There are 800,000 children reported missing in the USA alone every year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. That’s 2,000 every single day. Most of these children are found safely. But 200,000 of them are abducted by family members. 58,000 are abducted by non-family members. And 115 of these children are a parent’s worst nightmare: A child abducted by a stranger and killed, held for ransom, or taken with the intention to keep.
For many parents who face this nightmare, there is no respite from wondering every day what has happened to their child who vanished without a trace. And often, once the initial media frenzy has waned, it’s difficult for the family to keep the case in the minds of officials or the public.
But two high profile missing children cases have been back in the news this week. Etan Patz disappeared 33 years ago on May 25, 1979 as he walked to the bus stop alone for the first time. Etan was the first missing child to appear on milk cartons, and his disappearance was perhaps the turning point when parents became hypervigilant about the (admittedly small) risks of child abduction. Investigators searching for Etan have pursued many leads over the last 33 years, but no trace of Etan has ever been found. The case has gone through phases of investigation and dormancy over the last three decades, but just this week, investigators excavated a basement just two blocks from the home where Etan’s parents still live, in the hopes of finding some trace of the boy. Etan’s parents received the news on Sunday that no trace of Etan was found.
In the UK, investigators trying to locate Madeleine McCann, the child who disappeared from a hotel room in Portugal in 2007, have released a computer-generated image of what the girl might look like now at age 9. The UK police forces have been thoroughly investigating the case after Madeleine’s parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, appealed to the Prime Minister to help find their child. Madeleine’s parents have always said that the Portuguese police botched the case, focusing on Kate as the perpetrator and ignoring other valid leads while their child was spirited away. Police forces in London today said there is still a chance Madeleine is alive, and that information and leads have been handed to the Portuguese police who would have to make the decision to reopen the case.
Both Etan and Madeleine are high-profile cases. And every day, thousands of other children’s cases languish, their parents waiting for answers. Police forces, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other organizations are doing their best to find answers for these families – and yet, every day, the families still wake up without their sons and daughters. My heart goes out to these families, and I hope fervently that they will find the answers they seek – or better yet, find their children, miraculously safe and sound.