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‘I just hope she’s in a safe place’: More than 40 children missing in Nevada

More than two years ago, Bobby Penn dropped his daughter Keira off at school. But when he returned to pick her up, Keira never showed up.

Keira has been missing ever since. She was one of more than 40 children still missing in Nevada on Saturday as the country recognized National Missing Children’s Day, according to both Nevada Child Seekers and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

The day serves as a reminder of every missing child throughout the nation, as well as the precautions parents can take to protect their children.

For parents like Penn, it is an opportunity to continue to raise awareness for his missing daughter and share a crucial message with parents: “Communicate with your children.”

‘I just hope she’s in a safe place’

“It started with the divorce,” Penn said. He and his ex-wife had a “contentious” divorce, and he feels that Keira and her brother got caught in the middle. It culminated in Keira’s mother losing custody, he said.

When Keira and her brother moved in with Penn, he thought the family had finally found a “new normal.”

Penn said Keira was a diligent student in school and an avid gymnast.

But on Jan. 24, 2022, Keira left school during the day and hasn’t been seen since.

“It’s been difficult dealing with that,” Penn said. “I just hope she’s in a safe place.”

‘As of right now, it’s just frustrating’

Over the past couple of years, Penn said the flow of information coming in from police has slowed.

He said that police have exhausted a series of leads. A subpoenaed phone record shows Keira was communicating with a number that Penn said belonged to his ex wife’s boyfriend on the day of her disappearance. But after that, Keira went “completely off the grid.”

He said police have searched his ex-wife’s house, but Keira was not there.

He’s worried about his daughter’s quality of life. “Is she going to school?” he wondered. “It’s kind of like she’s living on the run. What kind of life is that?”

‘Unimaginable circumstances’

John Piet, Nevada children’s advocate, said that the frustration parents feel speaks to the challenging nature of law enforcement work. In this statutory role, he prosecutes cases dealing with missing or exploited children.

“They are unimaginable circumstances,” he said. “They want, and rightfully so desire, a return of their children as quickly as possible. And sometimes, that doesn’t happen.”

While he believes this issue is something most parents don’t even want to think about, he said preparation is critical. Piet recommends parents download a mobile app created by the FBI called “FBI Child ID” that allows parents to input current information and photos of their children.

The app also provides detailed instructions of what to do in the event that a child does go missing. “The first thing you do if your child has gone missing is call 911,” Piet said.

The unsolved cases

Margarita Edwards, executive director of Nevada Child Seekers, said around 96 percent of missing children are eventually found.

Every month, Nevada Child Seekers conducts a Saturday search. Volunteers look for information on “open cases that have gone cold.” All volunteers undergo a background check and training before they take to city streets.

Edwards said the team will gather in an area where a child was last seen missing. Volunteers will then spread out, posting fliers and knocking on neighbors’ doors.

Piet said he understands that the longer these cases go on, the more frustrating it is for parents. “Those cases are just as important as the cases that have recently gone missing,” he said.

Nevada’s missing child problem

In missing child scenarios where there is a confirmed abduction with imminent danger to the child, an AMBER alert will be issued.

According to Adrienne Abbott, chair of Nevada’s Emergency Alert System (EAS), there have been 60 EAS activations for 88 cases of abducted and endangered children since 2001.

Of these, 78 children have been safely recovered, and nine are believed to be alive and in Mexico, she said.

Online dangers

According to Edwards, the summer months are the peak months to lure children. This is because children are online more, possibly while their parents are away at work.

“Predators don’t have to drive around looking for kids anymore,” Edwards said. Instead, they can send them ride-share cars and let them come to them.

Edwards emphasized that a very small number of cases involve abduction by a complete stranger. More than 99 percent of the time, a child will go missing because of someone already in their life, interacting with them on a daily basis.

‘Don’t put it off’

When Keira moved in with Penn, he said that he didn’t have a conversation with her about everything that was going on. “All I ever wanted for her was just to be a kid,” he said. But he regrets not having this difficult talk.

He urged parents to stay involved in their kids’ lives. “Don’t put it off, just do it now,” he said, adding that even if she hadn’t wanted to speak to him, “at least she would have heard it, and maybe she would not have run away.”

Keira is now 17 years old. Penn hopes that one day, perhaps once she turns 18, she will reconnect with her father and brother.

“She has a lot of good that she could do in this world,” Penn said.

Contact Estelle Atkinson at eatkinson@reviewjournal.com.

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