OJP Press Release letterhead

MAY 21, 2003
Office of Justice Programs
Contact: Mary Louise Embrey


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Attorney General John Ashcroft today honored a number of law enforcement officers and others for their outstanding efforts in recovering and assisting abducted and exploited children. The awards were presented as part of the Justice Department’s annual National Missing Children’s Day ceremony.

"I'm honored to praise the law enforcement officers and others who vigorously defend and protect our nation's children every day," said Attorney General Ashcroft. "Law enforcement officers are often the first responders when a child is at risk or is missing, and they deserve recognition for their outstanding service and dedication to their communities."

The Officer of the Year Award for Missing and Exploited Children Investigations was awarded to U.S. Postal Inspector Elizabeth Bendel, who successfully investigated an extensive child pornography business in Miramar, Florida. Her efforts led to the identification of 10 child victims and the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator, as well as the apprehension of 4 co-conspirators.

Additional awards were given to officers involved in the search and rescue of two California girls abducted at gunpoint last year and located as a result of an AMBER Alert notification. Also honored were officers involved in: the recovery of a child abducted from her home in France; the apprehension of the alleged operator of an interstate prostitution ring; the apprehension of individuals charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and possession of child pornography; as well as the apprehension of a man charged with the kidnaping and murderer of a 17 year-old girl, as well as the rape of a 6 year-old and 16 year-old.

Additionally, Erica Pratt, abducted as a seven year-old in Philadelphia last year, was given the Courage Award for managing to escape her captors after chewing through duct tape, kicking open the basement door, and screaming out a window until she was rescued. Chief Phil Keith of the Knoxville Police Department received an award for many years of law enforcement leadership.

The Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevent (OJJDP) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) selected the eight 2003 honorees from over 70 nominations received. Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs and the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, Deborah J. Daniels, spoke to the group about the development of the national AMBER Alert strategy and future plans for the implementation of the recently enacted AMBER legislation.

"National Missing Children’s Day allows us a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the strong partnership between the public and private sectors who work together on preventing abductions and providing services to child victims and their families," said Daniels. "It is through these partnerships that we will develop and implement a coordinated nationwide AMBER Alert system that will offer a tremendous asset in bringing abducted children safely home." Performing at the ceremony for the 9th year were 2 members of the Bells of Love, a children’s musical group from Syracuse, New York. The group was originally formed in response to the 1993 abduction and murder of Sara Wood, a 12-year-old girl from upstate New York.

J. Robert Flores, Administrator of OJJDP, also presented the First Place Award in the 4th Annual Missing Children’s Day Art Contest to Carissa Hahn, a middle school student from Hutchinson, Minnesota. Her work, which was selected from nearly 400 submissions nationwide, was displayed at the ceremony and will be featured in missing children-related publications and conferences.

The Office of Justice Programs has a number of publications concerning missing and exploited children available through the website at www.ojp.usdoj.gov and from the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20857. The toll-free number is 1-800-638-8736.

Additional information about NCMEC is available through its toll-free number, 1-800-843-5678 and its website at www.missingkids.com.

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2003 National Missing and Exploited Children’s Awards


Award Recipient:
Postal Inspector Elizabeth Bendel
U.S. Postal Inspection Service (Miramar, FL)

Conviction of Angel Mariscal

In the course of an April 2002 investigation, police uncovered a suspicious video-mailing envelope that bore a Florida return address. Postal Inspector Elizabeth Bendel was assigned to the case and identified Angel Mariscal as being involved in the mailing. For four months, Inspector Bendel coordinated investigative activities including extensive surveillance of Mariscal. She obtained federal search warrants for mail arriving at the suspect’s mail drop in Florida and conducted searches of several of Mariscal’s customers’ homes.

With enough evidence from the investigation in hand, Inspector Bendel arrested Angel Mariscal as he was departing his hotel en route to the mail drop location. A search warrant executed at Mariscal’s hotel room uncovered hundreds of videotapes, discs, computers, and related records involving his child pornography "business."


Award Recipient:
Special Agent Stacey L. Mitry
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Search and recovery of Sara Brin

In February of 1999, three-year-old Sara Brin was abducted from her home in France by her noncustodial father under violent circumstances. French police issued an arrest warrant for the father believing he had fled to the U.S. with Sara. FBI Special Agent Stacey Mitry, who was assigned to the case, immediately reviewed case documents, contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), and interviewed people familiar with the case including Sara’s mother, Fabienne Brin, who provided detailed information. The investigation led Mitry to California where she conducted a number of interviews that helped her identify an area in Canada where she thought the suspect and child might be.

Mitry enlisted the assistance of the Toronto Police Department Fugitive Squad, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the U.S. Customs Service in her efforts. NCMEC produced an aged-progression image of Sara which was distributed across Ontario, and resulted in information leading to a precise location. Two years after her abduction, Sara was located and returned to her mother in France.

Award Recipient:
Detective Larry A. Johnston
Box Elder (UT) County Sheriff’s Department

Conviction of Mark S. Jensen

Two months later, a 17-year-old girl from Ogden, Utah was found raped and brutally murdered. Leaves from a hedge near where her body was found were taken as evidence. On the same day, the Ogden SWAT Team arrested a probation violator and possible suspect who was then questioned regarding the young girl’s death. The suspect informed investigators that Jensen had been the last person seen with the young teen.

Less than two months after the initial assault, Detective Johnston found and arrested Jensen, who was formally charged with kidnaping and capital homicide for the abduction and murder of the 17 year-old-girl. Due to previous convictions which had required him to submit a sample, Jensen’s DNA was on file with the national DNA database. Upon subsequent DNA testing, he was also charged with the 16 year-old’s rape and another rape of a six-year-old girl from Wyoming.

Award Recipients:
Lieutenant Stephen M. Smith
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
Senior Deputy Lawrence Thatcher
Senior Deputy James Stratton
Kern County Sheriff’s Department

Search and recovery of Tamara Brooks and Jacqueline Marris

On August 1, 2002, 16 year-old Tamara Brooks and 17 year-old Jacqueline Marris, were abducted at gunpoint in Los Angeles County, California. Immediately following the abductions, the Los Angeles County Police Department (LACPD) and Kern County Sheriff’ s Department (KCSD) launched a statewide investigation. Both agencies created and orchestrated regional grid searches, contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), distributed photos, and activated California’s first official AMBER Alert.

Later that day, their hard work paid off with a lead received from an animal control officer who had heard the AMBER Alert and recognized the suspect’s vehicle. When the officers approached the vehicle, a standoff ensued that eventually resulted in the suspect being shot and killed. Both Marris and Brooks were recovered safely.


Award Recipient:
Special Agent Benjamin Yen
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Oakland, CA

Child Prostitution Ring

In August of 2002, the FBI’s Innocent Images Task Force received a case involving a 17 year-old female runaway from Ottawa, Canada. FBI Special Agent Benjamin Yen was assigned to the case. According to an e-mail the teen had sent her mother, she had been befriended on the Internet by a man, known as Ray. However, after arranging to meet her he had forced her into prostitution. The e-mail also stated that the teen wanted to come home, and planned to do so as soon as she could retrieve her ID and other personal property being held by Ray.

After investigation, Special Agent Yen discovered that the child was being advertised as an escort on a website. Working with the Ottawa Police Department to devise a recovery plan, Special Agent Yen went undercover and made an appointment to meet the juvenile at a local hotel. The suspect's car was then stopped by Special Agent Yen and other federal agents while en-route to the hotel. One of the occupants of the suspect's car was the missing teen, who subsequently identified the driver as Ray, the man who had lured her into prostitution.

Special Agent Yen led a further investigation that revealed Ray to be the primary control for a broad, interstate prostitution ring.

Award Recipient:
Assistant Attorney General Maya Guerra Gamble
Sergeant David A. Torsiello
Texas Attorney General — Internet Bureau

Conviction of Raymond M. Ames, Jr. and Timothy A. Clanton

In August of 2001, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) received a CyberTipline report from a European hotline indicating that child pornography was being posted in an online club. The NCMEC’s Exploited Child Unit’s analysts confirmed the illegal content and contacted Assistant Attorney General Maya Guerra Gamble of the Internet Bureau of the Texas Attorney General’s Office for investigation.

Gamble working closely with her colleague, Sergeant Dave Torsiello, identified two male suspects, 41 year-old Raymond Monroe Ames, Jr., and 35 year-old Timothy Allen Clanton. Upon execution of a search warrant, the officers found two young boys and an adult suffering from cerebral palsy living at the suspects’ residence, along with more than 100 images of child pornography.

Within two weeks of receiving the CyberTipline lead, Gamble and Torsiello arrested the suspects and six indictments incorporating sixty-five counts were handed down—charges ranging from aggravated sexual assault of a child, to possession of child pornography and promotion of child pornography.


Award Recipient:
Erica Pratt

For the fourth time in just three years, NCMEC will be presenting its 2003 National Courage Award to a child who exemplified the utmost courage in freeing herself from her abductors. On Monday, July 22, 2002, seven year-old Erica Pratt was abducted from the street corner in front of her Philadelphia home by two men who then sped away with her in a car. During the abduction Erica was held captive in the basement of an abandoned home with her hands and feet bound with duct tape. On Tuesday, July 23 the gutsy seven year old little girl chewed through the tape, kicked open a basement door and made her way to a window where she screamed until someone heard her and came to her rescue.

Her confidence and ability to think quickly in such a crisis is truly admirable. For her unyielding persistence and boldness Erica Pratt has been nominated to receive this year’s 2003 National Courage Award.


Award Recipient:
Chief Phil E. Keith
Knoxville Police Department

Chief Keith has been a voice for children and a proven leader throughout his 32 years of experience in the fields of criminal justice, public safety, and business administration. Through his positive leadership skills, he has led the Knoxville Police Department to become one of the leading law enforcement agencies in the country, taking on the protection of children as a major objective.