THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
NATIONAL MISSING CHILDREN'S DAY CEREMONY
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 2004
Thank you, Bob, and thanks to you, your staff, and all of today's participants for helping to make this National Missing Children's Day possible. I know that this year marks the first time that efforts have been made to energize the entire country in commemorating missing children and honoring those who work on their behalf. And I know that we're joined in marking National Missing Children's Day by communities throughout the country.
I'm pleased to have this opportunity to help remember the children in our nation who are still missing, and those whose young lives have been cut tragically short by senseless murder. But we are also here to celebrate the many missing children who have been recovered and safely returned to their families.
As the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I am gratified to know that the AMBER Alert initiative that the Justice Department has been helping to implement -- in partnership with state and local law enforcement, broadcasters, and children's advocates throughout the country -- has contributed significantly to the safety of our nation's children.
The stunning success of AMBER Alert is directly related to the unprecedented cooperation of alert citizens, law enforcement, and broadcasters. To date, 134 children have been recovered since AMBER Alert began in 1996. But our efforts are having an even greater impact since the AMBER program became a coordinated, national effort.
Three-quarters of the total number of all recoveries - 100 children -- have occurred since October of 2002, when the President called on the Justice Department to coordinate the national effort. We now have all 48 contiguous states on board with statewide AMBER Alert plans, so that communities are now poised to act when a child is abducted. Communities, states, and local jurisdictions are working together, and across state lines. This cross-border collaboration is the vital link in our national strategy to bring abducted children home.
Today, we are privileged to honor those whose efforts have helped make America safer for our children. And I am particularly pleased to have the honor of presenting, for the first time, awards recognizing those whose actions have contributed to the success of AMBER Alert.
Our first award recognizes the outstanding actions of two citizens who helped to recover three abducted children. I am very pleased to present the first AMBER Alert Citizen Award to Al Joy of Cleveland, Tennessee, and Jason Roden of Rising Fawn, Georgia. I'd like to ask them both to please come forward.
Al Joy and Jason Roden are co-workers at a Red Lobster restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. On January 8th of this year, Al and Jason were returning from a car trip to Florida when they saw AMBER Alert road signs in Georgia asking motorists to be on the lookout for a vehicle containing three children who had been abducted earlier that day. The abductor was a suspect in the murder of the children's grandparents, another of his children, and a fourth family member.
About 15 miles outside of Chattanooga, the two men, along with Al's wife and Jason's girlfriend, noticed that the car they were passing fit the AMBER Alert description. They called 911 on a cell phone and discovered it was the car for which police were searching. State troopers arrested the abductor and safely recovered the children.
I want to note that this isn't the only time Jason has been a hero. A few months ago, while working at Red Lobster, he saved the life of a choking customer by performing the Heimlich maneuver.
Because they responded quickly to an AMBER Alert, Al Joy and Jason Roden saved three children from a suspected murderer. For their outstanding efforts, we're presenting them today with the first-ever AMBER Alert Citizen Award.
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Our second new AMBER Alert award recognizes the outstanding efforts of the television program, America's Most Wanted, and its founder, John Walsh, in recovering missing children over the years. John, if you'll please come forward. I'd also like to welcome John's wife, Reve', and their son, Hayden, who also are here with us today. Reve', as many of you know, is affectionately known as the "Mother of the Missing Child Movement".
After the abduction and murder of their son Adam in 1981, John and Reve' worked tirelessly to help missing and exploited children. The television program John created and hosts, America's Most Wanted, has led to almost 800 arrests.
The Walshs also lobbied for enactment of the Missing Children Act of 1982 and the Missing Children's Assistance Act of 1984, which created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. John served as the National Center's first director, and now sits on its board of directors.
In its first year, John's production company, Straight Shooter Productions, syndicated the Manhunter television program in 45 countries, and also created the syndicated program, America's Most Wanted: Final Justice, here in the United States.
I'm extremely pleased to present John Walsh with the first AMBER and Missing Children's Media Award in recognition of the efforts of America's Most Wanted to bring attention to the abduction and recovery of missing children.
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Our next speaker is someone who has worked for many years to protect children and to punish criminals who victimize children.
As Attorney General, and before that as a United States Senator, and even 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, particularly our AMBER Alert initiative. 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. Please join me in welcoming United States Attorney General John Ashcroft.