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Investigating Potential Child Abduction Cases.

A Developmental Perspective

The concern that people share for the welfare of their own children, as well as for the children of others, illustrates the fundamental value children hold in society. Few relationships are as powerful or emotional as those between adults and children. Parents, families, neighborhoods, and communities strive continually to create programs and practices that provide their children with healthy, secure environments where they can thrive and grow. Due to their physical, emotional, and cognitive dependence on adults, however, children remain uniquely susceptible to abuse, neglect, and exploitation, which make them vulnerable as victims for a variety of differing offenders who abuse and exploit them for such reasons as sex, revenge, and profit. Occasionally, this maltreatment results in missing, abducted, or allegedly abducted children.

The value people place on children makes missing child incidents among the most widely publicized cases encountered by law enforcement. The reported abduction or mysterious disappearance of a child captivates families, neighborhoods, communities, and entire nations. In the 1980s, several highly publicized stranger-perpetrated child abduction cases heightened public and parental concerns and fears and led to the widespread belief that stranger abductions had become increasingly common. This awareness caused parental groups, civic organizations, political representatives, and government agencies to support programs focusing on missing children.


While public fears and perceptions focused on stereotypical stranger abduction, in which an older adult male from outside the community preyed randomly upon an unsuspecting child for sexual gratification, initial research findings painted a different picture. Studies found that abductions by family members represented the most prevalent child abduction type, ranging from 163,200 to 354,100 cases annually. [1] In contrast, the national incidence of child abductions perpetrated by nonfamily members ranged from 3,200 to 4,600 cases annually, with only 62 percent of these cases committed by strangers. [2] Additionally, long-term stranger abductions, where serious risk of victim mortality existed, only accounted for between 200 to 300 cases annually. These statistics included children ranging in age from birth to 18 years and, therefore, displayed diverse victim characteristics and vulnerabilities. Stranger abductions, although a serious and potentially lethal problem, did not appear as widespread as experts beli eved originally. More recent child abduction and child homicide research generally supports these findings.


Contemporary analyses of nationally representative child abduction patterns demonstrate that law enforcement and criminal justice professionals can better understand the dynamics of child abduction by assessing child victimization from a developmental perspective. [3] Simply put, as children progress through life they become more physically and emotionally mature, more independent, and more mobile. As they age, their attributes, vulnerabilities, and accessibility change, and they gain exposure to and become desired by different types of abductors who exploit them for different reasons. Younger, more constantly monitored children (birth to 5 years), for example, generally have a greater risk of victimization by parents or other trusted caregivers who have access to their protective confines. More independent school-age children who experience lapses in supervision by caretakers are more accessible and more often victimized by acquaintances or strangers outside their homes. [4] Thus, during their lives, childr en face different abduction and victimization scenarios and risks.


Why are children abducted? Interpretation of offender motivations and behaviors often is complicated, [5] particularly in abduction cases where children simply seem to vanish. In such cases, the ensuing investigation involves searching for both the victim and an offender who may be a parent, relative, friend, acquaintance, or total stranger. This differs from other scenarios, such as parental abductions, where the identity of the offender and sometimes the location of the abducted child are known, and the offender's motivation is more obvious. [6] Even in the most clear-cut cases, however, law enforcement may have difficulty determining exactly why the offender abducted the victim. The apprehension of the offender and a reliable confession may not even provide law enforcement with the true underlying motive. However, an accurate understanding of the behaviors and intentions of offenders who abduct children and how these crime characteristics change as potential victims get older can provide investigators wit h important insights early in a developing case and allow them to use their resources more effectively.

Research and investigative experience have shown that family abductions, motivated by domestic discord and custody disputes, overwhelmingly represent the most frequent type of child abduction. Short-term, nonfamily incidents where abductors release or return children, often before anyone knows they are missing, constitute another type of child abduction. Short-term cases often involve sexual molestation. Long-term, nonfamily abductions are the least common and those that result in child homicide happen rarely. These cases frequently come to the attention of police as missing child reports and rarely result in quick resolution. Motivations for long-term, nonfamily abductions include: sexual gratification; retribution (e.g., revenge or "collecting" on an unpaid debt); financial gain (e.g., ransom or extortion); desire to kill (this, alone, is reported to motivate and gratify some offenders); and, maternal desire (where an offender desires to possess a child and abducts primarily newborns and infants). [7] Sexua lly motivated abductions represent the most common type of nonfamily abduction and classically pose the highest risk of victim mortality. [8] Long-term, nonfamily child abduction cases shock the public conscience and, because of their potentially lethal nature, law enforcement must conduct expeditious, informed, and well-managed investigations.


Investigators also encounter cases involving false allegations of abduction. Typically, a parent or primary caregiver perpetrates these cases. They report a child as missing or abducted to hide their involvement in the child's death or conceal their knowledge of the child's location. Such was the case of Susan Smith, who fastened her two sons into their car seats and watched the car coast into a lake. Subsequently, Smith told police that an armed carjacker had taken both her car and her children. A timely and thorough investigation conducted by experienced law enforcement personnel ultimately proved the fallacy of this allegation. In another case, a mother reported her teenage daughter missing and claimed to have received a telephone ransom demand. An intensive 3-day investigation located the daughter at a friend's house where she had been staying with her mother's knowledge and approval. An overwhelming need for attention appeared to motivate the mother's false report.


Most long-term abductions are reported to the police, not as abductions, but as missing children. The majority of the 450,000 children reported to police as missing each year are lost or have run away. [9] Most of these children are found quickly and law enforcement resolves their cases with minimal investigative effort. Consequently, determining whether someone has legitimately abducted a child, particularly if the missing child is a teenager, often is not obvious or easy. In short, because most missing children are not abducted and most abducted children are not missing, investigative complacency becomes a statistically understandable response. The investigation of a missing child who possibly was abducted, however, constitutes the most serious and perplexing challenge facing law enforcement agencies. It can rapidly overwhelm and exhaust all available resources (e.g. financial, personnel, logistical) and impose heavy personal and professional burden on investigators, support personnel, and management. Becau se nonfamily abductions are comparatively rare, law enforcement agencies often find themselves unprepared for such demanding and emotionally taxing investigations. [10]


Aware of the patterns and dynamics generated by scientifically sound child abduction research, law enforcement can conduct more efficient and effective missing child investigations. While each case presents unique challenges, comprehending the ways that child abduction cases typically occur and understanding the abduction scenarios most commonly seen within specific age groups can assist in the evaluation process, provide investigators with early intervention strategies, and facilitate the time-critical management of investigative resources prior to expert consultation. To this end, the FBI, the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Washington State Attorney General's Office, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the British Home Office [11] have conducted valuable child abduction and child homicide research. Additionally, the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) employs a nationally responsive team of child abduction experts who pro vide investigative support to requesting law enforcement agencies.

The collective research, training, and case experience of CIRG's child abduction experts have resulted in child abduction typologies. These descriptions exclude family abduction cases centered in custody disputes. They illustrate the patterns typically seen in cases where a child is reported to police as missing and potentially abducted. These typologies may not represent all child abduction incidents.

Newborns (birth to 1 month)

Two basic types of child abduction scenarios typically appear in newborn cases. The most common form, "infant abduction" or "maternal desire abduction," generally involves a female stranger abducting a very young victim for the purpose of raising the child as her own. These offenders need children to save a failing or stressed relationship with a significant other, to fulfill their own maternal desires, or the desires (perceived or real) of their partners. Typically, these women abduct newborns from hospitals or from the child's home, and often live miles away from the place of the abduction. Interviews with these offenders indicate that they plan their abductions well, with some offenders effectively feigning pregnancy for months and creating elaborate ruses (posing as nurses, hospital employees, and other child care specialists) to gain access to suitable victims. [12] They often report visiting multiple hospitals prior to attempting an actual abduction, "casing" the facility much like a bank robber does w hen selecting a bank to rob. When selecting a victim, the child's sex is not important, with male and female children at equal risk. However, the victim's race is important, because it generally must match that of the offender or her partner. Recent statistics indicate that hospital abductions have decreased, most likely due to increased awareness and the implementation of safety precautions and procedures in maternity and neonatal departments. As a result, abductions from alternative locations (e.g. victim's home, health clinics) may increase. Abductions from nonhospital settings more often result in violence because the abductor frequently prepares for a physical confrontation with the child's mother, father, or other caregivers. [13]

The 24-hour period following any child abduction is particularly critical; thus, law enforcement must prepare a rapid and intensive investigative response. One of the most effective investigative strategies in infant abduction cases involves the cooperation of media to alert community members and to seek their help in the recovery of the victim. Tips from caring community members resolve many infant abduction cases. Interviews with offenders indicate that media publicity generally does not affect their behavior or additionally risk the child's safety. With guidance from law enforcement, media coverage can focus on sympathetic pleas for the safe return of the child from the victim's parents, grandparents, or respected community members. Minimization of the criminal culpability of the offender and the criminal nature of the abduction is crucial. Cases involving this type of abduction have a high resolution rate, with 9 out of 10 victims returned home safely.

The second form of abduction involving newborns involves victimization for emotion-based reasons (e.g., anger, frustration, revenge, or retribution). Most of these cases do not represent true abductions. Emotion-based abductions include child abuse fatalities resulting in parents claiming abduction (i.e., false allegations), revenge, retribution, and rage-based crimes. Emotion-based offenses may target the child (i.e., primary caregivers with inadequate coping and parenting skills) or serve as a means of punishing the child's parents. These forms of abduction are more common among infant and toddler victims. However, for newborn victims, the biological mother is the most common offender in emotion-based cases, with or without assistance from the biological father. The mother often uses abduction claims to hide the child's untimely death. In instances where the offender attempts to dispose of the victim's body, the remains usually are packaged in some manner (e.g., plastic bag, box), hidden, and disposed of re latively close (within 5 miles) to the victim's home.

Infants (1 to 12 months)

As with newborns, infants also frequently are victims of either emotion-based crimes or maternal desire abductions. However, maternal desire offenses become progressively less common as these children age and emotion-based cases predominate. Because maternal desire abductors generally require newborn victims to play a part in their elaborate maternal fantasy, an infant more than a few months of age may be too old for their purposes. When compared to newborn victims, the dynamics of the infant maternal desire offenses are similar. However, for infant-age victims, who no longer require hospitalization, many abductions occur outside of a clinical setting. Although offenders sometimes use ruses, the risk of violence to mothers, fathers, and other primary caregivers increases. [14]

The most common abduction scenarios involving infant-age children are emotion-based. In such cases, male infants face a higher risk of victimization than females. Generally, males (particularly biological fathers) perpetrate these emotion-based offenses. Offenders often impulsively kill victims in their residences in personal ways that require close physical contact (e.g., blunt force trauma, suffocation) and subsequently report them to the police as missing. Typically, they dispose of victims close to their home (within 1 mile of the offender's residence) in a secure location familiar to the offender. The remains of most victims are found outside, hidden or buried, and in many cases, the offender has placed the child in some type of container (e.g., plastic bag, box) prior to disposal. Most emotion-based offenses occur impulsively and lack detailed planning. The frequent recovery of the victim's remains near the home may reflect either the offender's reluctance to leave familiar territory or, more likely, a hastily prepared disposal plan.

Toddlers (1 to 2 years)

Like their infant counterparts, toddlers are victimized primarily for emotion-based reasons, and the characteristics of these crimes are similar. Although rare, toddlers also are victims of sexually motivated abductions. Like infants, male toddlers face a slightly higher risk of abduction in emotion-based offenses, with offenders usually being biological parents and other family members. The mother's boyfriends and ex-boyfriends also are common offenders. Similar to other emotion-based offenses, these cases appear impulsive and lack extensive planning. [15] Furthermore, precipitating domestic stressors that result in displaced aggression frequently precede them. Accessibility to the victim remains a critical factor in the toddler abduction equation. Toddlers constantly depend on others for their supervision and care. Thus, strangers generally have very limited access to these children.

Sexually motivated abductions of toddlers are rare, which may be due, in part, to the physical immaturity and undesirability of these children as sexual objects. When they occur, however, male offenders with ready access to the locations and routine activities of these children are the primary perpetrators.

Preschool Children (3 to 5 years)

When compared to cases involving toddler victims, emotion-based offenses are less common in preschool children. Sexual crimes, however, occur more frequently. Toddlers, whose increased mobility and desire for independence make them more difficult to control, may cause their caregivers increased stress and frustration. [16] Preschoolers, on the other hand, are often more physically and emotionally developed. This generally reduces dependence and pressure on parents and primary caregivers, decreasing the number of parental emotion-based incidents. Along with their physical and emotional development, however, preschoolers exhibit greater autonomy and experience more prolonged lapses in adult supervision. For example, parents often allow preschoolers to play in their front yards with minimal supervision, providing strangers and acquaintances greater access to these children. Increased ease of access, greater physical maturity, and inherent vulnerability may account for the increase in sexual and profit crimes in volving preschool victims as compared to toddlers. Not surprisingly, strangers and acquaintances are often the perpetrators of sexually motivated and profit-based offenses in preschool children.

For preschoolers, emotion-based crimes are predominately familial with biological parents (primarily fathers) and parental boyfriends/girlfriends commonly responsible for these offenses. Offenders are most often males and their victims primarily female, which differs from the slightly higher male victim population in the infant and toddler groups. In cases where offenders kill victims, approximately one-half dispose of the body within 100 yards of the abduction site (almost always the victim and offender's shared residence). However, some offenders who kill their victim transport the remains greater distances, attempting to separate themselves in time and space from the abduction site.

Sexually motivated abductions, while more common than in toddlers, occur less frequently in preschoolers than emotion-based crimes. When they occur, however, females are usually victims. The race of both the victim and the offender closely matches the demographics of the area where the abduction takes place. Usually, offenders are male and an acquaintance of the victim (commonly neighbors). This represents a drastic departure from the large number of family offenders found in emotion-based preschool cases. Again, the accessibility of the victim appears to be a critical factor in dictating victim-offender relationship.

Preschoolers who are victimized by sexually motivated offenders are often abducted from their yards or neighborhoods by offenders who know them and who have ready access to these locations. These offenders often have a history of previous sexual misconduct. Some of these offenders desire children as their preferred sexual partners (preferential offenders) while others are simply sexually indiscriminate (situational offenders). Almost all sexual abductions of preschoolers occur at or within 1 mile from the victim's home.

Profit-based offenses (e.g., ransom, extortion, robbery, drug related) involving preschool victims are rare. Stereotypical incidents involving young children kidnaped for ransom are especially rare (less than 1 percent). [17] In preschoolers, profit-based abductions generally occur in the context of crimes against older victims, where the abducted preschooler is taken because of a pre-existing parental drug debt or in the course of a carjacking or robbery. A thorough investigation of friends, associates, and subordinates of the child's parents often provides valuable insights into the origins of these crimes.

Elementary and Middle School Children (6 to 14 years)

Child abduction patterns change dramatically when children reach school age. Victimization rates almost triple and, while the sex of a victim generally is not a critical factor in offense patterns involving younger children, school-age females are at least 3 times more likely to be abducted and murdered than school-age males. These trends appear to be related directly to an offense motive. In school-age children, sex represents the overwhelming reason for abductions. Offenders usually are male and select female victims.

The relationship between offenders and victims also changes dramatically for school-age children with most cases perpetrated by acquaintances or strangers. This trend becomes more evident in older school-age children where stranger abductions predominate. Again, changes in victim access, physical maturity, and vulnerability appear to be primarily responsible. When children reach school age, they often acquire more independence and mobility. They become exposed to new environments and situations, often without the guidance and supervision of their parents or primary caregivers. In these situations, they become more accessible to nonfamily offenders who find them physically mature enough to be sexually desirable and vulnerable enough to be easily controlled and exploited. Thus, while younger children are victimized more often by family members and acquaintances in protected circumstances, acquaintances or strangers seeking sexual gratification typically abduct older, more physically mature children outside of the home.

Strangers are responsible for about one-half of elementary school abductions, and acquaintances, such as neighbors, family friends, and adult associates are responsible for the rest. For middle school children, however, strangers are the most frequent offenders. The offenders in these cases often have a history of previous sexual misconduct, impulsive behaviors, violence, substance abuse, and psychiatric treatment. They usually display poor social skills and work habits, and frequently are deemed "socially incompetent." [18] Their inability to interact effectively with others may cause them to obtain victims by abduction. These individuals often reside, work in, or frequent the area where they commit their crimes, which gives them a legitimate explanation for their presence.

Most abductions of elementary school children occur in or around the victim's home, with the vast majority of the victims abducted within 1 mile of their residence. As they age, however, school-age children frequently are abducted from more distant locations such as playgrounds, shopping malls, and other areas of recreation. Disposal sites of the remains also become more distant as victim age increases. In cases where offenders kill the victims, the remains of younger school-age children generally are recovered within 1 mile of the abduction site, although some offenders dispose of their victims over 10 miles away (one-half of these victims are found more than 30 miles away). A larger number of older school-age children are recovered from distant sites. As found in other age groups, these offenders often are familiar with the disposal sites they select and typically make little attempt to hide the victim's remains. These offenders leave most remains unconcealed or superficially cover them with available mate rials--few bury their victims or conceal them in packaging materials.

Compared to the abduction of younger children, emotion-based offenses are much less common in school-age children. As found in emotion-based cases involving younger children, the sex of the victim does not appear to be a critical risk factor. Primarily, offenders are male and familiar with their victims. Victimization occurs typically in the victim's home or front yard. Similar to cases with preschoolers, profit-based offenses are extremely rare among school-age children.

High School Children and Older Teens (15 to 17 years)

While sexually motivated abductions are particularly prevalent in elementary and middle school children, the number of sex crimes decreases in the high school group. Profit and emotion-based offenses, however, become more prevalent. The older child's possession of money or other valuable belongings may contribute to the increase in profit offenses. Also, high school children often have increased exposure to and involvement in drugs and other high-risk activities, which increases the risk for profit-based offenses.

Offense characteristics in sexually motivated abductions involving middle and high school children generally remain similar. High school sex crimes primarily involve female victims and male offenders. Offenders are usually strangers or acquaintances of the victim. Family members rarely commit these abductions. While abductions of high school children sometimes occur in their homes and yards, most are nonresidential, with the majority occurring in public areas outside the victim's neighborhood or in vehicles. Often these offenses occur more than 1 mile from the victim's home. In cases where offenders kill their victims, they typically dispose of the remains within 5 miles of the abduction site. As with sexually motivated abductions of elementary and middle school children, offenders typically do not hide the victim's remains, but might superficially cover them with available materials. Few victims are buried. Concealment in containers or packaging materials is extremely rare.

High school profit-based abductions involve more male victims. These offenses primarily pertain to the sale and distribution of drugs, and offenders are usually strangers or acquaintances. These offenses occur most often in or around the victim's home, with only a few occurring outside of the victim's neighborhood.

High school emotion-based offenses closely resemble adult crimes of domestic violence. They overwhelmingly involve teenage females victimized by boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, and paramours in stalking and domestic-type disputes. Thus, it appears that as children enter their older teen years, their patterns of abduction and victimization begin to resemble those found in adults. [19] The overwhelming prevalence of female victims represents a distinct change from the victimology of emotion-based offenses involving younger children (younger male and female victims were generally at equal risk). Predictably, offenders usually are male and acquaintances or paramours of the victim. These offenders generally abduct their victims in domestic-type disputes, which represents a departure from the familial emotion-based cases typical of younger children. Abductions frequently occur in close proximity to the victim's home, with most taking place within 1 mile. In high school children, abduction-related deaths generally involv e more weapons than abduction-based homicides involving younger children. This may reflect the necessity to subdue physically stronger and potentially adversarial victims. In cases where offenders kill their victims, they generally dispose of the remains within 5 miles of the abduction site.


Crimes against children, particularly those involving abduction and homicide, continue to become problematic both as a social phenomenon and as the responsibility of law enforcement. Although missing child cases frequently are not abductions, law enforcement agencies must prepare themselves for the inevitable life-threatening case by establishing child abduction investigation protocols and memoranda of understanding with adjacent law enforcement agencies. Such planning is effective only when initiated prior to an abduction allegation and the ensuing investigation. Additionally, each agency must provide specialized training to specific investigators who can manage these potentially complex and high-profile investigations. Because of the intense personal nature of these cases, investigators also must master the difficult task of controlling their own emotions to objectively evaluate all possible scenarios.

Child abduction investigations can burden law enforcement agencies, quickly depleting resources and emotionally exhausting personnel. The 24-hour period following an abduction represents a particularly critical time, and law enforcement must prepare to respond immediately and effectively.

At the onset of an abduction investigation, information can be vague. However, when coupled with a thorough understanding of how and why child abductions occur, even limited initial information can provide investigators with avenues for investigation. As children get older and become more independent and mobile, abduction risk levels change and different victimization patterns emerge. Agencies can use their knowledge of these patterns to effectively direct investigative resources. Additional factors, such as identifying the location of the last-seen, abduction, assault, homicide, and remains disposal sites can improve case resolution and solvability. [20] Modern law enforcement technologies, such as computer-aided case management systems, geographic profiling services, [21] aerial-mounted remote sensing equipment, and computer-based interagency communication networks also can supplement classical investigative procedures. Every abduction case presents unique challenges and police investigations must be immedi ate and thorough. Understanding statistical probabilities only represents part of the investigative equation. Thorough investigations include detailed victimology, intensive neighborhood and roadblock canvasses, timely witness interviews, detailed crime scene searches, media coordination, and common sense. [22]

Dr. Lord serves with the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group at the FBI Academy.

Dr. Boudreaux is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Mr. Lanning recently retired from the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group at the FBI Academy.


(1.) D. Finkelhor, G. Hotaling, and A. Sedlak, "Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children in America," United States Department of Justice (Washington, DC: 1990).

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) M. Boudreaux, W. Lord, and R. Dutra, "Child Abduction: Age-Based Analyses of Offender, Victim, and Offense Characteristics in 550 Cases of Alleged Child Disappearance," Journal of Forensic Sciences 44, no. 3 (1999): 539-53; P. Crittenden and S. Craig, "Developmental Trends in the Nature of Child Homicide," Journal of Interpersonal Violence 5 (1990): 202-216; D. Finkelhor, "The Victimization of Children: A Developmental Perspective," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 65 (1995): 117-193; K. Lanning, "Sexual Homicide of Children," APSAC Advisor 7, no. 4 (1994): 40-44.

(4.) M. Boudreaux, W. Lord, and S. Etter, "Child Abduction: An Overview of Current and Historical Perspectives," Child Maltreatment 5, no. 1: (2000): 63-71; D. Finkelhor, "The Homicides of Children and Youth: A Developmental Perspective," in G. Kantor and J. Jasinski (eds.), "Out of the Darkness: Contemporary Perspectives on Family Violence (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Inc., 1997), 17-34.

(5.) Supra note 3 (Lanning).

(6.) M. Forst and M. Blomquist, Missing Children: Rhetoric and Reality (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1991).

(7.) Ibid.; and K. Lanning, "Child Molesters Who Abduct: Summary of the Case in Point Series," National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Alexandria, VA, 1995), 17-36.

(8.) K. Hanfland, R. Keppel, and J. Weis, "Case Management for Missing Child Homicide Cases," Office of the Attorney General (Olympia, WA, 1997).

(9.) Supra note 1.

(10.) Supra note 7 (Lanning).

(11.) The British Home Office is the British governmental equivalent of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, combined. The Commissioner of Police reports directly to the Home Secretary, who heads the Home Office.

(12.) L. Ankrom and C. Lent, "Cradle Robbers," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, September 1995, 12-17.

(13.) A. Burgess and K. Lanning, eds., "An Analysis of Infant Abductions," National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (Alexandria, VA, 1995).

(14.) Supra note 12.

(15.) Supra notes 3 (Boudreaux, Lord, and Dutra) and 4 (Finkelhor).

(16.) Supra note 4 (Finkelhor).

(17.) Supra note 3 (Boudreaux, Lord, and Dutra).

(18.) Supra note 8.

(19.) Supra notes 3 (Boudreaux, Lord, and Dutra) and 4 (Finkelhor).

(20.) R. Keppel and W. Birnes, Signature Killers (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1997).

(21.) D. Rossmo, Geographic Profiling (Washington, DC: CRC Press, 1999), 347.

(22.) The FBI's Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) employs a nationally responsive team of child abduction experts available to assist requesting law enforcement agencies with investigative support and case consultation services. Additionally, the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime has published an investigative guide to child abduction investigations, titled "The Child Abduction Response Plan." Copies of this guide are available to law enforcement agencies, at no charge, through their local FBI offices. Informational inquiries and requests for case assistance should be directed to CIRG, FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia, 22135, telephone number (703) 632-4333.

Remember to Enter Those Children

Federal law requires immediate entry of all missing children into the National Crime Information Center's (NCIC) Missing Person File. The Missing Children's Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. Section 5772) defines a missing child as an individual under 18 years old whose whereabouts are unknown to the individual's legal custodian, and who was either taken from the control of the legal custodian without the custodian's consent or the circumstances of the case indicate that the child is likely to be abused or sexually exploited.

The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. Section 5780(2)) states that law enforcement agencies may not observe a waiting period before accepting a missing child report and that each missing child reported to law enforcement must be entered immediately into the state law enforcement system and NCIC.

The Missing Children Act (28 U.S.C. Section 534) clarifies that "any information that would assist in the location of any missing person" should be entered into NCIC, and that the abductor need not be charged with a crime to enter a missing person's report into the NCIC Missing Person File. All children who have been taken from their legal custodian should be entered into NCIC--even if they are with a parent. A child still is considered "missing" when his or her general location is unknown. The child should remain in NCIC until the exact address where the child can be found is determined.

Also, remember to place the child abduction (CA) flag in the Missing Person field in appropriate missing children cases. Specifically, the flag should be used under the following conditions:

* There is a reasonable indication or suspicion that a child has been abducted and is missing under circumstances suggesting foul play or a threat to life.

* A child has been snatched off the street by a stranger.

* A particularly young child disappears from the home or a public place.

* A child is missing with an abusive, suicidal, or homicidal parent.

* A runaway child is known to be suicidal or has a severe, life-threatening medical condition.

Entries with the CA flag are immediately automatically transmitted to the FBI's 24-hour Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The SIOC alerts the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) and other appropriate FBI entities. Experience and research have shown that the first hours after an abduction are critical to the resolution of the case. The NCAVC provides operational assistance to federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies through the following services:

* profiles of unknown offenders;

* crime analysis;

* threat assessments;

* investigative strategies;

* interview and interrogation strategies;

* behavioral assessments;

* trial preparation and prosecutive strategies;

* expert testimony; and

* coordination of other resources, including FBI Evidence Response Teams and FBI Laboratory services.
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Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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