Timing, attention to detail critical in locating missing children

Every year in Nevada, thousands of children are reported missing by family members who cannot locate them. In such cases, remembering simple safety tips can make the situation less stressful and ultimately protect a child from danger.

Each year, between 7,500 and 8,000 children are reported missing in Nevada, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

“Toddlers can go missing in a blink of an eye,” said Laura Meltzer, public information officer at the Metropolitan Police Department. “It’s important for parents or caregivers to pay extra attention to little ones. Children often don’t understand the severity of the situation. Sometimes they think it’s just a big game of hide-and-seek.”

Meltzer said parents should use common sense when it comes to locating a child. Parents should spend no longer than five to 10 minutes doing an immediate sweep of the area before contacting the police.

Parents should call 911 for an emergency or 311 for a nonemergency.

Parents should also check that the child is not hiding inside the house or outside.

If the child is missing at a store, parents should contact an employee and give a description of the child. Meltzer said stores often have a protocol that can help locate a missing child.

Once police arrive, they will ask for a description of the child before searching the premises.

Keith Paul, spokesman for the Henderson Police Department, said parents should provide police with the date, time and location where the child was last seen. He added that parents should always have a recent video or photo of their child that they update every few months.

Parents should also know or carry descriptive information of their child, such as height, medical conditions, hair color, scars and other distinguishing features. Meltzer added that parents should always be aware of what their child is wearing.

“When a child is missing, small details about the child can really help an officer locate the child,” Meltzer said.

Sonia Lucero, a child advocate case manager at Nevada Child Seekers, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing children from going missing, said it is important to inform the police immediately if a child cannot be located.

“With a toddler, it’s more times than not an abduction from a stranger,” Lucero said. “Parents should inform the police right away. Time is of the essence.”

Lucero added that parents should explore their surrounding area and ask neighbors and people who are nearby if they have seen a child.

“Parents need to keep a close eye on their children, especially when they’re toddlers,” Lucero said. “If you have a kid with tendencies to wander off, it wouldn’t hurt to get a leash for them. You can’t put a price on your child’s life.”

In 2012, there were 5,482 missing persons cases received, according to data released by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Many times there is a miscommunication between the parents and their children, Paul said. It is crucial for parents to keep open communication with their child and know the addresses and phone numbers of their children’s friends’ parents.

“Every case that I personally responded to turned out to be a lack of communication,” Meltzer said. “The child was simply where the parents didn’t expect them to be.”

Meltzer added that parents should help their children memorize their home address and a phone number where a parent can be reached.

An Amber Alert is intended for the most serious, time-critical child abduction cases. It can be activated only by law enforcement agencies and is not intended for cases involving runaways or parental abductions unless it is a life-threatening situation, according to Nevada alert guidelines.

If the police find a missing child and the parents have not notified authorities, the child will be sent to Child Haven, a nonprofit that helps abused and neglected children.

Once there, the child cannot be released to parents until an investigation has occurred that determines that the child has not been abused or neglected.

Paul said parents should always be aware of their child’s surroundings and keep a close eye on them to avoid such situations.

“This is a parent’s worst nightmare,” Paul said. “A wave of panic hits them. But parents can be prepared by having the (necessary information) ready for police to help locate their child.”

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter Sandy Lopez at or 702-383-4686.

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