REMARKS OF

THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS

ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL

OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS

AT THE

NATIONAL MISSING CHILDREN’S DAY CEREMONY

ON

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2003

WASHINGTON, DC



On behalf of the Department of Justice, I’d like to welcome you to this commemoration of National Missing Children’s Day. I want to thank all of you for being here today and for the work that you do every day to protect America’s children.

I’d particularly like to recognize the Members of Congress who are here this afternoon – as well as a number of Congressional staffers. [Those present were recognized.] We appreciate your support.

In the two decades since President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Missing Children’s Day, our nation has made considerable progress in protecting children from abduction and exploitation, recovering missing children, and assisting families going through the terrible nightmare of child kidnaping, sexual abuse, and other crimes against children.

In 1984, the Missing Children’s Assistance Act established the Missing and Exploited Children’s Program within the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs. That same year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children opened its doors. And for almost 20 years, the Department of Justice and the National Center have worked together – in partnership with others all across the country – to protect children.

National Missing Children’s Day allows us to celebrate these partnerships. It also gives us an opportunity to recognize the thousands of law enforcement officials, children’s advocates, parents, and others who work to prevent abductions and to provide services to child victims and their families. I know that many of those people are here this afternoon, and I want to thank you for all you are doing to safeguard our children.

In particular, we pay tribute today to the strength and courage of the parents of children who have been abducted and tragically killed, as well as the parents of children who remain missing today. We are grateful to you for turning your personal grief into advocacy, and for sharing your considerable strength and wisdom with all of us.

National Missing Children’s Day also reminds us of how much progress we’ve made in our efforts to locate abducted children, reunite them with their families, and protect other children from harm. At the same time, this occasion reminds us of how much we have yet to accomplish. Each year, thousands of children are abducted, more than a million children run away from home to the dangers of the streets, and others suffer the terrible trauma of sexual exploitation.

Attorney General Introduction

Today, we are fortunate to have with us a man who has worked for many years to protect children, and to punish criminals who victimize children. As Attorney General, before that as a United States Senator, and prior to that as Attorney General and then Governor of Missouri, John Ashcroft has worked to ensure support for efforts to address the problem of missing children.

He has strongly supported the work of the Office of Justice Programs and our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. He has worked with the Congress to pass legislation to protect children from abduction and sexual exploitation, and to increase criminal penalties for offenders who prey on child victims. And he has championed those who work on behalf of children and their families.

We’re pleased and honored that he could take time from his very busy schedule to be with us today. I know, General, that you are on a tight timetable, and that you’re going to have to leave us shortly. But we thank you so much for taking the time to join us, and for helping us to recognize publicly the tremendous work that is occurring throughout the country on behalf of missing children and their families.

Ladies and gentleman, please join me in welcoming the Attorney General of the United States, John Ashcroft.

* * *

Thank you very much, General Ashcroft. And congratulations to all the award winners.

AMBER Alert

As the Attorney General mentioned, he has appointed me to serve as the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, and I am honored to have been given this important responsibility. I want to take a few minutes to bring you up to date on our National AMBER Alert initiative.

As most of you are well aware, AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. It was created in 1996 as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnaped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and then brutally murdered.

In the aftermath of this horrible crime, Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. The system broadcasts alerts about a missing child and the abductor, providing as much descriptive information as possible, and asks the public to call police to report sightings or other pertinent information.

The goal of AMBER Alert is to quickly galvanize the entire community to assist in the safe return of the child and the apprehension of the predator. Our research has shown that the first few hours are critical in the safe recovery of an abducted child. 74 percent of children who are kidnaped and later found murdered are killed within the first three hours after being taken. So a quick response is vital in saving the life of an abducted child.

AMBER Alert provides this quick response. And because of the tremendous potential this system has for saving children from harm, last month the Congress passed, and President Bush signed, the PROTECT Act, which authorizes a national AMBER Alert program. We are so grateful to the Members of Congress who are here for their strong support of the PROTECT Act.

Of course, we have partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and with many of you in this room, since the late 1990s to assist in the implementation of AMBER Alert systems in communities across the country. And, as the Attorney General noted, we started working in earnest to create a nationwide, coordinated AMBER Alert network last fall, at the President’s direction. Since then, as the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I’ve been working with many talented people, most of whom are in this room today, to move this initiative forward. For example:

And we’re planning a 3-day National Conference in Dallas this coming August to bring together teams of broadcasters, law enforcement personnel, and transportation officials who will work together to coordinate AMBER Alert programs in each state, as well as through regional collaborations. This will kick off a broader training effort aimed at law enforcement, the broadcasting community, and the public at large, so that we will all be fully prepared to act together to avert future tragedies. Our goal is to develop a seamless national network of AMBER Alert Systems as soon as possible. And I am pleased to report that our efforts are already showing progress. In October of 2001, there were only 27 AMBER Alert programs in this country, only 5 of which were statewide. A total of 16 children had been recovered with the assistance of these programs. A year and a half later, these numbers have grown dramatically. There are now 89 AMBER programs, 42 of which are statewide. And the AMBER program has been credited with the safe return of 70 children. One of the most recent recoveries occurred just a few weeks ago, in Utah. A highway patrol officer in Utah recognized a van matching an AMBER Alert description in the case of an 11-year-old Minnesota girl who’d been reported missing. An Alert had been issued in Minnesota, where the girl lived, and in Utah, where the alleged abductor had ties. The trooper was just using his laptop computer to calculate the driving time from Minnesota to Utah, when he noticed the van fitting the description issued in the AMBER Alert. He stopped the van, arrested the suspect, and safely recovered the girl. The FBI later charged the suspect with kidnaping. And I’m delighted to report that, just yesterday, an AMBER Alert resulted in the safe recovery of a 15-year-old girl in my home state of Indiana, who also had been abducted by a stranger near her home and taken to another city. Through our National AMBER Alert initiative, we’re working to make more success stories like this possible and to safely recover every abducted child who is in danger of serious harm.

Administrator Flores Introduction

I’d now like to re-introduce Bob Flores, Administrator of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In addition to leading the federal program to improve juvenile justice and reduce juvenile delinquency and crime, Bob has strongly and steadfastly supported our efforts to implement AMBER Alert nationwide.

I want to thank Bob, as well as Ron Laney of his staff, my deputy, Cheri Nolan, and all the staff throughout the Office of Justice Programs who are contributing to this effort. But I particularly want to recognize Bob for the leadership he has demonstrated on behalf of the children of this country, and welcome him back to the podium. Bob . . .