Children go missing all the time.
"The majority of kids get returned," said Sgt. Mel Eakley, leader of the Missing and Abducted Child Team with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. He spoke this week with reporters for National Missing Children's Day, which was May 25 — the date 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared in 1979 while walking to his bus stop in New York. He was never found. The date has been observed nationally since 1983.
About 800,000 children are reported missing each year in America, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Most are found quickly. Some are taken by family members in custody disputes. But a few — about 115 nationally — are taken by non-relatives and are either murdered, held for ransom or taken with the intent to keep, the center said.
In 2010, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office handled 100 reports of missing children, 950 runaways, 100 missing adults and three familial abductions — cases where a parent or relative took a child, Eakley said. All the children were found.
The last time a child was abducted and murdered in Pasco County was in 1997, when 9-year-old Sharra Ferger was lured from her Blanton home and raped and stabbed 46 times. Her uncle and another man are both serving life sentences for the crime.
Eakley cited statistics that say for every 10,000 reports of missing children an agency handles, there will be one child abduction where the child never comes home.
"We have met that mark," Eakley said. "We know tomorrow could be our next Sharra Ferger."
He urged citizens to always call the Sheriff's Office if they notice something strange.
"When something seems unusual, let us dispel it," he said.
If a person did happen to see an interaction that turned out to be a child being lured and abducted, "How would you live with the burden?" Eakley asked.
"You are never bothering our office," he said.
He also asked parents to call as soon as they notice their child is missing and not located after a quick search of the home.
"It's a great day when you call and your child is found before we get there," he said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.