It’s a comforting fact that most children abducted by strangers are returned to their families unharmed. However if your child is missing, there is very little that can ease your fears. When you’re overwhelmed with questions and decisions, you’ll need the help of police, relatives, friends, and neighbours. Law enforcement officials will provide you with detailed instructions on what to do. What follows are only the simplest of suggestions.
- Make a report to the police. After conducting a brief initial search, the police investigators may decide to enter your child’s photograph and identifying information in a national database.
- Preserve and protect the scene of your child’s disappearance until the police are able to view it. The area may contain important evidence that can be collected. Close off your child’s room and avoid disturbing anything inside. The police may want to search it for additional evidence. Ideally, you can use a next-door neighbour’s home or apartment as a temporary command post, as long as the police have a way to contact you immediately by telephone.
- Keep a notepad and pencil with you and also near your telephone, so you can write down the names and telephone numbers of police investigators, potential witnesses, and anyone who offers assistance.
- Write down everything you can recall about your child’s physical appearance, including scars and identifying marks, the clothing and jewellery your child was wearing, and the belongings in your child’s possession. You may be asked to relate the information to investigators more than once.
- Locate good recent photographs of your child to provide to police on request. If you possess your child’s fingerprints or DNA sample, let the investigators know.
- Inquire about the issuance of a Child Rescue Alert.
- Write down the names of all of your child’s acquaintances and neighbours, adults as well as children. Police investigators may ask you for this information.
- Stay near your telephone! Ask the lead investigator exactly what you should do if you receive a call from an extortionist. Write the instructions down so you can refer back to them.
You may be asked whether you want to speak to representatives of the news media. You’re under no obligation to give statements or interviews to the press, but you are certainly free to do so.
You might feel more comfortable nominating someone to speak on your behalf. There could be a particular media representative with whom you feel at ease, and you can choose to speak to only that person. You can also ask to review your comments before they are published or broadcast. There is no right or wrong approach; you should do what feels appropriate at the time.
If you are contacted in an extortion attempt, notify the police. Investigators will try to determine whether the person who contacted you is an impostor. The police may want you to install special equipment to trace calls. Investigators may also ask you to contact your child’s doctor and dentist for copies of medical records.
If You Want to Help the FamilyThe parents of a missing child will be asked to remain at home where investigators can quickly locate them when necessary. Preliminary search efforts usually involve only police personnel but may sometimes include members of the missing child’s extended family. If the police coordinate a broader search, volunteers who take part will usually be members of an established organization that can be deployed quickly and efficiently. If you don’t already belong to such a group, it’s possible you can provide assistance by distributing posters or donating refreshments.
If you think you’ve spotted a missing child, notify the police. Provide specific information about the location, the time, and anyone you observed in the child’s company. Don’t attempt an intervention or rescue; the police will handle that part.
You can also make a monetary contribution to a fund for the family of the missing child; a reward for information leading to the child; or a children’s charity such as Parents and Abducted Children Together (PACT), the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, or Kidscape.