- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

Tuesday marks the 21st anniversary of National Missing Children’s Day, an event that brings awareness to the prevalent problem, commemorates the victims and shows appreciation to the workers who search for the missing.

“When a young child is taken by the violent and predatory, we cannot stand idle. We demand accountability. We demand justice,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft.

President Reagan initiated the observance in 1983 to bring attention to the issue of missing and abducted children nationwide. Mr. Reagan chose May 25 because that was the day 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared from a street corner in New York City on his way to school in 1979.

Etan’s case remains unsolved.

However, the attention brought to the high-profile case was due to his father, Stanley Patz, a professional photographer. He widely distributed pictures of his son, which was the inspiration behind pasting pictures of missing children on the side of milk cartons.

John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back,” co-founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 1984 after his own son, Adam, was abducted and killed during the summer of 1981.

NCMEC is a private nonprofit organization that has been identified by the federal government as “the resource for finding and coping with missing and exploited children.”

Jerry Nance, a case manager at NCMEC, encourages parents to take DNA samples of their children, from their teeth or hair. He said DNA test kits also are available to the public for about $20.

“There are many ways that children can become identified. DNA has become the gold standard,” he said.

The NCMEC also asks the public to take the time to look at the pictures on post cards, in department stores and in federal buildings.

Government figures show that since NCMEC’s founding in 1984 it has investigated 73,000 cases and helped recover more than 48,000 missing and exploited children.

According to a 1999 study done by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention there are 797,500 children missing nationwide.

The largest number of reported abductions are of “runaways,” which is followed by family abductions.

The center also helps children who have been sexually exploited. According to NCMEC, one in five girls and one in 10 boys are sexually exploited by the time they reach adulthood, yet only 35 percent of the incidents are reported.

The center also started the Amber Alert system to help law enforcement find abducted children by getting the information to the public quickly.

Now, all 48 contiguous states have the system in place. Two years ago only nine programs existed.

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