Monday marked the 15th year the state of Florida has memorialized kids who went missing in the Sunshine State. Officials say the number of missing children is receding but there’s more work to be done.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 800,000 children are reported missing in the U.S. every year. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey read the names of some of the children still missing in the state during Monday’s ceremony. Governor Rick Scott said about 5-percent of all missing child reports nationally are filed in the Sunshine state.
“Each year approximately 41,000 children are reported missing in the state of Florida. Please know that our state is committed to put forth every possible effort to find each and every missing person,” Scott declared.
Bailey asserted that the number of missing children in Florida is decreasing every year. Though FDLE could not provide numbers from previous years, the number of cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – a clearinghouse which helps local law enforcement agencies track down missing kids – appears to back his statement up. More than 3,100 were reported to the Center in 2011, about 2,900 last year and 2013 is on track to see about 2,500. Bob Lowry, the Center’s director, acknowledged not every missing child’s case makes it to his desk. But the ones that do are almost always solved. The center has a 97-percent recovery rate.
“There’s no mandatory requirement to report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Families can opt to call us and ask for assistance on their missing child’s case as long as they have claim of custody of the child is the only requirement that we have,” Lowry said.
Still, the parents of missing kids -- like Joyce Kesse, whose daughter Jennifer has been missing since 2006 -- said she thinks there’s more reporting still to be done.
“I think that the lesson that is to be learned for the public is pay attention. If something doesn’t feel right, if something doesn’t look right, you’re not a detective. Reach out and call law enforcement,” Kesse pleaded.
Bob Lowry says Florida’s child-recovery efforts have been bolstered by initiatives like the state’s safe harbor act and FDLE’s missing children’s ad campaign. Through June, Lowry’s group was working on nearly 200 cases reported to it from Florida in the first half of 2013 alone.