This editorial was first published in The Dallas Morning News. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
When our children are little, our cameras work overtime. We capture every step, every milestone, every smile. Those cute photos are supposed to go in picture frames, scrapbooks and bragging posts on Facebook. They were never meant to go with a missing child alert, as was the case of 7-year-old Athena Strand, who vanished near her North Texas home last week.
Athena’s disappearance and killing are a parent’s worst nightmare realized. Her case is a tragic reminder of all the children who are preyed upon in their own neighborhoods.
Tens of thousands of missing persons reports are filed for children in the U.S. every year, though most reports are eventually resolved. But almost 4,000 people who were underage when they vanished are still missing, including 472 from Texas, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
That is almost 4,000 families living in endless agony.
The vast majority of missing children are teens who ran away from home. They are easy targets for people who would harm them or exploit them under the guise of being their friend and protector.
Among children who are kidnapped, most are taken by family members. Only a small subset are abducted by family acquaintances or total strangers.
Some statistics are reassuring. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children looked at data from 2016 to 2020 and found it had received 366 reports of children who were taken by people other than family. Only 10 of those cases remained active at the time of the center’s data analysis, which was published this year. About 339 children were recovered alive, although some of them had been harmed during their abduction.
Three-quarters of the children were found within 48 hours.
For some families, however, years and even decades may pass without answers. Yet there is reason to hope. We saw it in Fort Worth last week, when 53-year-old Melanie Walden was reunited with her parents after a lifetime apart. Walden, born Melissa Highsmith, was a toddler when a baby sitter abducted her in 1971. She said that was followed by an abusive childhood.
Now a middle-aged woman, Walden grinned as she posed for a picture sandwiched between her newly found parents.
“One of the first things that came to my mind was, ‘I finally have a mother and a father that want me, and they love me. I finally have people that love me,’” Walden told The New York Times.
A joyful reunion is our wish for every family with a missing child, including the parents and brothers of Lina Khil, a little girl who a year ago went missing from the playground at her apartment complex in San Antonio. Her father, a former Afghan soldier, assisted U.S. troops abroad.
Authorities are so desperate to find Lina that they even chased tips from psychics who claimed to have had visions of her, The Times reported.
Hope is a powerful thing. We’re grateful for police investigators who turn over every stone, for neighbors who rally to search and support, and for the families that have channeled grief over the children they lost into advocacy for policies and programs that can save other kids.
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