Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

My Baby is Missing!

Who is the Suspect?

A kidnapping is the type of abduction that is most harmful to the child, both psychologically and physically. Many of these incidents also involve some type of sexual activity. An earlier study that was funded by the Justice Departments Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) confirmed that figure and provided additional insight on the child abduction problem. This survey was conducted in 1997 and examined 600 abduction cases across the nation. Findings were very similar to the NISMART project, though not identical.

The OJJDP study concluded that the most typical victim in a child abduction murder was an eleven-year-old white female from a middle class neighborhood. This mirrors the NISMART finding that 69% of the victims were female and 80% were less than 14 years old. The suspect in the case had been arrested for prior offenses against children 53% of the time and the most common crime was sexual in nature. The abductor was usually a white male, single and about 27 years old. They were either unemployed or worked in unskilled jobs, lived alone or with parents. NISMART found that the suspect was less than 29 years old in 67% of the cases.

At the time of the abduction, the offender had a valid reason for being at the scene of the crime. These reasons included a residence near the site, some type of social activity or work related duties. Over 57% of these types of abductions were considered crimes of opportunity. The method of abduction in 65% of the incidents was a sighting, a sudden assault and a quick abduction. In 53% of the incidents, the first contact between victim and suspect took place near the childs home. In 33% of the cases, the contact took place less than 200 feet from the home. NISMART concluded that only 5% of stranger abductions took place in the victims home or yard.

Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart

Based on these OJJDP findings, parents would be well advised not to expose their children to danger by associating with people who have a history of deviant or criminal behavior. And if that history includes prior crimes against children, the risk of danger is magnified greatly. In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted at gunpoint from her home in Salt Lake City. After an avalanche of publicity and a search conducted by tens of thousands of police and volunteers, investigators still had no solid leads. It wasnt until Elizabeths own younger sister recalled a workman who visited the Smart home in 2001 that a suspect was developed.

Brian David Mitchell
Brian David Mitchell

I think I know who he might be, the 10-year-old said to police. On March 12, 2003, almost nine moths after she was abducted, Brian David Mitchell, 49, was arrested and charged with kidnapping. Elizabeth was found in his custody and safely returned to her parents. During her captivity, she was allegedly sexually assaulted several times. Later, it was discovered that her mother, Lois Smart, had picked up Mitchell off the street in downtown Salt Lake City in 2001 and brought him home to do some minor chores. Mitchell had spent several hours raking leaves and repairing the roof. During that time, he also observed Elizabeth who was home at the time.

The Smart kidnapping emphasizes several characteristics that child abductors seem to have in common. First, they most often have a prior visual sighting of the victim and the initial contact is frequently made at or near the home. Secondly, the motivation for the crime is often sexual in nature. The victim is usually a female under 14 and the suspect is an unemployed white male with a criminal record. Though the alleged kidnapper, Brian Mitchell, was 20 years older than the NISMART average, he fit the profile reasonably well. Elizabeth Smart could be considered a very lucky victim. Thats because females her age, who are abducted under similar circumstances, stand a very good chance of being killed.

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