The following post appears courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs, Mary Lou Leary
The disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz on May 25, 1979, of Adam Walsh in 1981, and the murders of 29 children in Atlanta during those same years forced our nation to realize we had no national response system in place to coordinate the efforts among federal, state, and local law enforcement when children went missing. We had no central resource to help families searching for their children. The momentum generated by a concerned public following these disappearances led to photographs of missing children on milk cartons — and ultimately a nationwide movement.
Each president since Ronald Reagan has commemorated May 25th as National Missing Children’s Day to remind the nation to make child protection a national priority.
At a moving ceremony this Wednesday, I listened as Deputy Attorney General James Cole paid tribute to four individuals — a special agent, a detective, a 30-year veteran of the postal service, and a prosecutor– for their extraordinary efforts to recover missing children, rescue children from abuse, and prosecute sexual predators. These jobs are among the toughest in law enforcement, as Deputy Attorney General Cole said:
Your jobs are among the most intellectually challenging and emotionally wrenching. You uncover crimes of depravity and cold calculation. Most people would cower from the prospect but you rise to meet the challenge, knowing that these kids and their communities are depending on you. We commend you for your service.
Yvonne Pointer, a mother who experienced this pain and loss firsthand, also spoke passionately and poignantly during the ceremony about her daughter Gloria, who was abducted, raped, and murdered when she was 14 years old. Since then Yvonne has become a passionate advocate, working to stop crimes against children and to give a voice to families who have lost a loved one.
I’m proud that the Office of Justice Programs plays such a central role in the Justice Department’s efforts on behalf of children. We fund programs, we train practitioners, and we support research to make these efforts increasingly more successful and effective. Our work with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program has made a difference in neighborhoods across the country in the lives of many children and their families. As the AMBER Alert Program National Coordinator, I’m gratified to report the program has led to the successful recovery of 584 abducted children since its creation in 1996.
Attorney General Holder has long been committed to children’s safety and well-being. His Defending Childhood initiative, has created a national task force of experts who have heard about children’s exposure to violence from practitioners, policymakers, academics, community members, and survivors at four public hearings in the past six months. The task force will synthesize its recommendations in a final report to the Attorney General later this year.
We know that the powerful voices of those most affected by violence will spur the task force to find new tools for preventing and reducing the effects of children’s exposure to violence, just as our annual National Missing Children’s Day event reminds us of the importance of working together to recover missing children and rescue them from harm’s way.
As Yvonne Pointer said so eloquently:
“Today we are reminded why we commemorate this day and why we must continue to speak for children who have lost their voices and those that are still missing. We must be the strength of our communities and the keeper of our children. We must never give up this mission. Never give up hope.”
Indeed, as yesterday’s developments in the Etan Patz case demonstrate, we can never give up on seeking justice for these children and their families.
Working together, we can and will make a difference for our children.