The Department of Justice (DOJ) commemorated the 26th annual National Missing Children's Day on May 21, 2009, with a ceremony at DOJ's Great Hall in Washington, DC, that honored missing children and recognized the extraordinary efforts made by law enforcement personnel and citizens to protect children from harm. Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden was the main speaker and Office of Justice Programs Acting Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson presided over the ceremony.
In her opening comments, Acting Assistant Attorney General Robinson commended the exceptional efforts of the day's award recipients who "acted quickly and with a cool head to remove children from danger." The ceremony was attended by families of missing and abducted children, law enforcement personnel, and missing children's advocates.
Twenty-six years ago, President Ronald W. Reagan proclaimed May 25 as National Missing Children's Day in memory of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who disappeared from a New York City street corner on that day in 1979. Missing Children's Day honors his memory and the memory of children who are still missing, celebrates the stories of recovery, and pays tribute to the exemplary efforts of agencies, organizations, and individuals engaged in protecting children.
Deputy Attorney General Ogden announced that the Department is awarding $50 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to support OJJDP's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) program. More than $41 million is being awarded to ICAC task forces nationwide to help law enforcement agencies develop an effective response to sexual predators who target children via the Internet and other electronic devices. In addition to these grants, the Department will award more than $8 million for training and technical assistance, research, and communication and data infrastructure to support the ICAC program.
In his remarks, Deputy Attorney General Ogden praised those in the audience for their dedication to children and families.
Because of you, countless children have been saved, and because of you, countless parents have been saved the heartache of a child who has been abducted. . . . But Missing Children's Day is just one day. For those gathered here, your work continues every day.
Deputy Attorney General Ogden presented awards to recognize the outstanding efforts of law enforcement personnel and citizens who have made a difference in recovering abducted children and protecting children from exploitation. The awards and recipients included:
Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), described the "incremental revolution of change" that has occurred within the missing and exploited children's movement during the past 30 years, often in response to tragic abductions and murders of children. In 1979, there were no advocacy organizations or channels through which parents and investigators could raise public awareness when a child was missing, and law enforcement agencies did not communicate or collaborate on investigations, he said. Beginning with the passage of the Missing Children Act in 1982, the establishment of Missing Children's Day in 1983, the creation of NCMEC in 1984, and countless other programs and organizations, public awareness of the issue has increased and law enforcement agencies, advocacy organizations, and government agencies now work together when children are reported missing.
Prior to 1989, the police would say the child probably just ran away. . . . Progress has happened because of the people in this room and because of the organizations working together, both private and public. We have come light years. We are doing a better job.
Erin Runnion, founder and director of the Joyful Child Foundation, also spoke, sharing her perspective as the mother of a missing child and an advocate. Runnion's 5-year-old daughter Samantha was abducted and murdered in 2002. Runnion emphasized the need to educate children against the danger of abduction and to fight back if threatened.
I don't want to scare people, especially children. I want them to be brave so that they can meet any situation. . . . We can't protect every child, but for every child that is returned home safely there is a lifetime of countless joy.
The ceremony began and concluded with performances by the Benjamin Orr Elementary School Choir of Washington, DC. The Office of Justice Programs has had a relationship with the Orr School since 1991 as part of DOJ's volunteer outreach program. A full photo gallery of the day's events and a gallery of the winning artwork from each State are both available.