Updated May 22, 2022 - 7:14 am
Ahead of National Missing Children’s Day on Wednesday, advocates and law enforcement are urging people to pay attention to every flyer and social media post about a missing child.
There were 83 children missing in Nevada as of Friday, according to national and state advocacy groups. Around this time last year, 58 children were reported missing.
Heather Doto, program manager at the Las Vegas-based nonprofit Nevada Child Seekers, said about 8,000 children are reported missing to law enforcement in Nevada each year, and the majority are from Las Vegas. About 200 each year are considered endangered or abducted.
“We’re a 24-hour entertainment city,” she said. “There’s a lot to do out here. We’re a hub, and these streets are dangerous. Unfortunately, where there’s more people you’re more likely to have more predators.”
Nevada Child Seekers works on about 500 cases per year and has a 90 percent success rate in finding children, Doto said.
Callahan Walsh, spokesman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, said children of color, specifically Black children, go missing at a higher rate than white children.
“The African American population of children, according to the U.S. census, makes up just about 13 to 15 percent of the U.S. population of children, yet they represent over 30 percent of our missing children’s cases,” Walsh said.
Doto said the pandemic led to a rise in predators using the internet to lure children away from their homes.
“Predators go where children go,” Doto said.
Walsh said a common misconception about runaways is that they are always cases of disobedience or drug use. He said home is not always the best place for children who see leaving as a safer option.
Doto said Nevada Child Seekers avoids the term runaway on its missing children posters because it leads to the public paying less attention to those children.
She said children who leave home are, in most cases, “running to something or they’re running away from something.”
Las Vegas resident Edward Harvey’s 16-year-old son has gone missing four times since he turned 14. He last went missing for about two weeks in March before he was found by law enforcement.
Harvey described the times his son has gone missing as “heart-wrenching, stressful, painful.” He said it leads to sleepless nights and long drives around his home hoping to get lucky and find his son.
“You don’t want to ever have to worry about whether they’re alive or if you’re going to get a phone call one day saying you got to come ID your child’s body or just never find them at all,” Harvey said.
Volunteer efforts, alerts
Along with missing children posters shared on social media, Nevada Child Seekers sends volunteers to look for missing children and to put up flyers in neighborhoods on the last Saturday of each month.
Another strategy for finding missing children is an Amber Alert. Walsh said NCMEC sends out the alerts in each state, which have different criteria for what rises to the level of an alert. Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Dave Valenta said Amber Alerts in Nevada are reserved for child abduction cases and don’t include runaways or parental abductions.
“Don’t just brush those alerts off,” Walsh said. “We don’t want you to become desensitized to them, and so we take very much care making sure that those alerts are geotargeted, geofenced so that you’re not getting all of these reports or all of these Amber Alerts all the time. If you’re getting them to your phone it’s because you are in that exact area where that child went missing or you’re along the corridor in which the abductor may be taking that child.”
Valenta oversees Metro’s missing persons detail. He said parents should be knowledgeable about their children’s lives, where they go and who their friends are.
“Those are going to be the first things we want to look to — the obvious answers,” Valenta said.
The simple act of sharing a missing person flyer posted on social media can make a difference, he said.
“The more eyes out there the better,” Valenta said.
How to help
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has educational resources online for parents and caregivers. The center partners with volunteer health care professionals to help children who have returned home after having traumatic experiences while missing. For more information, or to volunteer or to donate, visit missingkids.org.
Nevada Child Seekers is seeking volunteers for its monthly searches on the last Saturday of each month. Visit nevadachildseekers.org or call 702-458-7009.