have you seen us?

they arrive in the mail every few days, these flimsy, envelope-sized sheets of paper. on one side, you’ll find an ad, perhaps for a cheap oil change or discount goods. on the other, the side holding your name and forcing you to bear witness, are the pictures, the names, the statistics: name, DOB, age, ht, date missing, last seen…

every time i get one of these cards, it makes me sad. i never recognize the faces. they smile at me innocently from the card, the children asking for help, the adults, to turn a blind eye. when i look into the child’s eyes, i can’t help but think that they are gone forever, lost to this world (maybe by their own choice). when i look into the adult’s, i ask myself, does this look like a kidnapper? a murderess or murderer? a pedophile, even? and the eyes always answer, quite simply, ‘no.’
the pictures show smiling faces taken during smiling times, so it’s hard to imagine the state of mind that led to a child’s flight from home, or a parental kidnapping, or even worse, an abduction. chaos, anger, loss, madness – these things are all opaque to us as we look through the window of this small card stuck in our mailboxes.
i went to the web site on the card, wondering how much these things help, feeling guilty that i suspected they helped very little. i wanted to be proven wrong. i wanted to feel like people’s hard work made a difference sometimes. you will have to go to the site and judge for yourself…after looking and thinking, i now feel that regardless of how much difference they make, if even one child is found as a result, it matters.
in 2001, the NCIC database held 840,279 missing persons reports filed that year (up 444% from the 154,341 entries in 1982). the FBI estimates that 85-90% of those reports are for children, which means roughly 2000 children are reported missing every day. it means that a parent felt strongly enough to call the police and file a report; it does not mean the child was kidnapped or harmed, necessarily.
in these statistics, ‘missing’ includes runaways, children taken by non-parental family members or parents without custody, and non-family abductions. most of these cases are solved quickly and without harm having come to the missing; 651,209 cases in 2001 were listed as ‘Juvenile,’ indicating that no foul play was suspected.
what about children taken by non-custodial parents? i used to think to myself that it’s none of my business, that the problems of a family are invisible and unknowable to me, and thus i shouldn’t interfere. but think of it from the child’s perspective: when they are taken by that parent, even if the parent is in the right, they immediately become fugitives from justice, and they live the lives of fugitives – running, hiding. this is no way for a child to grow up…of course, there must be desperate situations where one parent, perceiving danger to their child, has exhausted all of their legal means to save their children, and feels abduction is the only solution. short of saving a child from certain physical abuse or death, i’m still not sure it’s justifiable to lead them into the scary world of flight and pursuit.
and then there are the rest of the cases…one half of one percent of missing children cases are non-family abductions where foul play is suspected and danger is predicted. statistics show that if the abductor plans murder, 74% of the time they will do the deed within three hours of the abduction. the card in your mailbox is too late for these children. this is terrible – children are taken so quickly, their lives extinguished by demons walking the earth. at the same time, it means when you see those pictures, there is usually hope that the child is still alive, somewhere.
we are at the top of the food chain, with nothing to fear, except ourselves…we are also the only ones who can try to stem the tide of madness.

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