The Search
Chapter 1

Key Points
  1. The actions of parents and of law enforcement in the first 48 hours are critical to the safe recovery of a missing child, but the rawness of emotion can seriously hinder the ability of parents to make rational decisions at this crucial time.

  2. Your initial role in the search is to provide information to and answer questions from investigators and to be at home in the event your child calls.

  3. Most of the initial searching of the area where the child is believed to have been last will be coordinated by law enforcement—either federal, state, or local, depending on the circumstances of the disappearance.

  4. An important aspect of law enforcement’s job is to preserve and protect any evidence gathered during the search.

  5. Keep the name and telephone number of your law enforcement coordinator in a safe, convenient place. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your search coordinator by asking questions, making suggestions, and airing differences of opinion.

  6. Bloodhounds are the best choice for use in a search because they have 60 times the tracking power of German shepherds, can discriminate among scents, and can follow your child’s scent in the air as well as on the ground—which means that they may be able to follow your child’s scent even if he or she was carried in someone’s arms or in a vehicle.

  7. Established groups—rather than individual volunteers—should be recruited for the search because they can gather together a large cadre of people very quickly, they have an inner chain of command that makes communication and training easier, and they have an internal screening mechanism that will help ensure volunteers’ soundness of character.

  8. The volunteer staging area should be located away from your home to protect your family from the accompanying traffic and chaos.

  9. All volunteer searchers reporting for duty should be required to show their driver’s licenses and to list in a log book their names, addresses, and organizational affiliations. If possible, law enforcement should run background checks on volunteers to guard against the involvement of misguided individuals.

  10. Not all parents can or will want to be actively involved in the long-term search for a child. If you want to stay involved, develop a plan and set up a timetable with goals for continuing the search for your child, and set up a schedule of regular visits with your investigator to review the status of your child’s case.

  11. Keep the public aware of your plight by publicizing any new information about your child—such as a sighting or an interesting lead. Also, if your child has been missing for several years, ask NCMEC to develop an age-progressed picture, then place this picture next to the original picture on shirts, buttons, and posters.

  12. Reread your notebook or journal periodically in case you find a passage that triggers a new idea or reminds you of something you had previously forgotten.

  13. Consider hiring a private detective only if you are convinced that he or she can do something better than what is being done by law enforcement. Always ask for and check references to find out if the investigator is legitimate, make sure the detective has experience working with law enforcement, insist that all expenses be itemized, and report to law enforcement any offers to bring your child back immediately for a specific sum of money.

  14. Be extremely cautious before you allow a psychic to become involved in your child’s case. Give all psychic leads to law enforcement for thorough investigation.


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When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide OJJDP Report • May 2004