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How long do I have to wait before I can report my child as missing?

Missing Children

Marc Klaas (President & Founder, KlaasKids Foundation) gives expert video advice on: What do I do if I suspect my child is missing?; What do I do if I have information about a missing child? and more...

How long do I have to wait before I can report my child as missing?

If a parent believes their child is missing, they can report that to the authorities immediately. There is an urban myth out there that one has to wait 24 hours before one can report a missing person, and that myth is based upon a very famous missing child case in 1932. The child was Charles Lindbergh Jr. Charles Lindbergh was the most famous man in America at that time and his child was kidnapped. As a result of that kidnapping, a piece of legislation was passed called the Lindbergh law. The Lindbergh law allowed the FBI to get involved in missing child and/or kidnapping cases based on the presumption that, within 24 hours, a kidnapper could cross state lines. That has, then, grown into this misconception that one does have to wait 24 hours. But there is absolutely no time period whatsoever and one should never allow a cop or any other person in authority to tell you that there is.

What do I do if I suspect my child is missing?

Well, it depends on the circumstances. The first thing you want to do is check around your house. The second thing you want to do is check with your child's friends and acquaintances. If the child has been to school you would probably want to check with the authorities there. If after making those cursory checks, you still believe that there's a problem, particularly escalating, if you think it is a grave problem, the first thing you want to do is call your local authorities, your local police. But you don't stop there. You also call the police chiefs or the agencies in the surrounding communities. You also call the county sheriff. You also call the state police. You also call the Federal Bureau of Investigation, simply because, if for no other reason, they have agents that are specifically trained in missing child situations. They also have resources that are absolutely unparalleled. Then you want to start calling media assignment desks around your community. Not necessarily so that they'll take action, but so that they'll know that if the word does come from the authorities that there's a parent there that's willing to talk to them about the child. You then want to start calling non-profit organizations. You want to call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, although I don't believe they're nearly as important as they seem to believe they are. But probably more importantly would be any kind of local agencies that deal in that issue, because they're able to offer certain kinds of services. Perhaps a search service, perhaps put you in touch with a sympathetic reporter, perhaps help act as a liaison between a family and the local authorities, because when you find yourself in a situation where your child is missing, you are thrust into a world that you have absolutely no preparation for. So anybody that can help you through that maze is a welcome friend at that time.

What does the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children do for missing children?

I can tell you that in our particular case, we never even got fliers from them. They couldn't have been less impactful. Had they not existed, they couldn't have been less impactful. So, I believe that the best resource, when a family is faced with a child that's been abducted or is otherwise missing, the absolutely best resources would be the local resources. Any child find organization, and most states have them, most communities have some kind of connection to them, can offer you search services, offer you counselling services, offer you help with the media and/or law enforcement, or help you with flier creation and distribution. Those are the resources that are really vital and very, very necessary when a child goes missing. I think another good resource, particularly if one is having difficulty with law enforcement, is beyondmissing.com because at that resource you're able to create your own missing child flier. When I say having trouble with law enforcement, I mean a runaway kind of a situation, or if the cops say it's a runaway situation. Then you're able to create your own flier, you can save it as a PDF, and you can then Google a distribution list. When I say that, I'm talking about things like, maybe friends and family, maybe teen shelters, maybe runaway shelters, or if you think your child is gone in another community, you can do the same thing for that community. Start creating email distribution lists and then start emailing that PDF file to those locations, and you can really go a long way towards working towards your own recovery by doing that.

What do I do if I have information about a missing child?

If you have information about a missing child, contact the authorities. It's as simple as that. What the authorities will then do is prioritize that lead based on the type of lead. There's hot leads and there's cold leads. If you're in a convenience store and you see somebody that you're convinced is a missing child, and this occured just last year, you would want to contact the authorities so that they can move on that lead quickly. But if you're driving up the highway and you see someone coming the other direction and you think maybe it was that child, they're going to prioritize that very differently. Because it will be an individual you saw for maybe one second or something like that. So they'll then treat it differently from a hot lead.