For many parents, there is no greater or more visceral fear than the possibility of losing a young child. In the event of a missing child, area law enforcement have some advice about things parents and loved ones need to know before an emergency happens.
Here are the top five need to know things if a child is lost.
1. Remain calm and immediately reach out to the police.
“Of course the first thing you should do is contact law enforcement,” Denison Police Lt. Mike Eppler said last week. “We try to determine very quickly what is going on with the case.”
While the first instinct may be to panic, Eppler said the sometimes are benign reasons for a child to appear to be missing. Especially with young children in a home, Eppler said it is not uncommon for them to wander into another room. In some cases, Eppler said a child that was thought to be missing to be found asleep in a closet, for example.
2. Details are key in the investigation.
When talking to police, Eppler said that parents and guardians should give as detailed of information as possible, including a description of clothing and the addresses of any friends or family members who the child may have gone to visit.
“Time is critical in these situations,” Grayson County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sarah Bigham said. “Be able to give the following information to the law enforcement agency: age of child, a description of clothing, a recent photo, direction of travel (if known), any diagnosed medical issues and if the child left under their own power or if someone was seen taking the child.”
3. Nationwide networks are available to help law enforcement.
In the event of a runaway situation, Eppler said area law enforcement will distribute the information regarding the child through a nationwide network that will distribute the information widely.
“Any where in the nation that that child is seen, it will cause a hit on the network,” he said.
However, in most cases, the child does not travel far from home in these cases, he said.
Other alerts, including the Amber Alert system, are reserved specifically for abduction cases related to individuals age 17 or under. In order to issue an Amber Alert, local law enforcement must believe that the child is in immediate danger of serious bodily harm of death. Law enforcement must also have enough information available, including the identity of the suspect and vehicle used in the abduction, to be able to provide the public enough information to assist in locating the child.
“Amber Alerts are only requested by local agencies in Texas,” Bigham said. “The alerts are actually issued on the State level, but only if they meet all of this criteria.”
4. There are no rules. Situational differences make each investigation different.
With regard to outside assistance, both Eppler and Bigham said there are no strict rules on when a local agency can bring in assistance from organizations including the FBI and Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety, among others. Instead, it varies on a case-by-case basis, both said.
“If we felt that the situation called for additional resources that we did not have within the Sheriff’s Office then we would reach out to agencies like these to assist in any type of case,” Bigham said.
5. Social media can help.
For longer cases, Bigham recommended families turn to social media to help distribute information to a wider audience and keep the message fresh in people’s minds.
“It takes two seconds to share a photo on social media,” she said. “Look for different ways of distributing the photos and information.”