“A mile a minute, that is how fast your child can disappear.” Marc Klaas
A child’s disappearance devastates a family and rocks a community. Today, May 25, is National Missing Children’s Day. Every year, thousands of people under 18 go missing. As of December 31, 2019, there were active missing persons records in NCIC of over 30,00 people under the age of 18. This number included runaways, parental abductions, and stranger abductions.
We just finished a hearing wherein the judge told the mother she had to allow my client, the father, to see the child. The child had been living with him for over a year, but the Mother recently started taking the child on weekends, and then eventually refused to return her to the dad. So, we filed for custody. This was a Tuesday and she would be required to turn over the child to dad a few days later to spend time for a weekend visitation with dad on Friday.
My client called me that Friday frantic, “she’s gone.” The Mother had taken off with the child. She wasn’t answering her phone, no one was at her trailer, and no one knew where she was.
While I began working in the legal system to secure the necessary orders, my client found a tremendous ally in the local Sheriff’s Office Investigator. The investigator took on this case and worked it – searching for this little girl. It was in the early days of using cell phone pings, not many people knew much about it. This investigator got a warrant and checked her cell phone pings. Then, he tracked the use of her debit card. They narrowed her location down to Ohio. She was arrested and the child was recovered. My client called me as he was jumping in his car to go get her. I don’t think I ever heard a dad so happy, relieved, and thankful.
My friend had just stepped off the plane, returning home from a business trip, when his phone rang. The person on the other end said, “Shaniya is missing”. Shaniya was his five-year-old daughter whom he had raised practically since birth. Thirty days before this phone call, he let Shaniya go live with her mom who said she had straightened up her life and wanted to be a mom to their little girl. Brad, believing little girls should be with their moms and believing Antoinette had turned her life around, allowed Shaniya to go live with her mom.
Thank to good investigative work and a K9 search team, six days later, her little body was found in a wooded area where deer carcasses were often discarded. The investigation and autopsy revealed she had been raped and suffocated. The killer, Mario McNeill, was owed a $200 debt by Shaniya’s mother. Her mother chose to pay her debt by allowing McNeill to rape her daughter. Her choice not only resulted in innocence lost, but a precious life lost.
Shaniya’s father, siblings, and other relatives will never be the same. As I write this, a few weeks shy of what would have been her 16th birthday, a family is left to wonder what she would be like today.
I was on the phone with her mom. “This is not like her. She didn’t pick up her baby from the baby’s daddy. She would never not pick up her child. She’s a great mother to that baby. She’s not answering her phone. No one has heard from her. What do we do?”
I could hear the desperation in this mother’s voice. I can still hear that desperation as I write this more than 5 years later. Her daughter had been missing for more than 48 hours and she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know if her daughter was alive, injured, or in a car accident on the side of the road somewhere. She didn’t know where her daughter may have slept the night before, if she was kept warm, or if she was able to eat. She didn’t want to think the worst case scenario
Unfortunately, this teenage mother was never found. This mother is unable to lay her little girl to rest. There’s a little girl who is growing up without her mother. This family has joined the unfortunate ranks of thousands of other families who will never know what happened to their loved ones.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD GOES MISSING
- Check every room in house, closets, cabinets, under beds
- Call out to child while searching house and outbuildings. Be sure to tell child they are not in trouble. Some children, when hearing parents calling for them, will fear they will get in trouble and won’t answer a parent’s calls for them.
- Check vehicle – including trunk
- Call neighbors/friends to see if child has gone to their house
- Call police. There is NOT a 48 hour time to wait to file a missing kid report for anyone under 18.
- Depending on circumstances: call agency such as KlaasKIDS Foundation who can help search and help manage a search for a missing child. Their services are FREE.
- Create social media pages: you need an army of online searchers. Facebook has become a great tool
- If you suspect parental abduction: Call your lawyer or a lawyer with experience in custody and parental abduction cases
I spent almost 10 years as a volunteer for KlaasKIDS Foundation, a National Search Center for Missing & Trafficked children and adults. I have the utmost respect for Marc Klaas, Brad Dennis, and the rest of the team for their passion and commitment to searching for missing children. Everything I learned about helping missing kids I learned from them.
Not All Strangers are Dangerous
We are past the days of “Stranger Danger”. Many of us were taught as kids that all strangers were dangerous. However, that’s simply not true. There are strangers who can help a child in need: a police officer in uniform, a store clerk, mothers with children, other children, firefighter in uniform, emergency medical techs in uniform, and others. Teach your children that should they get separated from you in a store, a crowd, or some other place the type of people they should approach for help. REHEARSE this with them multiple times so it is drilled in their heads. When arriving at a location, such as an amusement park, tell them again, the type of people they can approach for help.
However: Don’t Help Strange Adults
Children should be taught that they should not help adults they don’t know:
- find pets,
- carry packages,
- take pictures,
- play games or
- any other activity that will allow the strange adult to take them into a room, vehicle, alley, or otherwise abduct them.
- They should never approach an unknown vehicle with a person offering candy, to play with puppies, looking for a puppy, or for any reason.
Children need to know the parents’ full names, addresses, and phone numbers. In the days of cell phones, we don’t remember phone numbers anymore, but you must make your child memorize your phone number. Your child also needs to know how to dial 911 and when to use it.
Social Media & Online Presence
Parents, make sure you know your children’s friends both in person and online. You must be vigilant in checking your child’s online presence whether it is on social media, games, or various apps such as TikTok, Snapchat, Kik, or others where they can connect with people from across the world. I’ve been the lead case manager and searcher for missing teens who connected with people on a few of these apps and they ended up being trafficked. The danger is real and you need to learn all you can about these apps. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has resources available on its website at missingkids.org.
What Every Parent Should Have:
- Current photo of child
- Fingerprints: KlaasKIDS will travel to your city to hold a Print-A-Thon. There are other organizations and law enforcement agencies who will fingerprint your children as well.
- DNA: KlaasKIDS offers a DNA kit for parents to use. There are also ways you can do it yourself. This could be an invaluable resource.
What NOT to DO:
- Don’t advertise your child’s information on your vehicle or social media. Do you know that a person can locate your child based on a photograph taken from a cell phone? For instance, you take a photo of your daughter at the ballpark in her softball uniform, make it your profile picture, some pedophile can pull up that photo, and through very little effort, get the coordinates of where the photo was taken and know where to find your little girl. Also, when you post that photo and say, “Proud of my Bailey”, you’ve just given the pedophile her name, too.
- Don’t put your child’s name on clothing, backpacks, gym bags, or other items. I know this is difficult for southern mamas to hear, but you shouldn’t monogram your daughter’s name on anything a stranger could see. There’s a sense of familiarity and comfort when someone calls you by name. If a stranger says, “Bailey, your dad and I are co-workers, great game!”, she will believe him because he knew her name.