Only a small percentage of missing children have actually been kidnapped, but it is worth knowing what to do in this worst case scenario. If you suspect your child has been kidnapped, there are certain steps you should be sure to follow.
Contact law enforcement
First, contact your local law enforcement agency as soon as you have determined your child is missing or has been abducted. Do not hesitate or delay in reporting your child missing to law enforcement (you should not wait 24 hours). When you call, be sure to provide the date, time, and location where your child was last seen, if you can remember it. Provide law enforcement with the name(s) of the last person/people who saw your child, if known.
Search and secure areas
Search any area in which a child could crawl, hide, or possibly be asleep or stuck – this includes closets, piles of laundry, in and under beds, inside large appliances, in vehicles including trunks, or any other space into which a child might fit. Check areas where your child was last seen or might have played, like open or abandoned wells, caves, sheds, and buildings. Also check around any dangerous places or areas nearby, while being as careful as possible in the process.
After you have contacted law enforcement, secure your child’s room and personal belongings until they have the opportunity to conduct a proper search. Identify any computers and wireless devices used by your child and secure them, but do not attempt to search these devices on your own. Ask law enforcement officials to look for clues on any messaging and social networking websites your child has or may have visited.
Provide as much information as possible
Another important step you need to take in a dire situation like this is to provide law enforcement with information about your child’s general health and any medical conditions or concerns. Make sure this information is as descriptive as possible and readily available for the first-responding, law-enforcement investigator. Descriptive information should include information such as a recent, clear, color photo of your child; a video of your child; a description of the what your child was wearing at the time they were last seen; cell and other phone numbers; their date of birth; their hair and eye color; their height and weight; their complexion; identifiers such as glasses or contact lenses, braces, body piercings, tattoos; and any other unique physical attributes that could assist in the search.
Additional information that you need to provide to law enforcement includes any information regarding custody issues, including court-ordered visitation conditions. You should also provide law enforcement with information about any recent changes you have noticed in your child’s behavior. If any individuals have recently shown unusual attention to, or interest in, your child, alert law enforcement of this information.
Obtain medical records from your child’s doctor, fingerprints, and dental records from your child’s dentist for law enforcement personnel. If possible, provide a DNA sample as well. If you do not have a DNA sample, you may be able collect samples from your missing child’s possessions such as their toothbrush or hairbrush if they have been used exclusively by your child for at least one month. Providing law enforcement with a list of their friends and places they frequently visit is also helpful.
If you have any information about the abductor/if they are known to you, provide law enforcement with the abductor’s photo, driver’s license number, credit-card numbers, cell and other phone numbers, passport numbers, and any other known information.
When communicating with law enforcement
When in communication with law enforcement, ask if an immediate community notification, such as an AMBER Alert™, has been considered. Also be sure to inquire about whether a neighborhood canvass will be conducted. While all of this is taking place, restrict access to the home, no matter where your child was last seen, until law enforcement has arrived and had the chance to search it and the surrounding area. Try to keep all phone lines open. Verify through the investigating law-enforcement agency that information about your missing child has been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File. Know that federal law requires law enforcement to enter information about a missing child into NCIC no more than two hours after the receipt of the report.
When a primary investigator has been assigned to your child’s case, be sure you obtain their name and contact information and keep it in a safe and readily-available location.
Contact and notify organizations
After notifying your local law enforcement, report your missing child to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC), as well as the missing-child clearinghouse in your state or territory. Your missing-child clearinghouse can be found by visiting www.missingkids.com, and searching from the home page for ‘Missing Child Clearinghouses’. If there are other nonprofit organizations in your area assisting families of missing children, contact those, too. For information about these kinds of organizations in your area, contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST
Another organization you should call is Child Find of America. You can reach them, toll-free, at 1-800-I-AM-LOST ( 1-800-426-5678). Once you are connected with Child Find, an intake coordinator will register your child, gather information, explain their process, guide you through next steps, answer questions, address concerns, and assign you a case manager. The case manager for your child will immediately begin investigating your case while working directly with you and coordinating efforts with law enforcement and allied agencies.
If your child may be a runaway, contact the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929) or visit www.1800runaway.org for help, including information about developing communication with your child. Call the Sheriff’s Department, state police, and police from adjoining jurisdictions. File any necessary reports and record the officers’ names, badge numbers, phone, fax, and report numbers. Obtain the border patrol number from law enforcement, and notify them, too. Also check with your child’s friends and their friends’ parents, work, neighbors, relatives, or anyone else who may know of their whereabouts.
Be proactive in your search
Go to your child’s school, speak with teachers and staff, and go through your child’s lockers and desks if possible. Find out if any of your child’s friends are missing – they may be together. Also check any of your computers for leads, such as online contacts and details of a planned meeting.
On your own, prepare posters of your missing child, including a recent photo and descriptive information. Post these in multiple locations within your local community. NCMEC may be able to provide you with copies of your child’s poster as soon as the poster has been certified by them for distribution.
It is key you make every effort to obtain local and national media attention regarding your missing child. If possible, conduct any television, radio, and newspaper interviews to discuss and direct any attention to your child.
In the event you need financial assistance in the search for your missing child, contact the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime at 1-800-851-3420 or visit www.ovc.gov and they may be able to help. Check your local phone directory for crime-victim-compensation or crime-victim-assistance programs, too.
Overall, remember this
Stay in regular contact with law enforcement, the media, and local government officials during the search for your child, and try to conduct periodic press conferences and planned events related to the search, so the disappearance is kept in the public eye.
If your child is located, notify law enforcement, NCMEC, and other agencies assisting in the search as soon as possible.