If your child disappears, it’s critical to act quickly
By Amy L. Edwards
Sentinel Staff Writer
July 23, 2009
Each year, thousands of Florida parents and guardians find themselves in a frightening situation full of unknowns: Their child is missing.
Whether the child is 5 years old or 25, it’s somebody’s baby.
So what are you supposed to do if a loved one disappears?
Call police immediately, experts say. Time is critical.
“The sooner the parent or guardian responds, the better,” said Nancy McBride, national safety director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
In 2008, nearly 47,000 children were reported missing in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the national center. Most of those cases — the exact number is unknown — were resolved quickly and with the safe return of the child. Some involved repeat runaways.
When a child disappears, McBride suggests parents think like a child. Where might a boy or girl hide? Under furniture? Inside or under a car? Could they have locked themselves in the trunk?
But what should a parent do after calling police?
Said Drew Kesse, whose daughter Jennifer Kesse was 24 when she vanished from her Orlando condo in January 2006: Call hospitals and jails. The Kesses assigned friends and family to repeatedly call specific places and people. Then they hit the streets.
“That day, within three hours of getting to Orlando, we were standing on the corners with fliers,” Kesse said.
One thing the Kesses didn’t do that they wish they had is document the abduction area. Kesse suggests photographing everything from license plates to cars to people.
Talk to people in the area. Knock on every door. “These are the things you don’t think of,” he said.
Kesse said families also need to contact every media outlet they can.
“Start getting that face and that name out,” he said. “If you do have a family member strong enough, have that family member with police to do [media] interviews.”
When it comes to dealing with law enforcement, Kesse said to be as honest and upfront as possible. Keep on law-enforcement officials, and make sure they take a report.
‘It’s very confusing’
Mark Lunsford, whose daughter Jessica was abducted from their Citrus County home and killed by a neighbor, also has experienced the do’s and don’ts firsthand.
“It’s really a lot for a family to have to go through,” he said. “It’s very confusing.”
His advice: Distribute fliers, talk to the media often and let law enforcement do its job.
“I spent three days handing out fliers by myself,” he said. “You have to get out and do something.”
Kesse and Lunsford both said to be prepared for people or groups who offer to help but whose intentions are less than pure.
That echoes a warning from the federal government’s “survival guide” for parents of missing children: Be prepared to encounter some people who are obsessive or are trying to prey on you.
Lee Condon, a special-agent supervisor with the FDLE, said some groups devoted to missing-children’s issues provide a valuable service. But no relative of a missing child, she said, should dole out money for an investigation.
“All types of people will reach out to parents,” she said. “We just see some terrible things said to parents or done to parents.”
Lunsford said people who offered to help him find Jessica were only interested in helping themselves.
“Really, all they wanted was exposure. They never did anything to help,” he said. “It’s just so disturbing when I look back on it.”
Kesse said parents need research on the people who are approaching them. Are they a legitimate group? Are they simply looking to profit themselves?
Through it all, Kesse said, parents have to be proactive and not reactive.
“You can’t be someone who’s going to curl up in a corner,” he said. “The police can’t do it all.”
Amy L. Edwards can be reached at 407-420-5735 or [email protected]
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