On Saturday morning February 25, 2011, I boarded a plane for Washington, DC to attend three days of training at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The training is offered free of charge to qualified individuals, including airfare and accommodations.
Police Chiefs from all over the country participated in this training session. On our first day, we arrived at the Jimmy Ryce Law Enforcement Training Center for an introduction to the Center and the issues they address concerning missing and exploited children. There was discussion regarding internet crimes against children, homicide studies of children, and prevention of family abduction. We were introduced to legislation that has been enacted and legislation that is being proposed. We also discussed developing a law enforcement strategy to deal with these types of problems, including a model policy, AMBER alert, Child recovery plans, and media relations.
That afternoon met a guest speaker, the mother of a child who was abducted in 1995 at the age of six. This mother told the class she had gone to a Little League baseball game with her daughter in a very small town where the Police Department only had four full-time Officers. During the game, the child asked if she could look for fireflies with the other children.
At first, the mother said no, but when the child asked again, she felt she was being over-protective and allowed her to go with an eight-year old boy and another six-year old girl. She told us she could see the children in a nearby parking lot. When the game ended, the mother saw the other two children heading back toward the baseball field, but she did not see her daughter. When she asked the other children where her daughter was, they told her she was near the family vehicle. The mother checked the vehicle and could not find her daughter.
The child had been abducted. This launched an investigation that continues to this day. This mother has never given up hope that her daughter will someday return. She explained to us as Police Officers how we can most help the family during a tragedy like this, and how important it is that we communicate how we are working to return their lost child.
As this woman spoke, the room was completely silent. I felt my throat tighten and my eyes start to tear, and I was not the only person in the room reacting this way. I could still feel the pain from this person who had lost a child 16 years ago. When she finished, we gave her a standing ovation.
During the remaining days of training, we all learned about many other crimes we all hope we never need to investigate, but realize we need to be prepared to do so effectively when necessary. As your Police Chief, it is very important that I understand how to properly conduct an investigation when it deals with a child, whether the child has been sexually assaulted, abducted, abused by a family member or a family friend, or being targeted on the internet.
These crimes have happened in Tyngsborough in the past and they will happen again. As we move toward the future, I will be sending other officers to similar training for Patrol Officers, Detective, and Supervisors, to ensure we all so they have a better understanding of the horrible crimes directed at victims who are most helpless and innocent.
This is a difficult topic to discuss because people fear it and do not want to believe it could happen to them. If we acknowledge and understand that these crimes can occur and we are prepared to deal with them if they do occur, we are better equipped to protect our children.
As a father with two adult children, I remember when they were young how I protected them, and could not imagine anyone hurting my little angels. My wish is that we could protect them all. As we were told at the end of the three days in class, kiss your kids “because you can.”
If you are interested in learning more about the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, you can visit their website at www.missingkids.com