Between 1979 and 1981 a series of high-profile missing-children cases became national headlines. Three such cases contributed to the shock of the nation’s consciousness bringing attention to the seriousness of child victimization and forever changing the response by law-enforcement agencies to reports of missing children.
On May 25, 1979, Etan Patz disappeared from a New York City street on his way to school. Even before cases of missing children routinely garnered national media attention, Etan’s case quickly received a lot of coverage. His father, a professional photographer, disseminated black-and-white photographs of Etan in an effort to find him. The massive search and media attention that followed focused the nation’s attention on the problem of child abduction and lack of plans to address it.
For almost three years national media attention was focused on Atlanta, Georgia, where the bodies of young boys and girls were discovered in lakes, marshes, and ponds along roadside trails. By the time a suspect was arrested and identified in 1981, 29 bodies were recovered. The suspect was apprehended, convicted, and now serves a life sentence in prison.
On July 27, 1981, 6-year-old Adam Walsh disappeared from a Florida shopping mall. His parents, John and Revé Walsh, immediately turned to law-enforcement agencies to help find their son. To their disappointment, there was no coordinated effort among law enforcement to search for Adam on a state or national level, and no organization to help them in their desperation.
The tragedies of these children and others exposed a fundamental flaw. There was no coordinated effort between federal, state, and local law enforcement; no national response system in place; and no central resource to help searching families. When it came to handling missing-children cases, the United States was a nation of 50 states often acting like 50 separate countries.
The momentum that began with the disappearance of Etan, Adam, and the 29 missing and murdered children of Atlanta led to photographs of missing children on milk cartons and, ultimately, a nationwide movement. In 1983 President Ronald Regan proclaimed May 25 National Missing Children’s Day. Each administration since has honored this annual reminder to the nation to renew efforts to reunite missing children with their families and make child protection a national priority. National Missing Children’s Day is a reminder to all parents and guardians of the need for high-quality photographs of their children for use in case of an emergency, and for the need for everyone to pay close attention to the posters and photographs of missing children.
Every year in America, an estimated 800,000 children are reported missing, more than 2,000 children each day. Of that number, 200,000 are abducted by family members and 58,000 are abducted by non-family members, for which the primary motive is sexual. Each year, 115 children are the victims of the most serious abductions; they are taken by non-family members and either murdered, ransomed or taken with the intent to keep.
As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, Child Quest International is dedicated to the prevention and recovery of missing, abused, and exploited children. If you are in need of services aimed at locating and reuniting missing children with their loved ones, or no someone who is, please contact us at 888-818-HOPE. Child Quest International never charges a fee to law enforcement or searching families for our services.