Fourteen-year-old Avonte Oquendo was last seen leaving his school on Oct. 4 in Astoria, N.Y. He was wearing a grey striped shirt, black jeans and black shoes. Avonte is reported to have autism and is nonverbal.
View Avonte’s poster here: http://ow.ly/pWP2v. If you have any information about his location please contact us at 1-800-843-5678. Calls may be made anonymously.
At the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children we have seen a spike in the cases of missing children diagnosed with autism or related disorders. Many of these children are unable to communicate verbally, making it even more difficult for them to find the help they need.
For families of children with autism, one of the best means of prevention is preparation. While this growing trend is frightening, there are things we all can do to prepare.
If a child with autism goes missing, immediately call local law enforcement. But also begin searching.
Those who are closest at the moment he or she goes missing will be the first to call law enforcement and the first begin the search. Early communication about the child’s habits is what will help these people know what to tell law enforcement and where to look.
They should know:
We recommend families talk to those closest to them — such as neighbors, teachers, friends and extended family — about the child’s habits.
Likewise, we recommend those closest to a child with autism talk to that child’s family about his or her habits.
We know that the first few hours after a child goes missing are the most important. Open communication between families of children with autism and others in that child’s life may help bring these children home faster.
Jose Sanchez’s son went missing in 2006. Since Jose was reunited with his son in 2010, he has volunteered for Team HOPE. Read about his experience in our ongoing series from volunteers with Team HOPE, a peer support program for families with missing or sexually exploited children.
Our stories are stories of tears. They are stories of unspeakable, gut wrenching pain and, not often enough, they are stories of breathtaking happiness. I am here only because I lived for the day that I would see my son again.
I can also say that I am here in great part because of the support I received from Team HOPE. The unconditional support I received from Daniel, my Team HOPE volunteer, was invaluable. Every day without my son was full of agony and uncertainty; but every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. I could count on Daniel’s support.
When my Team HOPE volunteer Daniel called, he would always offer encouragement and ask about my health. He wanted to make sure I stayed healthy not only for myself, but also for my son. Sometimes I would sit by the phone and I would not have the strength to answer his call; but knowing that I could count on him to call meant the world to me.
Talking to a parent whose child has been abducted is a difficult thing to do. Family members and friends very often stop calling, because there is nothing they can say to make one feel better. There is nothing else but the abduction to talk about, because nothing else matters. The great weight of this truth is too much for most people to bear. “Feeling better” or “getting over it” are not options.
It is difficult for someone who has not been through a similar experience to understand that the agony, stress and desperation never subsides, even after years of searching. Team Hope is made up of volunteers who have suffered through similar situations. Team Hope volunteers understand that it is ok to suffer and cry every day, as long as you are taking care of your day-to-day responsibilities and as long as you remain healthy for that beautiful, hopeful day when news will come of your loved one.
Every day for almost four years was a nightmare, but at about midnight on June, 16, 2010, I received a call from a U.S. Marshal in charge of my son’s case. They had found my son and his mother in Homer, AK. My son was taken into custody and his mother was arrested.
On June 17, I flew to Alaska. At 9:30 a.m. on June 18, in the offices of the Department of Family Services, I was reunited with my now 10-year-old son. The emotions I felt are indescribable, but “total bliss” comes to mind. On Sunday, June 20 we had a family reunion at my parent’s house in Chicago. My entire family had also suffered through my son’s abduction and now it was time to celebrate.
I have many memories from that day, but one comes to mind. I was standing on the deck, which overlooks the backyard. My son Joey was running around with his cousins, laughing and playing as they were having an awesome water fight. As I looked to one of the far corners of the yard, I saw my father sitting alone on a lawn chair. He was sitting quietly looking at all his grandchildren playing, and from the distance I could see by the turning of his head that he was following my son’s every move. My father was finally seeing his eldest grandson once again. It was fitting that June 20, 2010 was Father’s Day.
My son is a survivor of parental child abduction. He is a happy and healthy 8th grader, who wants to study astrophysics. By the grace of God and through the help and support of family, law enforcement, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Team HOPE, I was able to recover him.
Sadly the work of Team HOPE is never ending. Many cases remain open and new abductions happen every day. I thank God for all who have also found their children; even if the children were not found alive. To those who are still searching, I will continue to offer my deepest prayers for strength, grace and the safety of your children.
If your life has been touched by the heartbreak of having a missing or exploited child and you feel you need support contact Team HOPE at 1-866-305-HOPE.
Though there are many programs impacted by the government shutdown, the AMBER Alert program has not been impacted. The critical work of this unique program continues.
Inspired by tragedy and created in 1996, the AMBER Alert program has become a story of success. There have been 656 children safely recovered because of this program.
The U.S. Department of Justice coordinates the program nationally, but in many ways, it is a local initiative. There is a network of local AMBER Alert plans that each manages the distribution of alerts within their geographic area.
These local networks cover all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The decision to issue an AMBER Alert is made by local law enforcement based on their investigation and the guidelines of their AMBER Alert Plan. Law enforcement dictates the area and the content of the alert. It is then broadcast through radio, television and road signs.
The alert is also sent to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. At the request of the Department of Justice, we redistribute the alerts to a group of companies and organizations. They expand the reach of AMBER Alerts by placing them in airports, at gas stations, in hotels, on billboards, on the Internet and on wireless devices.
The AMBER Alert Program is named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas. In the wake of her death, local residents wanted to find a way to quickly engage the community in the search for an abducted child.
For more information about the AMBER Alert program visit http://www.missingkids.com/AMBER.
In 1990, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina began investigating the tragic case of a woman found dead along Interstate 40 in Hillsborough. Eight years later, and 11 miles away, tragedy struck the I-40 corridor in Orange County again. On Sept. 25, 1998, a small boy was found on a service road in Mebane.
While law enforcement has no reason to believe these two cases are connected, they do highlight a heartbreaking type of case agencies across the country investigate every day, the identification of unknown child victims.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is currently assisting law enforcement and medical examiners offices around the country with more than 650 cases.
These young people may have had friends and neighbors, classmates and teammates. Someone may have seen them walking to school, or going to work. They could have been in someone’s life every day, and then suddenly were not.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office needs the public’s help in identifying these two victims.
On Sept. 25, 1998 a maintenance crew discovered the body of a small boy while mowing the side of a service road in Mebane, N.C. known as Industrial Drive.
It has been 15 years since the boy was found and he remains unidentified.
Law enforcement believes the boy was white or Hispanic and between the ages of 10 and 12 years old. He likely died elsewhere and was moved to this location adjacent to Interstate 40 between Hillsborough and Greensboro sometime in the spring or summer of 1998.
When school started this fall in Mesa, Ariz. two students did not show up for class. The Mesa Police Department and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Krissanna and Shayanna Creech, and their father Christopher Creech.
The three were last heard from on May 25, 2013 when Christopher picked up Krissanna, then 10, and Shayanna, then 8, on their last day of school.
Christopher is an avid outdoorsman and had talked about taking his daughters camping. So when the three didn’t contact family or friends these last few months, there wasn’t reason to be concerned.
But the months went by, both girls celebrated birthdays and the school year came around again.
When classes began, Krissana and Shayanna were absent. Their grandmother – Christopher’s mother – became concerned and reported the family missing on Sept. 13.
The family was last seen in May driving near Main and Extension Street in Mesa, Ariz. They may be travelling in a blue 2000 Dodge Ram pickup truck with Arizona plates AMX4983.
It is very possible that all three have traveled to Mexico. According to the Mesa Police Department, Christopher Creech has a history of irregular behavior and may be emotionally unstable. Although Christopher is the sole custodian of Krissanna and Shayanna, law enforcement is concerned about the welfare of the girls.
Krissanna, who turned 11 on July 24, was 4 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 60 pounds when she was last seen. She has brown hair and hazel eyes.
Shayanna, who turned 9 on July 1, was 4 feet tall and weighed 40 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes.
Krissanna and Shayanna Creech are still missing. View their poster: http://ow.ly/p8H50. If you have any information contact us at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Calls can be made anonymously.
Griselda Gonzalez has been searching for her children for six years. 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. Griselda has reached out to almost a thousand Spanish speaking families and provides them with emotional support and empowerment.
I am the mother of Tammy and Diego Flores who were abducted by their father on Oct. 23, 2007 during an extremely difficult divorce process triggered by domestic violence issues.
Tammy and Diego are the most precious gifts that I have had in my life. I live for them and my main motivation in life is visualizing their recovery and our reunification.
This has been a very painful ordeal. The frustration and helplessness is extremely challenging. Trying to find help is a challenge and many times unsuccessful due to the common misconceptions of family abduction.
Many people believe that if a child is with their parent they are not in danger and are being loved and nurtured. In reality, when a child is abducted by a parent his or her best interest is being ignored. The child is usually being used as a weapon to hurt the other parent.
Nothing could have been more painful for me than being separated from my children. There are no words to explain the magnitude of damage caused, to me as a mother; and the fact that my children were wrongfully snatched from their loving mother without any consideration for them is unimaginable.
In 2009, I shared with my amazing NCMEC case manager my interest in volunteering for Team HOPE since there was not much support for Spanish speakers. Cheryl in turn recommended me as a volunteer.
When you are going through the horrifying situation of having a missing child, not speaking the native language complicates everything. I couldn’t even process thoughts in my own language, Spanish. My mind was temporarily weakened due to the trauma of not knowing where my children were and if they were safe so it was impossible to verbalize my thoughts in a second language, English.
Parents who don’t speak English as their primary language are faced with many obstacles at the courts and with law enforcement and other assisting agencies. These challenges can increase their desolation and despair. That is why I am very proud to support Spanish-speaking parents through Team HOPE and provide them with relief and the opportunity to express their sorrow in their own language.
When my children were first abducted I did not speak, write or understand English because I came to the U.S. from Mexico when I married their father, a U.S. citizen. I knew then that I had to learn English quickly so I could be a strong advocate for my children and bring them home. I wanted to be a better person for them so I learned English and now I am a college student studying psychology. My goal is to be the best support I can be to Spanish-speaking families and the best parent I can be to my beautiful children when they are safely returned home.
I love what I do. I realized that while supporting other parents I was also gaining power, hope and purpose in my life. Helping others has helped me heal and transformed my life. I feel strong to face the challenges in life and I’m preparing myself for the miraculous recovery of my children.
If your life has been touched by the heartbreak of having a missing or exploited child and you feel you need support contact Team HOPE at 1-866-305-HOPE.
In many places across the United States, the onset of cooler weather and falling leaves means just one thing: football season. And for the Pate family of Unadilla, GA, September was the beginning of just that.
But on Sept. 4, 1998 what should have been a fun night of football for the Pate family turned into a parent’s worst nightmare. Eight-year-old Shy’Kemmia Pate vanished.
The third grader at Unadilla Elementary School, who was known as “Shy Shy” to family, was planning to go to a local football game with her big sister. She eagerly waited in the front yard of their home while her sister went inside to get ready. When the older sister came outside to leave at 7 p.m., Shy Shy was nowhere to be found.
Dooly County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation were contacted. On Saturday Sept. 5, they began canvassing the neighborhood, knocking on doors and searching homes.
Despite the ongoing investigation of leads by these two law enforcement agencies, Shy Shy has not been located. It’s been 15 years since she vanished, but the search has never stopped. She would now be 23 years old.
CBS Atlanta News
Shy Shy was 4 feet, 4 inches tall when she went missing and weighed 59 pounds. She had black hair, brown eyes and a surgical scar on her waistline.
As small towns across the United States prepare for cooler weather, falling leaves and the onset of football, the Pate family continues to hope for the return of Shy Shy. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is asking for your help to find her.
Shy’Kemmia Pate is still missing. View her poster: http://ow.ly/oI8eD. If you have any information contact us at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Calls can be made anonymously.
Gina Funaro’s son Jackson Miller went missing in 2010. She volunteers for Team HOPE while continuing to search for her son. Read about her missing son in our ongoing series from volunteers with Team HOPE, a peer support program for families with missing or sexually exploited children.
Our son Jackson was 19 when he left home anxious and depressed, and drove our car to the Golden Gate bridge parking lot. He paid for a parking ticket and left his phone, iPod, sunglasses and wallet in the car. The bridge authorities’ video camera saw him cross the parking lot towards the bus stop and the pedestrian tunnel to the bridge and then go out of view. Jackson was never seen in the pedestrian tunnel or on the bridge.
After an agonizing wait, bridge authorities told us that they had reviewed their tapes from the weekend and concluded that Jackson did not jump off the bridge that day. We miss Jackson terribly and every day without him has been torture.