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Pasco team marks National Missing Children's Day

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 esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Pasco Sgt. Mel Eakley said parents should have clear safety plans with their children. Here are safety tips for parents from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

• Teach your children their full names, address and home telephone number. Make sure they know your full name and how to reach you by phone.

• Teach your children how and when to use 911 and make sure they have a trusted adult to call if they have an emergency.

• Instruct children to keep the door locked and not to open the door to talk to anyone when they are home alone.

• Choose babysitters with care. Obtain references and make surprise visits.

• Know your children's passwords for cell phones, e-mail and social networking pages. Visit www.NetSmartz.org for information about Internet safety.

• Walk the route to and from school with your children, pointing out safe places to go if they're being followed or need help.

• Caution children never to accept a ride from anyone unless you have told them it is okay to do so in each instance.

• Remind your children it's okay to say NO to anything that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable or confused. Teach them to tell you if anything or anyone makes them feel this way.

• Practice "what if" situations and ask your children how they would respond. "What if you fell off your bike and you needed help? Who would you ask?"

• Teach your children how to locate help at public places. Identify people they can ask for help, such as uniformed law enforcement, security guards and store clerks with name tags.

• Tell your children if anyone tries to grab them, they should make a scene and make every effort to get away by kicking, screaming and resisting.

Go to www.missingkids.com for more information or call (800) THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Pasco team marks National Missing Children's Day 05/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 6:40pm]
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