By Sylvia Gonzalez
MIDLAND - The statistics are alarming, nearly 800,000 children younger than 18 years of age are missing each year. An average of 2,185 children are reported missing each day. According to David Boatright, Executive Director for the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, awareness is the key in finding missing children.
"Awareness is the key to helping find missing children and helping keep our children safe, the more people we have looking for missing children and the more people we have talking about child safety we are better off. West Texas is better off because they are better informed about the issues," Boatright said.
Just over 76 percent of abducted children who are murdered ended up dead within three hours of the abduction but any child who goes missing faces the risk of a life of unspeakable tragedy.
"We're most concerned recently with human trafficking and specifically about domestic minor sex trafficking in order to keep themselves safe from harm from the pimp or the abductor they are forced into prostitution. It's not a rural problem, it's not an urban problem, it's not a West Texas or East Texas problem, it's a problem across the state of Texas," Boatright said.
From 1997 through March 2012, the Amber Alert Program has been credited with the safe recovery of 572 children.
Sherrie Carruth with the Odessa Police Department explains what determines when an Amber Alert is issued when a child goes missing.
"An amber alert can only be issued when you have a description of the abductor when a person is taken and you have a vehicle description with a tag, you have description of the person who has taken the child and then you are able to post that," Carruth said.
Boatright describes how soon is a child entered in their database once they are reported missing
"As soon as the child is entered by the Odessa Police Department into NCIC as a missing child, it immediately goes to our headquarters. We receive that information right away and our case managers would be immediately in contact with the police department and with the family to provide resources and services," Boatright said.
Aric Austin was abducted from his mother by his non-custodial father when he was two months old. 21 years later, someone recognized him from an age-progression image,and in 2003, when he was 22 years old, Aric was reunited with his mother.
"Age progression is done in cold cases where the child may have been missing for several years and we don't have any new information or any active leads. Using technology, we will take the pictures that we have from the child, when the child was last seen and last known and we will use computer technology to age progress those pictures. So maybe if you have a picture of a five year old that's been missing for five years, now you have a picture of that child what we suspect would look like at 10 years of age," Boatright said.
Boatright says the importance of using all sources of media in locating missing and exploited children is key.
"In today's society so much is driven by the Internet and the world wide web so we do have a very robust presence on the web with our missing children. You can search by your area, by your state, by your community, you can do any number of things to be able to find the child. However, not everyone is on the web and sometimes it takes that extra poster in a Wal-Mart to help locate a child," Boatright said.
Boatright says they will always feature missing children on their website no matter how much time has passed since their disappearance.
"At the Center for Missing and Exploited Children we never give up hope and we never close a case, we will continue to look for that child as long as the National Center is in existence. We never give up hope and we never stop looking," Boatright said.