarkable success in solving technology-facilitated crimes against children. What began as a small, loose-knit program years ago has grown into highly-trained, coordinated and effective network of 61 task forces. Last month in Atlanta, I spoke to an audience of 2,000 investigators, prosecutors and advocates from across the country – many of whom belong to these task forces and who had come together for state-of-the-art training to address these crimes.
And we continue to provide important resources in support of the AMBER Alert Program. AMBER Alert has now expanded into both Canada and Mexico, and more than 30 tribes have adopted AMBER Alert programs. To date, 584 abducted children have been recovered thanks to this vital program. We will all benefit from the AMBER Alert Best Practices guide, which Melodee’s office is releasing, to improve our ability to safely recover missing and exploited children.
We have made remarkable progress, but we have much more work to do. For all the successes, there are too many cases in which the outcome is tragedy—for all of the information we have obtained, there are far too many cases where key facts are still unknown. The pain of losing a child never dulls—and for those thousands of families missing children today, like Etan Patz and Madeleine McCann whose cases linger, unsolved, for years, we know that the agony of not knowing their fate remains as fresh and raw as the day they disappeared.
There is no rest for a parent who has lost a child, and there should be no rest for any of us who are in a position to help. There may not be any words we could offer that would ease their pain, but we can offer our support – and we must use all the tools at our disposal to help families of missing and exploited children.
So again, to those of you who do this work every day, on behalf of the Department of Justice and on behalf of all of America I say “thank you.”
Now it’s my pleasure – and honor – to present our awards.
Our first award is the Attorney General’s Special Commendation.
This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of an Internet Crimes Against Children task force, an ICAC 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 program.
Special Agent Tim Erickson.
In 2011, an Australian law enforcement agency contacted the North Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children task force regarding an Internet provider address originating in North Dakota that was discovered on the computer of an Australian couple who were suspected of sexually abusing their child. Specifically, Australian law enforcement discovered a one-page chat log that was linked to an IP address leased to the Minot, North Dakota, Public School system for use by Christian R. Webb, the Internet technologies administrator for the school district.
Special Agent Erickson and Department of Homeland Security investigators eventually seized electronic media that contained 40 to 60 webcam videos depicting the sexual abuse of children. Webb was charged in federal court with receipt and possession of child pornography. However, the investigation appeared to hit a wall because the videos identified only the webcam rather than the user name. Determined to identify the men and children depicted in the videos, Special Agent Erickson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme approached Webb and requested his cooperation, with which, Erickson accessed Webb’s many online accounts. Following a tremendous amount of forensic work, Special Agent Erickson obtained the user IDs of the individuals who had sent or posted the videos.
Through the legal process, Special Agent Erickson identified the suspects who sent the videos to Webb depicting the sexual abuse of children. In the end, Webb was sentenced in federal court to 12 years in prison. To date, the leads that Special Agent Erickson generated have resulted in the arrest of six individuals in Washington, Kansas, Ohio, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Canada for various sexual abuse and production of child pornography charges. More importantly, the leads that Special Agent Erickson generated led to the rescue of eight children who suffered physical and sexual abuse.
Special Agent Erickson, thank you for all your work on behalf of children across the country.
Please join us on stage.
The next award is the Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Award. This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of a law enforcement officer who has made a significant investigative or program contribution to the safety of children.
In 2004, Detective Randall Abbott was assigned to investigate a child neglect case at Aurora Medical Center in Hartford, Wisconsin. Hospital staff reported concerns about the parents of a newborn girl. They thought that the infant’s mother, Angela Schmidt, had given birth to several other children, which she may have given up for adoption, possibly for money. Before Detective Abbott could intervene, the infant was given to a woman named Denise Novotny, who took her to Missouri.
Over the next five years, Detective Abbott continued his investigation of the case and worked with numerous agencies in both Wisconsin and Missouri. His investigation was complicated by the fact that Denise Novotny and her family moved several times during this period. As she did so, Detective Abbott contacted new agencies in Missouri.
Detective Abbott further enhanced his investigation by seeking out specialized resources to educate himself and, in turn, prosecutors to ensure that they had the expertise to pursue this case. Detective Abbott learned that the girl had been living in an impoverished condition, was suffering from malnutrition, and had not received adequate medical or dental care. Ultimately, Detective Abbott coordinated with agencies from Missouri to have the young girl removed from the home and to have Denise Novotny and the Schmidts arrested and prosecuted.
In February 2009, the girl was placed in foster care and was ultimately adopted by her foster family. They have since sent several cards and pictures to Detective Abbott documenting the improvements that she has made in her new home. In May 2011, the Schmidts reached plea agreements in which David Schmidt was convicted of a felony offense and Angela Schmidt received two misdemeanor convictions. Denise Novotny was also convicted of charges in Wisconsin and Missouri.
We are so pleased to welcome and thank Detective Randall Abbott and to recognize him as the recipient of this year’s Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Award.
Please join us on stage.
Our third award is the Missing Children’s Citizen Award. This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of private citizens for their unselfish acts to safely recover missing or abducted children.
On February 25, 2011, while Letter Carrier H. Keith Ray, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, was making his daily mail delivery to the Wohlwend Elementary School in Oakville, Missouri, he found a flurry of police activity at the facility. An autistic boy had been reported missing from the school playground, and police and school officials had mobilized officers and others to search for the child. Mr. Ray volunteered to assist in the search.
The weather forecast called for extremely cold temperatures, which added further urgency to the search. After searching for the boy around a local pond, Mr. Ray turned his attention to a nearby chapel. Upon gaining entry to the chapel, Mr. Ray found the young boy, who was curled up in an effort to stay warm. After making sure the boy was safe and unharmed, Mr. Ray alerted the police, bringing the search to a close.
If not for Keith Ray, this small boy may have not been found for hours; he was in real danger of succumbing to the cold or other potential harm.
For more than 236 years, the U.S. Postal Service has been an important part of Americans’ lives, and carriers like Keith Ray demonstrate that tradition of exemplary service. Due to Mr. Ray’s dedication to his community, his sincere concern and resourcefulness, the missing child was returned unharmed to his family.
Keith Ray, please join me on stage to accept your well-earned award.
Next is the Missing Children’s Child Protection Award. This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of a law enforcement officer who has made a significant investigative or program contribution to protecting children from abuse or victimization.
Assistant State Attorney Gregory Schiller played a central role in securing the conviction of Robert Coletto. Mr. Schiller is a member of the Palm Beach County Sexual Predator Enforcement Unit, which investigates and prosecutes online predators of children. In late 2010, Coletto was arrested for possession of child pornography.
Previously, Coletto had served 7 years of a 12-year sentence for sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl in 1994 and, at the time of his 2010 arrest, he was on probation for that crime. Under his new arrest, Coletto was charged with possession of child pornography. Mr. Schiller coordinated a strong forensic case against him and secured a 25-year prison sentence.
But that was not sufficient for Mr. Schiller. Based on his experience with this case, he set out to have the state legislature amend Florida’s statute to charge not just possession of child pornography, but also intentional viewing. In the spring of 2011, he argued to the Florida House of Representatives and Senate that Florida’s law against child pornography was outdated and needed to be amended to meet the growing trends of individuals viewing child pornography without downloading it and hiding their collections in the cloud. Both houses passed the amendment unanimously, and Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law this past summer. The law has already been used to support arrests throughout Florida of individuals who, without it, would continue to victimize children.
Please join us on stage to accept your award, Mr. Schiller.
Every year, OJJDP conducts a National Missing Children’s Day art contest for children in the fifth grade to increase their awareness of this unfortunate phenomenon of missing children. This is the 13th year that OJJDP has conducted this national competition.
Twelve years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder – then the Deputy Attorney General – presided over the Missing Children’s Day ceremony when the first award winner was announced. At that time, only a handful of states participated.
This year, 41 states and the District of Columbia participated in the competition. Posters are designed to depict the theme of bringing our missing children home. The winning poster is used the following year for the ribbons and posters for Missing Children’s Day.
This year’s winner is Elisa Martinez from Walter V. Long Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada. Today, Elisa is receiving a plaque, certificate and a $100 savings bond.
In describing her poster, Elisa said:
I created my poster because I want missing children to know that someone really cares that they are missing. The Statute of Liberty has a child in her arms because she stands strong for the law, which protects the children of America. The stick figures in the flag represent the abducted children. The buildings are very bright because the children bring light to the states of America.
Will you join me in recognizing this year’s art contest winner: Elisa Martinez from Walter V. Long Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada – and her teacher, Danielle Rayos, as well as last year’s winner, Julianna Hinton.
Please join us on stage.
Updated September 17, 2014