Sep 02

Nine years after Katrina, family reunification planning a priority

Sharon Hawa is the Program Manager of Emergency Communications at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Sharon works closely with the emergency management and disaster communities at the local, state and federal levels to promote the importance of planning for children in disasters.

This year marks the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and emergency managers have learned a tremendous amount about how to better respond to disasters in its wake. The reunification of families separated during these disasters is still and will always be an important facet of emergency planning. However, the responsibility of reunification planning does not solely rest on the shoulders of emergency managers. Anyone looking after children should have a plan in place.

When children are separated from those who best understand their individual needs, they have greater difficulty coping, adding more anxiety and stress to their situation. Children separated during a disaster may be more vulnerable to maltreatment, abuse, kidnapping and exploitation.

Families and caretakers can begin preparing for disasters big or small — such as mudslides, floods, earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes — by making a plan.

How to prepare for separation during a disaster

  1. Know your child’s school and day care emergency evacuation and reunification plans. Some schools and day cares have emergency plans for a variety of scenarios, but recent studies indicate many do not. If your child’s school or day care does not have a reunification plan, encourage them to reach out to their school district or local emergency management agency to discuss developing one.
  2. Develop and regularly practice emergency plans at home with children and pets in case your family is separated. Designate an out-of-state relative or close friend to become “communications central” for the family. Because local phone lines may be down or inundated in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, someone out-of-state will be best positioned to receive calls. Displaced family members with access to a phone could call the out-of-state contact – typically without issue – to share and receive messages from other family members.
  3. Designate a location where your family could gather in the event of separation. This could be a playground, park or a local landmark that’s easily for children to get to if they need to on their own.
  4. Create a Child ID Kit for each child. This should include a recent color photograph of the child’s face, descriptive information, fingerprints, medical and dental records or bite impressions, and a DNA sample. This sample could be taken from any number of your child’s grooming items such as a hairbrush or toothbrush.
  5. Make copies of any legal paperwork if you are your child’s court designated primary caregiver in a custodial separation or divorce. Share them with any relatives or close friends in other states, or carry the paperwork with you in an emergency kit.

Sometimes, no matter how much you have planned, the worst happens: you become separated from your children. This is why we run the Unaccompanied Minors Registry. Through this online registry individuals can report a child who is accounted for, but separated from their caregivers. Anyone can report a separated child to the Unaccompanied Minors Registry, including emergency managers on the ground during a disaster. Reporting persons input basic information about the unaccompanied child to the registry and can even upload a photo of him/her. We then cross-reference any reports through this registry against phone calls from searching parents.


Sharon Hawa poses with a Gabrielle, a child who was reunited with her family after being separated during Hurricane Katrina.

Since we’re at the height of hurricane season, take a few moments now to prepare your family in case of disaster. 

For more emergency planning tips, visit

Sep 01


Aug 27

Deceased boy found in 1981 with straitjacket nearby

The body of a young man wrapped in a blanket was lying on the side of a heavily traveled parkway with a straitjacket nearby. Who was he and where did he come from? We need your help finding those answers.

On Aug. 2, 1981, the U.S. Park Police received a phone call from an anonymous caller. There was a body lying in grass along the side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Greenbelt, Maryland.

This 29-mile scenic highway, maintained by the National Park Service, is a two lane, tree lined artery connecting the Nation’s Capital to the Charm City. Even in 1981, it was a busy road.

The body was wrapped in a blue blanket, similar to one you would see at a hospital or hotel. The young man’s ankles and his right foot were wrapped in bandages. Within a few feet of the body were a canvas straitjacket and one beige blanket with “U.S.” written on it.

Where did he come from?

Because of the items found with the boy’s body, investigators believe the he may have been a patient at a local treatment facility.


The John Doe’s body was located along the side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The body was found not far from Forest Haven, a D.C. government institution for developmentally disabled persons. That facility was eventually shut down in 1991 after a lawsuit and monitoring revealed extensive abuse and problems with the care of patients. However, Forest Haven was not the only facility in the general area. For example, Spring Grove Mental Hospital, Walter Reed Medical Center and Crownsville Medical Center were located elsewhere in the region in 1981.

The search continues

A medical examiner estimated that the John Doe had been dead for several days before being found. He was likely between 15 and 22 years old. He was malnourished, weighing about 106 lbs. His teeth were severely decayed, crooked and uneven. One report also noted that he had long fingernails. He was black with medium length kinky hair.  

In 1981 the Park Police made contact with several local hospitals, local and federal law enforcement agencies seeking missing persons reports in attempts to identify the victim. They sent fingerprints to the FBI. Nothing matched the John Doe they found in Greenbelt, Maryland.

In 2011, the Park Police took advantage of our assistance. Members of our team later met with Park Police Detective Monique Pettett to discuss new investigative opportunities. 

Det. Pettett discovered that the John Doe’s body was cremated in 1982, but she didn’t give up there. She found two black and white autopsy photographs, the autopsy report and a piece of the young man’s hair. She submitted the hair for DNA testing and uploaded the results to a national DNA database.

Det. Pettett has also contacted 52 U.S. states and jurisdictions requesting the John Doe’s fingerprints be searched through each fingerprint database in attempts to find a match. She has also entered the case in national missing and unidentified person databases such as NCIC, ViCAP and Namus.

We need your help

While Det. Pettett and the U.S. Park Police continue to work tirelessly to find out who this young man was, we are looking for the public’s help.

Did you work in a medical facility in the area in the early 80s or know someone who did? Do you have a missing family member who may have been placed in a medical facility? Do you recognize this young man? Call us at 1-800-843-5678.

Aug 21

Think child safety as students return to school

As summer comes to a close, there’s a lot to accomplish before the school year. There are school supplies to purchase, outfits to lay out and lunches to plan. But the first thing on your to-do list should be to talk to your child about safety.

A family participates in our Take 25 Safety Fair in Alexandria, Virginia.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has been tracking attempted abductions around the country since 2005, and we now know that there may be certain times when children are more at-risk of being abducted.

Our analysis shows that 32 percent of attempted abductions occurred when a child was going to or from school or a school-related activity. Thirty-four percent of attempted abductions happened between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.


“Although child safety should be a priority every day, our attempted abduction analysis has demonstrated greater risk of abduction when children are going to and from school or school-related activities,” said Nancy McBride, executive director of our Florida Regional Office.

We also kept count of those attempted abductions where it was known how the child escaped their potential abductor. In more than half of those cases, children walked or ran away from the suspect. In 32 percent of those cases, children reacted in some way such as kicking, pulling away or attracting attention.

While running away or attracting attention to yourself may seem second nature, it isn’t always to children. Take the opportunity before school begins to teach your children what to do if someone approaches them and tries to take them away.


Use these resources to help you start the conversation with your kids about safety as they travel to and from school.

Aug 19

Missing child may be in Mexico


Steven Campbell’s father last saw his son in 2011. Steven went missing from El Paso, Texas in July 2011 and hasn’t been seen since. Law enforcement believes Steven and his mother may be in Mexico. We need the public’s help sharing Steven’s photo with friends and family in Mexico who may see him. For more information see Steven’s poster.


Steven Campbell and his father on Christmas in 2010.

Steven and his father fishing in 2011.

Steven was allegedly abducted by his mother, Karla Campbell. A federal warrant for International Parental Kidnapping was issued for Karla on August 9, 2012.


Steven was allegedly abducted by his mother, Karla Campbell. She may have fled with him to Mexico.

This video of Steven was taken by his father before he went missing. If you have any information about Steven Campbell call us at 1-800-843-5678.

Aug 15

Woman abducted as infant speaks at Crimes Against Children Conference

This week, 20 of our employees attended the Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas. The annual conference, which started in 1988, is the country’s premier training event for professionals working to combat child victimization.

This year, our staff collectively gave seven presentations, but one of those was likely more impactful than the others. For the first time, Carlina White, a woman abducted as an infant, spoke before a group of law enforcement professionals.


Carlina White presented to law enforcement at the 2014 Crimes Against Children Conference. Sheryl Stokes (left) is a member of our Family Advocacy Division.

Carlina was abducted from her parents when she was 19 days old after they’d brought her to a New York City Hospital. When she was 23 years old, Carlina found pictures of herself on our website and called our hotline, eventually becoming reunited with her biological parents.

Carlina presented with Sheryl Stokes, a member of our Family Advocacy Division who’s worked with Carlina since her identity was learned. Their session, titled “Carlina White: Infant Abduction through the Eyes of a Survivor and Lessons Learned from Professionals,” left attendees tearing up as they heard how her abduction impacted her life and those of her loved ones.

“I wanted to help law enforcement understand how long-term missing children are emotionally impacted by their abductions,” Carlina said. “I hope that if they have this understanding, other children like me will have the support they need to live happy and successful lives.”

This isn’t the first year we’ve participated in the Crimes Against Children Conference. Members of our team have attended for close to 20 years — delivering unique presentations and sharing what we’ve learned about helping to keep children safer.


Members of our Project ALERT team staffed our table and talked to conference participants about the services we offer to law enforcement.

“It is essential we attend this event, not only to share our knowledge and expertise but to keep up with new information and emerging trends,” said Kristen Anderson, director of Training and Outreach.

We are so proud of Carlina for sharing her story and thank the law enforcement professionals who attended the conference for all they do to fight crimes against children.

Aug 07


Jul 31

What parents should know about mobile text apps


Remember when the only social network you needed to worry about was Facebook? Now as increasing numbers of adults have joined Facebook, teens have started looking for online spaces where it’s easier to avoid them – and their supervision. Enter mobile chat apps like Kik, WhatsApp, Skype, ooVoo and SnapChat.

What are mobile chat apps?

Mobile chat apps have features like voice call, video chat, instant message, and photo and video sharing which let users communicate. Some apps even allow users to do one or more of these things. Others have additional features like games and easy access to Web browsers or popular online sites. Users can access all of these features from within the apps making it faster and easier to share with friends.

Many mobile chat apps are free. Some, like Skype, can be used without a cell phone number. This is helpful for teens without cell phones. They only need a username, an email address and access to Wi-Fi in order to join in on the fun.

What are the risks?

Like social media platforms, mobile chat apps help their users connect with friends. But some teens may also use them to meet new people. While some of these conversations may be innocent, others may be sexual in nature and put teens at risk.

According to the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, teens that talk to unknown people about sex are more likely to receive “aggressive sexual solicitations.” These are solicitations that involve actual or attempted in-person meetings. For example, a 12-year-old girl was sexually assaulted after going to meet up with a man she met on the chat app Whisper. In another case, a predator used the chat app Kik to convince a teen to meet him at his home.

What you can do

Consider talking to your teens about the risks of using mobile chat apps and develop a safety plan.

If your teens receive any messages that make them uncomfortable, they should save the evidence and make a report to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at

Jul 24

Families of Hope: Martha Gill Hamilton

Martha Gill Hamilton’s sister went missing in 1965. She now volunteers for Team HOPE. Read about her experience in our ongoing series from volunteers with Team HOPE, a peer support program for families with missing or sexually exploited children.

I’ve written a lot of stories about my sister, but mostly “just the facts,” not the heartache. Elizabeth Ann Gill, known as Beth to the Gill family, disappeared on June 13, 1965 at age two in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.


Beth Gill, dressed here in her Easter best, went missing on June 13, 1965 at the age of two.

Our family has searched for 49 long years, but has also hoped. We’ve hoped that she has had a good life with a loving family, but also that maybe she is searching for us as well.

Beth was the youngest of 10 children. She was coddled and spoiled by all. Beth was the sweetest child with a great personality. She loved going with family and friends and being the center of attention. One of her favorite things to do was to ride in her sister Laura’s husband’s “Gold Wustang” (her 2-year-old word for Mustang). While our family struggled financially, there was never a shortage of love.


This photo from November 1963 shows the Gill family when Beth was just 6 months old. She is being held in the back by her parents.

Searching without resources

When Beth went missing, our local law enforcement had no idea how to properly investigate or search for a missing child. In 1965 the FBI didn’t help, there was no AMBER Alert, no National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, no national 24-hour news coverage, no Internet and very few ways to spread the word.

One possibility, a theory law enforcement has looked into, is that Beth was taken by a group of travelers.

On June 14, the day after Beth went missing, a lead came from an auto dealer. The dealer said that people staying at a motel behind our house didn’t show up for parts they’d ordered. They also had checked out unexpectedly around the time Beth went missing. It was soon learned that these travelers were using various license plates and aliases. They were selling purses door to door and had approached Beth several times.

One minute Beth was playing with the older kids and the next, she could not be found.

The travelers’ vehicle was traced to a dealership in Michigan where they had purchased cars every few years in the past, but never returned after June 1965. We knew they’d previously driven a 1965 Chevy pick-up and 1965 Ford Thunderbird. For years we looked at every one of these cars we saw. My mother even made a trip to Michigan to plead with the dealership for information.

Changing family dynamic

This tragic event changed the whole dynamic of the Gill family. For years my Mom was barely able to function. My Dad grieved until his death in 1970, leaving my Mom to raise the younger kids, ages 10 through 17. My mom went on, as she had too.


Beth’s mother (left) is still holding out hope that her youngest daughter is out there somewhere, searching for her.

It saddens me knowing how my younger siblings lost much of their childhood. When everyone’s focus is on the missing child and the parents, the siblings aren’t getting the emotional support they so badly need.

My sister Trish was sent to stay with my frail grandma who lived a few blocks away. She’s told me of coming by our house and looking in the window to see if our Dad was at the table crying. If he was she wouldn’t come in, but go back to our grandma’s, even sadder. It’s devastating to see your parents in such pain, knowing you can’t help. I became an adult on June 13, 1965 at age 15.

For many years we didn’t talk to my Mom about Beth – it was just too painful for her. Now she’s grateful for the possibility that, before she’s gone, she may once again see her baby. My Mom is just amazing. She lost her baby, husband and two other daughters. She remarried, but her dear Ralph died a few years ago too. Maybe it’s hope that keeps her here.


This age-progressed image shows what Elizabeth Gill may look like at 49. If you have any information about her, contact us at 1-800-THE-LOST.

I’ve been blessed in many ways, including my Team HOPE Family and all associated with helping the missing. If I can help bring one child home, I know I have done what God sent me to do. June 13, 2014 was not a happy day, but one of faith and hope for the Elizabeth Ann Gill family.

Elizabeth Ann Gill is still missing. View her poster here: If you have any information, contact us at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Calls can be made anonymously.

Jul 17