Commemorating National Missing Children’s Day
National Missing Children’s Day is commemorated on May 25. It began in 1983 with a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan, and it led to International Missing Children’s Day being established on the same day in 2001.
Missing Children’s Day encourages parents, guardians, caregivers and others in our community who are concerned with the well-being of children to make child safety a priority. It also serves as a reminder to continue efforts to reunite missing children with their families, and it honors those individuals dedicated to this cause.
From the years 1979 to 1981, a series of child abductions shocked and frightened the American public. The coverage began with Ethan Patz, who was six years old when he disappeared while walking to the schoolbus stop in New York City on the morning of May 25, 1979. He was never found, and was legally declared dead in 2001.
Also, there were the Atlanta child murders from the middle of 1979 through May 1981. Over that two-year period, at least 29 children, adolescents and adults were killed. And then there was Adam Walsh, also age 6, who vanished during a trip to the mall in Hollywood, Florida, in July 1981. Weeks later, his head was found 120 miles from the mall.
Adam’s parents were in disbelief that no coordinated effort existed among law enforcement to search for a missing child on a state or national level. Back then, police could enter information into the FBI’s crime database about stolen cars, guns or other property — but not stolen children. Also at that time, no organization could help families in similar moments of crisis.
The tragedy and legacy of these children received a large amount of media attention and inspired a new missing children’s movement. In addition to the anniversary of Ethan Patz’s disappearance becoming National Missing Children’s Day, he was also the first child to have his photo on a milk carton.
John Walsh, Adam’s dad, helped create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He also went on to host “America’s Most Wanted” and lobby for the Adam Walsh Act, which created a national sex-offender registry.
Today, with better awareness, training, laws and technology, law enforcement agencies and organizations like the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children are able to bring more missing children home every day, including those who have been missing for a long time. Elizabeth Smart of Utah, who was recovered after nine months, and Jaycee Dugard of California, who was found after 18 years, are great examples of progress.
The NCMEC has an initiative called “Take 25” that encourages parents, guardians and educators to take 25 minutes to talk to children about safety. The Center also created the CyberTipline, a national mechanism for the public to report of suspected child sexual exploitation. Since 1998, it has processed millions of reports concerning crimes against children.
According to the FBI, there are 32,121 missing children currently in the United States. These families will never give up home, and the commitment to finding missing children continues.