When a child goes missing, every second counts.
That's why organizations like Amber Alert Network Brazos Valley and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) were created - to help law enforcement and get these kids back home quickly and safely.
“Ultimately the missing child case is absolutely law enforcement's case. We are purely supporting their case, and we have a very large toolbox that we've built for the past 36, 37 years of tools, resources, family support, private sector relationships that we bring to the table and apply to these cases for free," explained John Bischoff, vice president of the Missing Children Division for the NCMEC.
FBI data shows in 2020, there were more than 365,000 missing children reports made across the country, a dip from the more than 421,000 reports we saw in 2019.
It's not just a national problem. It's happening in our own backyard.
“Every year across the Brazos Valley, there's a little over 400 missing person reports, and of those, about 320 are children," said Chuck Fleger, executive director of Amber Alert Network Brazos Valley.
When it comes to a missing child, community awareness is key.
We used to see them on the back of milk cartons. Now, the posters of missing children are found all over social media. It's a helpful tool, but advocates say social media also comes with downsides.
“It's a wonderful tool. It's wonderful technology, but sometimes rumors transpire much more quickly on social media. And our response to that is always seek the information, the appropriate information, from the law enforcement agency," said Bischoff.
Despite the downsides, experts say one share of a social media post can make a difference.
“Your circle of friends is going to be different than your friend’s circle of friends... in your own circle of life, it may not touch somebody, but you may know somebody who, who does have contacts who can get it to that person," Fleger stated.
When sharing that post, it's important to leave any judgments at the door.
“One of the things we always strive to let people know is that even if a child leaves voluntarily, it doesn't mean that bad things can’t happen to them when they’re out on the streets," Fleger explained. “We never lose sight of the fact that, you know, that it's not just numbers, it's people… and it's loved ones who want to bring them home, and bring them home quickly and safely.”
Not every case has a happy ending, but Bischoff says the mission must continue.
“We have to learn from those cases because there are a lot of kids out there counting on us, not just the ones missing today, but the ones who are going to go missing tomorrow. And they're relying on our organization, and many organizations like us, including our partnership with many law enforcement agencies out there, to stand at the ready with, with the most knowledgeable information on how to recover them, how to find them safely, how to find them quickly," he said.
“We in the, in the Brazos Valley area, we are very blessed to live in a pretty safe community, but we're not immune from things that can happen. You know, we always, I think sometimes we get complacent. We go, ‘Well, that's not going to happen here’…. it happens less frequently, but it can happen here. And so we can't let our guard down. We can't forget that, that unfortunately there are those out there that would do harm to the most vulnerable among us and those being our children. And so we have to do everything we can to help protect them," said Fleger.
Experts say the best way to protect your children and your community is to be vigilant. If you see something, say something.
To report something, call the NCMEC's 24-hour hotline at 1-800-843-5678 or your local law enforcement.
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