This past May 25th I was honored to attend National Missing Children’s Day ceremony in Washington D.C. I was also honored by hosting a victim family from Indian Country. Their personal loss has given purpose and meaning to what you and I strive to do every day - keep our children safe.
I have attended many Missing Children’s Day ceremonies over the years, and each time I am saddened by what I know has taken place, yet also elated by the law enforcement and other individuals whose efforts became successes. Since the inception of AMBER Alert almost 900 children have been rescued and recovered alive; and that my friends is light years from where we were just a few short years ago.
Imagine if you will that a few years ago, you and a stranger are running together into a police station at the same time due to emergencies and you both need immediate help. Exhausted and out of breath, the stranger gets there a split second sooner than you and he says to the officer “My horse has been stolen!” The officer takes his information and begins the department’s standard operating procedure for stolen horses. Then the officer asks what he can do for you and you spurt out “My child has been stolen!” The officer takes information from you then asks “Have you checked with you neighbors, or grandma’s house, or at some of your child’s friends’ houses? Don’t worry, they’ll probably show up soon.” It is at that moment you realize law enforcement had a standard operating procedure for stolen animals, but not stolen children.
In the not so distant past, police could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns, even stolen horses into the FBI's crime database – but not stolen children.
In 1979, 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared from a New York street on his way to school. Soon after that, 29 children and young adults were found murdered in Atlanta. In 1981, 6-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from a Florida shopping mall and later found murdered. Our nation at that time was slowly waking up to the fact that more and more children were becoming targeted by morally ruthless predators.
Over the next few years with the combined assistance of victim parents, such as Adam Walsh’s parents John and Reve Walsh, the support of former past Presidents, the U.S. Congress, many dedicated law enforcement professionals and child advocate organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we now have a series of important laws relating to swift and comprehensive response to missing, abducted and sexually exploited children. And we have the AMBER Alert; a best-practice standard operating procedures for a coordinated response between law enforcement, the media, transportation and the public when a child is abducted. These laws and innovative, grass-roots programs such as AMBER Alert, form a bedrock upon which to stand in the fight to identify and interdict those who would seek to harm our children, and to find and safely recover children who go missing or are abducted.
In 1996, the AMBER Alert System got its beginnings in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, when broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The acronym was created as a legacy to 9- year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and brutally murdered.
Every May 25th, the anniversary of Etan Patz's disappearance, the Nation observes Missing Children's Day. National Missing Children's Day honors lay people and law enforcement alike that have aided and assisted in the recovery of missing children. This special day is a reminder to all parents, guardians, families and communities that every child deserves a safe childhood.
I encourage you and your tribal organization to become a working part of AMBER Alert in Indian Country. We may not be able to save every child that goes missing but we now have the means to make rescue and recovery possible.
Whether you are a law enforcement officer, teacher, social worker or serving in a similar child protection and advocacy role, I believe it is urgent that we keep child safety at the forefront of our efforts. We do this together, through collaboration, through community, through supporting one another in working hard and to remaining strong as we fight to protect our children.
It has been documented that the great Sioux leader Sitting Bull was quoted as saying, “For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”
My AMBER Alert in Indian Country colleagues and I look forward to sharing our experiences with you, and more importantly, learning from you and your community as we venture forward together.
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Do Na Da Go huh I (Doe Naw Daw Go Huh ee).
UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN.
Ron Gurley M.S. Ed.