Searching For Missing Children
Searching For Missing Children
Marc Klaas (President & Founder, KlaasKids Foundation) gives expert video advice on: Who can I call to organize a search party for my missing child?; How can parents use the Beyond Missing website?; Why is it important for parents to be active in the search for their missing child? and more...
What is a "search party"?
Law enforcement has huge responsibilities when a child is missing. They have to investigate numerous things. They start with the family, they have to eliminate family members so they can then focus their resource on friends of the family or peripheral contacts of the family or registered sex offenders within your community or then, ultimately, a stranger kind of scenario. Most law enforcement agencies are overtaxed and understaffed. And under funded. Therefore, one of the things that volunteers can do, and this is huge, is eliminate geography by searching for the child. But that has to be done in a very organized and in a very professional way. When I say that, what I mean is you have to use maps, you have to use grid searches, you have to do it in a way that you're searching certain areas but you're not necessarily tipping your hand as to where you're searching because everybody is someplace. So what we know is that when children are kidnapped, such as my daughter was kidnapped, and this is kind of unbelievable, that you have a big world there that you have to look through, but there's not a kidnapper in America that has ever taken a child more than a hundred yards in from a road. So, you have to be able to then search that road, on both sides, in for a hundred yards, but you don't have to search the entire mountain behind the road because you know that the child's not going to be there. Well I know that, and now you know that, but the vast majority of parents that find themselves in this difficult situation don't know that, which is probably why they're not the best people to lead the search, but they're certainly the best people to find somebody to lead the search and to encourage friends, family and volunteers to get involved in that kind of an effort.
Who can I call to organize a search party for my missing child?
If you want to do a search, contact my organization, the class kids foundation, because we have a search director on staff. We have an individual that we make available to go anywhere in the country to organize a search for a missing child and we do that at our expense with absolutely no conditions whatsoever.
What is "Beyond Missing"?
Well, Beyond Missing was conceived as an internet resource. It's an interesting story. The first missing child to have their face on a poster was a little boy named Charlie Ross in 1874. The technology for missing child posters did not alter one iota for over a hundred years. When Polly was kidnapped in 1993, we had a very difficult time getting her flyer out becuse it was right back to the technology that they'd used with Charlie Ross. You printed something out on a press then you did some kind of distribution. You tacked stuff up on telephone poles or you sent stuff through the mail. In Polly's case, we got thousands of flyers. We acquired a mailing list. We mortgaged a home to buy stamps to put on the envelopes that we hand-addressed, put the flyers in, and then sent to the recipients. It took several thousand dollars and eight days to start getting those flyers delivered. Well, it seemed to me - and interestingly enough, this was also near the dawn of the internet, and being in northern California, we had some people that had knowledge of the fledgling internet and computer technology. My daughter became the first child to be successfully transmitted across the internet as a missing child. So one was able to get her flyer in places as diverse as Calcutta, Bangledesh, or Paris, France. And her flyer appeared in both those places in pristine iterations. It seemed to me that there should be an internet utilization in the missing child industry, but there wasn't from that point on. And I encouraged people, including the national center, to do something about that, but the status quo seemed good enough. So in 2001, I invested some of my own money and hired somebody to create a website that would allow already used internet tools to be used for the search for missing kids. The ability to upload a picture onto a template, the ability to fill out form fields, and then the ability to email that product to pre-populated distribution lists. And when we created it and found that it worked, we then went to government - I went to a congressman, and he helped me acquire funding so that we would then be able to offer this tool to America's law-enforcement community at no cost to them based on the idea that what had took us thousands of dollars and eight days to do, was something that a local cop would be able to accomplish in ten minutes at absolutely no cost whatsoever.
How can parents use the Beyond Missing website?
Well as a parent you can use Beyond Missing, because that's one of the things we did. The vast majority of missing child case are initially considered runaway cases, which gives law enforcement an ability to opt out of an investigation. We know that there's a lot of frustration over that. So what we've done is we've created a parent flyer tool. Any parent can log on to the internet, on to Beyond Missing, and use those very same tools, upload a picture, fill out form fields, and create a very professional missing child flyer. They can then save that flyer as a pdf, it's a certain kind of computer file, and they can then create a distribution list, generally through Googling or build a list of their own, however they want to do it. of entities that might be able to use that file, media outlets, teen shelters, homeless shelters, really anywhere in the country. Then send that flyer that they've created themselves off to those entities. It's a way to really get involved in the recovery of your own child. It's really an evolution beyond sitting by the phone, as we were told to do, waiting for the ransom call to come in.
Why is it important for parents to be active in the search for their missing child?
The thing that every parent tells their child or every responsible parent tells their child that they'll always be their for them when they need them. Well I did that as well and it turned out that when my daughter really need me I wasn't there for her, and the best thing I could do in the aftermath of that was ensure that everybody worked very hard together to try to bring her home. As soon as a parent gives up hope, then law enforcement is going to give up hope, then the media is going to give up hope, then the volunteers are going to give up hope, then there is no hope whatsoever. So parents have to be actively involved, they have to be the cheerleader for their child, and they have to do everything they can to bring that kid home. If you're do less than that you're doing less than you should.
What have we learned from the mistakes made in the recovery of Polly Klaas?
The interesting thing is that the mistakes made in the recovery of Polly Klaas were made in 1993. In 1993, we had no sex offenders notification or registration. We had no Amber alert. We had no truth in sentencing. We had no legislation that would do anything except regurgitate these characters back into the streets time and time again. So we had no protocols for searching for missing children. So, basically, every time a child disappeared, they would have to reinvent the wheel each time. And all of those issues have been covered relatively well since Polly Klaas in 1933. But mistakes continue to exist and we see it time after time. In Polly's case, for instance, they put out an All Points Bulletin that the child had been kidnapped, but they said that the information wasn't for press release. Well that's an anti-Amber alert. Unfortunately, one of the local jurisdictions interpreted that to mean that they shouldn't notify the deputies in the patrol cars because the press might be monitoring radio frequencies. Well, unfortunately, two deputies in that agency had Polly's kidnapper within an hour. But instead of arresting him for kidnapping the child, and perhaps saving her life, they helped him pull his vehicle out of a ditch he had run it into, and sent him on his way. Now some of the things that people have to understand when they find themselves in a situation like this is that number one - law enforcement is going to look at you as the perpetrator. Because the vast majority of cases that we have spoken about are family-oriented cases. So it becomes incumbent upon individuals to work very hard with law enforcement to clear themselves of suspicion so that law enforcement then can move in other directions. And you also have to understand that law enforcement is working very hard to solve the case, but they have other responsibilities as well. So it becomes a very contentious relationship often times as time goes on. And one also has to understand that if the FBI gets involved, that they too need all of the respect that is due an agency that is trying to recover a child and one has to work as closely with them as one would work with the locals. And one of the things that really impressed me in hindsight about what happened in our case was that law enforcement told us that they would give us any relevant information on the case before we heard it from the media. And that proved to be a godsend near the end when rumors tended to be running rampant. And another choice and decision we made, I think it was a very good decision, was not to lawyer up. Often we see that people in situations like mine get lawyers to represent them. The problem with that is that the lawyer's representing you when the real goal is to recover the child. So it becomes that middleman situation again, where there's an extra body in the middle of something that shouldn't and need not be there and really becomes disruptive more than anything else. Sothat was the environment at that time. And those were some of the problems. And I think what came out of that is number one - that people like myself, parents with missing kids, have to be much more involved than they have been in the past. They have to work very closely with law enforcement. They have to work very closely with the media. They have to be cheerleaders for the volunteers. And they have to be able to demonstrate some form of leadership and keep hope alive. Because as soon as hope dies with the parents, then it dies with the cops, the media, the volunteers, and finally hope dies altogether and you'll never have a resolution.