ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES MARKS NATIONAL MISSING CHILDREN'S DAY
WASHINGTON, D.C.-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today commemorated National Missing Children's Day by honoring law enforcement and citizens nationwide for their unprecedented teamwork and selfless efforts in the recovery of missing and exploited children.
"A missing child is every parent's worst nightmare," said Attorney General Gonzales. "Every day, the courageous men and women of law enforcement work tirelessly to recover missing and exploited children across our nation. We are grateful for their dedication, and today we recognize their valiant efforts to apprehend would-be predators and keep our communities safe."
Attorney General Gonzales today honored 25 law enforcement officers for their efforts to help missing and exploited children. Detailed award descriptions are attached.
Tracy Henke, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs and Acting National AMBER Alert Coordinator, presented the AMBER Alert Citizen Award to Charles Cogburn from Russellville, Arkansas, for his role in responding to an AMBER Alert that helped save the life of a 17-year-old Texas teenager. AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.
AMBER Alerts have saved the lives of more than 200 children since 1996. In 2001, only four states had statewide AMBER Alert plans. In February, the Department of Justice met its goal having statewide AMBER Alert plans in place in all 50 states, to aid in the recovery of abducted children and creating a nationwide network of plans.
Nearly 800,000 children are reported missing every year. Some children run away, others may be lost or injured, while some may be abducted by a parent or a stranger. For the more than 100 children abducted by strangers each year, where the child was kept overnight, held for ransom, or killed, the first few hours after an abduction are critical. Seventy-four percent of children who are abducted and later found murdered are killed in the first three hours after being taken. Most often, child abductions are committed by family members-more than 200,000 annually-in an attempt to deprive a caretaker of custodial rights. Of the 58,200 non-family abductions each year in the United States, nearly all (98 percent) of these children were returned to their families safely.
The National Corporate Awards were awarded to Honeywell and RadioShack by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) for their efforts to inform the public about missing and exploited children's issues.
The Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention issued four new publications to aid in the recovery of abducted and missing children: AMBER Alert: Bringing Abducted Children Home; AMBER Alert Fact Sheet: Effective Use of the National Crime Information Center or NCIC; AMBER Alert: Best Practices Guide for Broadcasters and Other Media Outlets; and a pocket card for law enforcement listing AMBER Alert criteria and information about NCIC.
The Office of Justice Programs provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP is headed by an Assistant Attorney General and comprises five component bureaus and two offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and Office for Victims of Crime, as well as the Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education and the Community Capacity Development Office, which incorporates the Weed and Seed strategy and OJP's American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Desk. More information can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov.
2005 National Missing and Exploited Children's Awards
The Officer of the Year Award: For the Recovery of Victoria Stinnett
National Missing Children's Law Enforcement Award: For the Recovery of Delimar Vera
National Missing Children's Law Enforcement Award: For the Recovery of Tanner Kahn
National Exploited Children's Law Enforcement Award: For Dismantling Child Sex Ring
In March 2003, Lieutenant Kenny Wynns began investigating the activities within a massage parlor that had recently opened near a school, daycare facility, and children's dance studio. Lieutenant Wynns suspected the parlor to be a front for the prostitution of children. One month later, he and a team of investigators executed two search warrants that led to five arrests. Over the course of 26 months, Lieutenant Wynns identified dozens of escort services, more than 100 individuals who provided children for sex, and 11 child victims. He also learned that the FBI, the Oklahoma City Police Department, the District Attorney, and the U.S. Attorney's office had been investigating some of the same people. Police have arrested 23 suspects, 11 of whom have pleaded guilty, and 12 are awaiting court dates.
National Exploited Children's Law Enforcement Award: Operation Falcon
In 2004, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, working with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Internal Revenue Service; U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey; and the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff's Office, launched Operation Falcon to investigate a child pornography enterprise. Operation Falcon seized computer servers from a company known as RegPay, which was suspected of advertising and distributing child pornography. Through careful research, cultivation of contacts, and diligent efforts, the task force painstakingly dismantled an enormous network of sexual predators. To date, officials have made more than 1,200 arrests internationally and 200 arrests in the United States.
National Exploited Children's Law Enforcement Award: For Capture of Marvin Witherspoon, Carl Hollar, and Marvin Trivette
In late 2003, a team of four officers began investigating a child sex and pornography ring allegedly led by Marvin Witherspoon. Investigator Joanna Morton of the Hickory, North Carolina Police Department had encountered Witherspoon earlier while investigating a statutory rape allegation. Morton obtained a search warrant for Witherspoon's home and found 350 videotapes depicting sexual acts with adults and young boys, documents referencing Disney World, and several cameras. The search warrants helped the officers to identify two more suspects, Carl Hollar and Marvin Trivette, and led them to a house recently purchased by Witherspoon near Disney World. In searching that home, they confiscated child pornography videotapes, boys' underwear, area maps with children's parks highlighted, and evidence that Witherspoon had been in contact with a local Boy Scout troop. The three were arrested on federal warrants and pleaded guilty. Hollar and Trivette were given combined sentences of more than 17 years. Witherspoon is awaiting federal and state sentencing, and is facing more than 20 years in prison.
AMBER Alert Citizen Award:
Just before heading out on his regular run to Texarkana, Charles Cogburn, a truck driver with TCL Trucking in Russellville, Arkansas, saw a televised AMBER Alert for 17-year-old Shauna Leigh Owens of Plano, Texas. While driving along Interstate 40, Cogburn saw a vehicle that matched the description of the one in the AMBER Alert. Cogburn called 911 and radioed ahead to other truckers asking them to verify the license plate as the vehicle had moved ahead of him in traffic. Authorities stopped the vehicle and apprehended the suspect, who had been holding Shauna at gunpoint.
National Corporate Award:
In 2003, Honeywell partnered with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to develop a curriculum called GOT 2B SAFE, which promotes awareness about child abduction to children aged eight to 10 years and their families. GOT 2B SAFE has been distributed to 50,000 schools through the Weekly Reader publication. Some of Honeywell's 60,000 employees are participating in NCMEC's Ambassadors Program that helps educate communities about where families can obtain child safety information.
RadioShack, Fort Worth, Texas
National Missing Children's Day Art Contest Winner
Miss Sever, a fifth grade student, was selected from among 1000 entries. Her winning drawing was on display at the Department of Justice ceremony and will be featured in missing children-related publications and conferences.