Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

My Baby is Missing!

What Else Can Be Done?

From an investigative standpoint, child kidnapping is one of the most emotionally charged and difficult criminal cases for the law enforcement officer. Time is the merciless enemy. Studies have shown that most children (74%) who are murdered during stranger kidnappings are killed within the first few hours of the event (OJJDP, 1997). Therefore it is imperative that investigators utilize every tool available to them including the awesome power of the media. Amber alerts, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2003, provide for blanket media coverage whenever a child is kidnapped. In addition, government funds have been allocated to maintain and improve the national alert network. From the initial responder to each and every member of the investigative team, it is critical that a full agency response be enacted to ensure the safe return of the victim.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Logo
National Center for Missing &
Exploited Children Logo

For parents of the victim, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ( and OJJDP ( have several recommendations. It is probably never a good idea to send a small child on an errand alone or walk to school unescorted. We have seen that most abductions take place near the child's home, some as close as 200 feet. Children are well advised never to approach an occupied car or accept a ride from anyone without a parent present. That includes a driver who asks for directions. Children should be told to retreat from such a request. It is also the responsibility of adults to take notice of anyone suspicious in their own neighborhoods. Attention should be paid to any strangers who may be lurking around schoolyards or playgrounds. Keep in mind that most offenders have prior contact with the victim. And that contact is usually a visual observation. If you have any doubt that someone is suspicious, call the police and let them decide. They will at least identify that person and determine his legitimacy for being where he is.

If a child is abducted, first and foremost, the incident must be promptly reported to the police. Speed is absolutely essential. The police must be brought in as soon as possible. The more time that passes between the event and the introduction of law enforcement increases the likelihood of harm to the child. If the incident occurred in the home, restrict access to the house until police arrive. Expect to be asked to take a polygraph test. Better still, volunteer to take one. This will help investigators move on to other suspects. Even though some parents may find polygraphs insulting, it is a necessary step to quickly eliminate any suspicion.

A United States Justice Department study in 1990 that examined over 8,000 child murders discovered that the parents were responsible in 57 percent of the cases in which the victim was under twelve years of age. Moreover, if the child was found murdered in his or her own home, the likelihood the parents were involved was over 90 percent. That may explain why many police investigators suspected the Ramseys had something to do with JonBenet's murder. Statistically, the parents are the first and best suspects in a murder of this kind.

Parents must understand that police are automatically suspicious at anything that seems even a little out of place in a murder case. That suspicion grows every moment that a parent either refuses to answer questions or seems evasive during the investigation. The best advice that can be given to parents whose children are abducted is to cooperate fully with police, even if the questions are repetitious, even if asked for the child's hair or DNA samples, even if asked to take a polygraph. There's no time to waste in the first 24 hours of a stranger kidnapping. As we have seen, that time period is the most critical. Police need to act quickly and decisively. Remember, the primary goal of any abduction investigation is to return the child to the safety of the parents.

For additional information on the issues surrounding child abduction visit the following websites:


Etan Patz is still missing. Hope for his survival is all but gone. At the time of his disappearance on May 25, 1979, a massive search was undertaken by police. "We're doing a floor by floor, wall by wall, rooftop by rooftop, backyard by backyard search," said one investigator to the press. Helicopters, search dogs and specially trained bloodhounds were brought in to help with the dragnet. Detectives were able to ascertain that Etan walked along Prince Street, past Greene Street and then somewhere between Wooster Street and West Broadway, he simply disappeared. Someone took him off the street without being noticed and without causing a commotion. The entire neighborhood was turned upside down. "Every loft in the area was gone through, not once but three times," one resident told a reporter from the Times, "right down to the bottom of our dresser drawers!"

Over 500 police personnel and detectives were assigned to the case in the first few days of Etan's disappearance. The investigation led police across America, overseas, into Israel and western Europe. New hope was inspired by the discovery of a photograph in Massachusetts some time ago that strongly resembled Etan. It was found in the possession of a member of NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Association. Later, it was proven that the photo was not one of Etan. There have been many ups and downs in the valley of despair for Stanley and Julie Patz.

"I'm fairly certain Etan is no longer with us," said a former prosecutor who worked on the case to reporters, "I'm certain the person responsible is behind bars." But officially, the case is open. Until Etan's body is found, or additional information is received that can be validated, the investigation will go on.

In the meantime, the Patz family continues their courageous, endless journey through a living hell.

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