Law enforcement officers joined court personnel, employees of the Arkansas Department of Correction and others Thursday training for something they hope they never have to do: investigate the case of an abducted child.
“This has been in the making for more than two years,” FBI Special Agent Boyd Boshears said about what is called the Child Abduction Team.
Boshears, who was formerly the resident agent at the bureau’s office before it closed, is now based in Little Rock and still works cases in Southeast Arkansas.
“The Criminal Justice Institute, the FBI and the State Police decided that there has got to be a better way to respond than to assume the child is a runaway and wait 48 to 72 hours,” Boshears said.
The training was conducted in the Welcome Center at Southeast Arkansas College and was coordinated by the state police.
“I can’t say enough about SEARK and how helpful they were,” Arkansas State Police Lt. Randall Dias, the assistant troop commander of Troop E, which is based in Jefferson County, said. “They went over backwards to help up.”
Boshears and other agents conducted the three-hour session, which set out a mock situation of a missing teenager in Central Arkansas. The group was assigned to figure out how to locate her. Boshears said the team is conducting similar training in every part of the state, using the various state police troops.
“This is really a reaction to the Morgan Nick situation,” Dias said. “There’s a new reality that we need more pre-planning and preparation.”
Morgan Nick was 6-years-old when she was abducted from a little league baseball field in Alma on June 9, 1995. She would be 24 now, and despite multiple searches, has never been found.
“The first couple of hours in a case like that are critical,” Dias said.
According to the Polly Klass Foundation, named after a 12-year-old girl who was abducted from her Petaluma, California, bedroom in 1993 and later killed, 99.8 percent of the children who go missing do come home. Nearly 90 percent of missing children have simply misunderstood directions or miscommunicated their plans, are lost, or have run away, according to the foundation.
A further 9 percent are kidnapped by a family member in a custody dispute, while 3 percent are abducted by non-family members, usually during the commission of a crime such as robbery or sexual assault. The kidnapper is often someone the child knows, according to the foundation.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (citing U.S. Department of Justice reports), nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year. That’s more than 2,000 a day. The NCMEC says 203,000 children are kidnapped each year by family members.
The most recent study published by the Department of Justice reported that of the 797,500 children reported missing in a one-year period, 203,900 were abducted by family members and 58,200 were abducted by non-relatives. One-hundred-fifteen were classified as being taken by a stranger.
In addition to troopers and representatives of the Pine Bluff Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, law enforcement officers from Stuttgart and Arkansas and Lincoln counties and district court participated in the local abduction scenario.
Boshears said others could be added to the team, including school resource officers, the Arkansas Crime Information Center and anyone else who might be able to help.
“This is not just about Pine Bluff,” Boshears said. “In some of the smaller rural areas, they might not have the manpower or resources to undertake a major search.”
Arkansas State Police Capt. Ron Casey, the troop commander of Troop K, which is based in Hot Springs, was also in the class. He said when a call out is made, “the State Police are not in charge. We don’t come in and take over. We’re there to help.”
Asked how the system would work in the event of a possible abduction, Dias said, for example, a child has been reported missing in Redfield, and the Redfield Police have reasons to believe it might be an abduction.
“Say we get a call like that, we pass it up the line and also notify the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children,” he said. “Then we notify the team.”
Once the team arrives, there are multiple facets that have to be covered, including search teams, road blocks, interviews with family and friends. Boshears encouraged those in attendance to see how the different roles play out.
“If there is an abduction, the FBI is going to show up, and we are going to bring resources like the ability to ping phones and check social media and the like” he said.
Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter also attended the session and said Friday that he learned things he would be expected to do in the event of a possible abduction.
Asked how the scenario ended, Hunter said the missing girl was located with a man from Missouri in a motel outside the make believe town. He said the girl had met the man on social media.
“It used to be that you could get telephone records but now, particularly with teenagers, everything is social media like Twitter or Snap Chat or one of the others,” Hunter said. “You need to get that information as quickly as possible before it disappears. That is something that the FBI will be able to do.”