DOJ guide helps parents, police work together to find a missing child, Part 2

By Scott Buhrmaster
For The Street Survival Newsline

Part 2 of a Special 4-Part Newsline Series (View Part 1)

The Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has released a guide for the parents of missing children titled, "When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide." An overwhelming number of requests from the general public for this guide have resulted in a considerable delay in distributing copies. As a means of helping distribute this important information to officers so they can share it with the parents of missing children in their area, the Calibre Press Street Survival Newsline has offered to transmit portions of this guide to Newsline members around the world.

As we continue our special Street Survival Newsline report, we approach a chapter in the guide titled, "Your Role in the Search: The First 48 Hours," which discusses the importance of evidence gathering and preservation. What the parents of a missing child do in the first two days after realizing that their child is missing is crucial. Their actions can either help your investigation or hinder it. In order to help you get all of the information you need to begin a thorough investigation, parents must understand the process of gathering and preserving evidence.

Here's what the guide has to say in its chapter dealing with evidence:

One of the most critical aspects in the search for a missing child is the gathering of evidence that may hold clues about a child's disappearance or whereabouts. The mishandling of evidence can adversely affect an investigation. Similarly, the collection and preservation of evidence are keys to finding a missing child. Parents play a vital role in finding a missing child by providing critical information to law enforcement, by protecting evidence in and around the home, and by gathering information about persons or situations that might hold clues. The following are some tips on what you should do to help law enforcement conduct a thorough and complete investigation.

Secure your child’s room

Even though your child may have disappeared from outside the home, your child's room should be searched thoroughly by law enforcement for clues and evidence. Don't clean the child's room, wash your child's clothes, or pick up your house. Don't allow well-meaning family members or friends to disturb anything. Even a trash bin or a computer may contain clues that lead to the recovery of the child.

Don’t touch or remove anything from your child’s room or from your home that might have your child’s fingerprints, DNA or scent on it

This includes your child's hairbrush, bed linens, worn clothing, pencil with bite marks, diary, or address book. With a good set of fingerprints or a sample of DNA from hair, law enforcement may be able to tell whether your child has been in a particular car or house. With good scent material, tracking dogs may be able to find your child.

Do not allow anyone else to sleep in your child’s bed, play with his or her toys or use his/her bedroom for any purpose

Law enforcement dispatch should advise you not to disturb any part of the house until a thorough search of the scene has been conducted. Investigators should let you know when their search is complete.

Be prepared to give investigators all the facts and circumstances related to the disappearance of your child

This includes knowing where your child was last seen, where your child normally went to play, what your child was wearing, and what personal possessions your child had with him or her.

Describe in detail the clothing your child was wearing and any personal items in the child’s possession at the time of disappearance

Specify color, brand, and size. If possible, have someone obtain replicas of clothing, hats, purses, backpacks or other items your child had or wore at the time of the disappearance. Give these articles to law enforcement for them to release to the media and to show the searchers. Make sure you mark these items as duplicates or replicas.

Make a list of personal identification marks and specific personality traits

Describe birthmarks, scars, tattoos, missing teeth, eyeglasses, contacts, speech patterns, and behavioral traits. If possible, find photographs that show these unique features. If you have fingerprints of your child or a DNA blood sample, also give these to law enforcement.

Gather together persona items such as baby teeth, old baseball caps, or old toothbrushes

These items may contain hair or blood samples that may be useful as DNA evidence. Also look for pencils or toys that contain impressions of your child's teeth.

Thin about your child’s behavior and routine

Be prepared to discuss where your child played or hung out, what was the usual route taken to and from school, and what other paths of travel might have been taken. Be specific about what your child did for recreation, including playing outdoors, surfing the Internet, and other activities.

Try to remember any changes in your child’s routine, or any new experiences

Look at personal and family calendars to see if they contain clues as to your child's whereabouts or the identity of an abductor. For example, during the past year, did your child join a soccer team, change teams, or get a new coach? Did your child start playing or hanging out in a different area? Did your child keep a diary that might hold clues?

Try to remember if your child mentioned any new friends

Talk with your child's friends and teachers to see if they know of any new friends or other contact your child recently made.

Find recent photographs of your child in both color and black & white, then have someone make multiple copies and keep the originals in a safe place

Check your cameras for undeveloped film, because the most recent photos of your child may be found there. Ask family members and friends to do the same. Give law enforcement multiple photos showing different poses. Steer away from formal or posed photos that do not look like your child. Being careful not to damage the photo, mark the back of each picture with your child's name, address, date of birth, and age when the picture was taken.

Find videotapes of your child and make copies

Also ask family members and friends if they have videotapes or movies of your child, perhaps at birthday parties, soccer games, and so forth. Give law enforcement copies that show your child's expressions and mannerisms.

Make a list of family members, friends and acquaintances, coaches, teachers and other school staff

Write down as many telephone numbers and addresses as you can. Offer information for prior in-laws and relatives as well. Include on your list anyone you feel might have something against you and your family.

Make a list of everyone who routinely comes to your home

Your list should include postal workers, meter readers, garbage collectors, repair persons, salespeople, pizza delivery persons, and so forth.

Make a list of new, different or unusual people or circumstances in and around your home and school within the past year

Think about if you or any of your neighbors had any home remodeling or house repairs done within the past year. Were any houses listed for sale in your neighborhood in the past year? Has there been any road construction or building in the area? Have any traveling carnivals passed through the area?

Ask your child’s doctor and dentist for copies of the child’s medical and dental records and X-rays

Give copies of all medical and dental records to law enforcement for use in the investigation.

Also scattered throughout the report are tips on how parents can use technology to help further the investigation into their missing child. With technological tools so readily available, it's possible for the parents, family and friends of a missing child to use this technology to help gather tips and spread the word about their missing child and save you precious investigative time in the process.

Here are a few of the tips on technology the guide offers to parents:

Telephone tips:

1. If you do not already have one, buy a cellular phone or pager so you can be reached when you are away from home.

2. Ask law enforcement to install a trap-and-trace on your phone.

3. Install a phone with the ability to tape calls

4. Ask your telephone company to install caller ID on your telephone line.

5. Keep a phone log, a pad of paper, or a spiral notebook next to the phone to record the date and time of phone calls, the name of the caller, and other information.

Fax machines

If you do not own a fax machine, look for one you can rent or borrow, or get permission to use the fax machine or a nearby business or police station. You can use it for quick and inexpensive communication with law enforcement, news media, missing child agencies, state missing children's clearinghouses and other individuals and organizations that are willing to help.

When a face-to-face meeting cannot take place--or if information needs to be disseminated quickly--a fax machine can provide you with an important link to your law enforcement agency as you work together to prepare and review press releases, set up interview schedules, or provide lists of the names and telephone numbers of individuals who may hold clues to the whereabouts of your child. A fax machine in your home will also enable you to call organizations devoted to missing child issues, ask them to fax their intake forms to you, and then fill out, sign, and fax back the forms immediately.

Broadcast faxing:

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has the capability to broadcast fax posters and other case-related information to more than 9,000 law enforcement agencies, FBI Field Offices, State missing children's clearinghouses, the Border Patrol, and medical examiners' offices throughout the country. NCMEC can send your child's picture to its network of agencies as soon as your law enforcement agency or the investigating agency makes a request. NCMEC case management personnel are available on call to make emergency posters, broadcast faxes, and distribute photographic images in the evenings and on weekends.

The Internet

If you are not hooked up on the Internet, contact someone who is. The Internet allows you to transmit clearer pictures of your child more quickly and less expensively tan you could by fax. First, you must have your child's photo scanned and digitized--that is, put on a computer disk. A print or computer shop can provide this service to you. Next, call individual organizations to obtain their e-mail addresses. Now, you can use your disk to simultaneously send your child's picture by e-mail to a wide variety or organizations.

The alternative is to purchase separate color pictures and then send your child's picture to each organization via overnight mail, which is a far slower and more expensive process than digitizing and sending them via e-mail.

[Further, as many of you already know, there are scores of Web sites that post pictures and descriptions of missing children. Advise parents to search for these sites and contact them to help get the word out.]

Next: Handling the media

Download a full copy of: When your child is missing: A family survival guide

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