UTAH GUMSHOE PODCAST – EPISODE #68 – MAY 1, 2017
RUNAWAYS AND MISSING CHILDREN INVESTIGATIONS
The topic of runaways and missing children is fairly complicated. I can tell you right now we’re simply not going to have the time to cover every aspect of this type of investigation. In retrospect, it probably would’ve been better to do one podcast on runaways and another on missing children, but much of this information applies to both types of cases. I will be offering tips, resources and methods you can use, to recover runaways and find missing children. They’ll go a long towards helping you be successful with this type of investigation.
According to the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, about 800,000 children go missing every year in the United States. You should also know that the first 2 to 3 hours they are missing are absolutely critical. About two-thirds of abducted children who are murdered, are killed within the first 2 to 3 hours. The longer they’re missing, the more likely it is that they’re dead. I know that’s an unpleasant thought, and there are exceptions, such as the abduction of Elizabeth Smart here in Utah. By the way that statistic refers specifically to children that are abducted. But for the purposes of this podcast we’re talking about runaways (those who apparently leave on their own volition), and missing children (those who it is assumed, did NOT leave voluntarily). I would also add that stranger abductions are actually very rare. However, in those situations the first contact between the child and the stranger typically occurs less than a half mile from the home. But the overwhelming majority of missing children are taken by relatives or acquaintances.
So, if you’re a private investigator and you’re called in to locate a runaway or a missing child, what do you do first? Well, the first thing you do is call local law enforcement immediately. Make sure they enter the child as a missing person in the NCIC missing person’s database. The NCIC is the National Crime Information Center. It’s a computer database maintained by the FBI and available to all law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. The child can be listed as a missing person. And, unlike adults, where there is a waiting period before they can be listed, there is no such waiting period for minors. Make sure you provide local law enforcement with pictures and information about the child. They will then alert all their officers to be on the lookout for the child. This means you’ll need to know the child’s name, date of birth, height, weight, hair color, distinguishing marks and what they were wearing before they disappeared. Do they have braces or wear eye glasses?
I would also recommend you contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Go ahead and write this number down….you can reach the NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST. That’s 1-800-843-5678. The NCMEC can work with you and law enforcement, and they also have some excellent quick-reference guides and other helpful publications. You can find more information on the NCMEC at www.MissingKids.com
Additionally, the National Runaway Safeline can provide assistance and support for runaways. Call 1-800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929). They can actually leave your message for your child, should your child get in touch with them. They can really help you in getting the word out. Find them at www.1800runaway.org.
Finally, there’s also the issuance of an Amber Alert. There are some misconceptions about Amber Alerts. You should know that Amber Alerts are typically only issued when law enforcement confirms that it is a stranger abduction AND the child is at risk for serious bodily injury or death. In fact, while I was writing this podcast there were no active Amber Alerts in the U.S. You can find more information at www.amberalert.gov.
When it comes to runaways and missing children…in some cases, the older the child is, the less excited law enforcement may be. That’s a function of the sheer number of runaways each year and the heavy workload the police have. Obviously, a missing 4 year old is in greater danger and will get more attention than a missing 17 year old that runs away simply because she doesn’t like the house rules.
We’re talking about Runaways and Missing Children Investigations.
Once law enforcement has been notified and the child’s information has been entered into the NCIC database, then you’ll need to get cracking on other efforts. You’ll want to do a concentrated search of both the home and property; wherever the child disappeared. Ask yourself, why would they run away? And be honest. What are their motives? Do they want to live with their father in another state? Did they not like the house rules? Often these motivations can provide clues. Make sure you get the name and contact information of the police officer assigned to your case. In fact, you’ll want to get a legal pad or notebook and began writing down everything you do, as well as names, dates, phone numbers, etc.
Create a flyer. Use a recent picture of the child (with a close-up of their face). Make sure to list their age, weight, hair and eye color, distinguishing marks and what they were wearing before they disappeared. Get copies of the flyer out to bus and train stations, convenience stores, bus stops, grocery stores and other high traffic areas.
Organize searches with family, friends and local volunteers. Again, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children can help. Contact relatives and family friends the missing child may likely turn to.
-Regardless of the reason they left home do not turn off their cell phones. They can be used by law enforcement to locate their whereabouts. Make sure you have someone monitor their social media. Again, if the child is a runaway you’ll want to monitor social media for clues as to their location and activities. But you may not want to interact with the child on social media. Many runaways do NOT want to be found and the account may go dormant or even be closed if they know you’re monitoring it.
I had a runaway case a couple of months ago where this happened. The client monitored, and then ended up pleading with the child on an Instagram account to come home. As a result, the child stopped using the account. No matter. I found her anyway. Speaking of social media, DO use it to get the word out. Set up a Facebook page with all the missing child’s particulars. Encourage everyone to share it.
Contact the local news and get them to cover the story, as well as any searches. We’re talking radio, television and newspapers. The idea is to flood the area with missing child’s picture. Make sure to connect with people you know that can help get the flyer out exponentially.
You’ll also want to search the child’s bedroom for computers, laptops, hidden cell phones, diaries, flash drives and address books. Don’t forget to look in trash cans and coat pockets. And check other memory devices such as Xbox or iPods. Do they have a telephone in their bedroom? Pick it up and dial *69. That’ll give you the last telephone number the child dialed. Does the child take medication that needs to be refilled? Alert the pharmacy. Look for anything and everything that can give you clues as to where they are or where they might go.
Talk to teachers, coaches and band directors at the child’s school. Check their school locker. And speak with close friends. They are often more aware of what the child is going through. Keep in mind the child’s friends may or may not be helpful. I located one runaway because I followed the child’s friend after work. I found the runaway living at the friend’s house. She had cut her hair and tried to alter her appearance.
There are no easy answers to these types of cases. And I haven’t begun to scratch the surface when it comes to these types of cases…but whether it’s a stranger or family member abduction, the child just wandered off, or the child ran away, hopefully these tips will help
Until next time, this is Scott Fulmer, the Utah Gumshoe, reminding you that game…is afoot!