Originally posted on 06/05/05http://www.nwanews.com
Predators are sly, expert cautions
BY MICHELLE BRADFORD
Posted on Sunday, June 5, 2005
Morgan Nickâ€™s abductor worked like a classic child predator, seizing access and opportunity when snatching the 6-yearold from an Alma ballpark in 1995. But police believe he was a stranger to Morgan, and thatâ€™s not so common.
Safety experts say itâ€™s not the nameless, faceless stranger whoâ€™s most likely to abduct children. Theyâ€™re in more danger of being harmed by a relative or someone who knows of them.
An FBI profile indicates that Morganâ€™s abductor was likely a child molester. But police donâ€™t know if he knew her, stalked her or lured her. "What parents need to know is that child predators look for access and opportunity," said Nancy McBride, safety director at the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children. "Morganâ€™s case clearly demonstrates that."
The circumstances of Morganâ€™s abduction, blocks from a police station, are enough to strike terror in any parentâ€™s heart.
At a Rookie League game, a conscientious mother watched her daughter play in the sand yards away.
A batter tied the game, drawing Colleen Nickâ€™s attention. The crowd rose in the bleachers. Cheers roared.
When Nick turned back to the sand pile, Morgan was gone, taken by a shadowy bad man, the kind Nick and millions of other parents had warned their children against.
When Morgan vanished, there werenâ€™t Amber Alerts, age-progression photos or thirsty attention from 24-hour news networks.
To d ay, parents can outfit children with GPS locators â€” the same devices some states use to track convicted pedophiles, or freeze DNA in case a sample is needed later.
Precaution and technology aside, missing-children cases like Morganâ€™s persist, McBride said.
The number of long-term cases has hovered at 115 annually for the past 20 years, she said.
Child predators often ingratiate themselves into the lives â€” or simply the paths â€” of their victims, McBride said.
Take the March 9 abduction of Jessica Lunsford, 9, of Florida. A sex offender living surreptitiously in the neighborhood confessed to snatching and killing Jessica, police said. "From what we know, Jessica had probably seen her abductor before," McBride said. "Whatâ€™s more likely is heâ€™d seen her."
The National Crime Information Center includes 349 active missing-children cases in Arkansas as of February, according to the Arkansas Missing Children Services Program. Arkansas has listed 13 cases with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children since Morgan disappeared. Hers is the only Arkansas case listed as a "nonfamily" abduction.
SOUND THE ALARM Of the 58,000 children who vanish every year, about 300 cases are "true" stranger abductions, according to the center. Of those cases, only 2 percent of the children make it home alive. "Offenders who harm and murder children tend to do it in the first three hours," McBride said. "Thatâ€™s a terrifying statistic. It means police and the community must move quickly." Amber Alert systems spread information fast over the radio, television and via highway message boards. Internet and cell phone subscribers receive Amber Alerts, too.
In a two-week period in May, the National Center signed up 40,000 wireless customers to receive Amber Alerts, said Bob Hoever, deputy director of special operations at the center. "When people call in with sightings, they almost always call on a cell phone," Hoever said. "Practically everyone has one."
Every state has at least one Amber Alert plan, and there are 114 across the country. Texas was first in 1997, with a regional plan dedicated to Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bike in Arlington and murdered.
Arkansasâ€™ program started in 2001. The Morgan Nick Amber Alert program was the second statewide program in the nation, after Oklahoma.
Arkansasâ€™ program includes two levels of alerts. The most serious, Level 1, has been issued nine times, said Arkansas State Police Cpl. Donnie Belew.
Level 1 alerts are issued when a child is abducted by a nonrelative and is in imminent danger.
In the nine cases, seven children were found alive. Four others died, including: Luke Peyton, 5, who was killed by his father, Louis Dee Peyton, in a January 2002 murder-suicide in Perry County. Kacie Woody, 13, of Faulkner County, who was killed in 2002 by an abductor she met on the Internet. Patricia Ann Miles, 7, of Gilmore, who police say was suffocated by a baby sitter in August.
Those found include Haley Zega of Fayetteville. In 2001, the 6-yearold was lost for 53 hours near the Buffalo National River. Although Haley wasnâ€™t abducted, police issued the Level 1 alert because of danger posed by rough wilderness and high cliffs, Belew said.
In April, a Level 1 alert was called off after police learned a Jacksonville teen hadnâ€™t been kidnapped, but ran away with her boyfriend to Mexico.
Between 200 and 250 Amber Alerts are issued each year nationally, Hoever said. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children urges officials to be discriminate. "Public eyes and ears are a valuable tool," he said. "We donâ€™t want to desensitize them. It could turn into the car-alarm syndrome. People wouldnâ€™t pay attention anymore."
The centerâ€™s statistics show 205 children have been found because someone responded to an Amber Alert. Accompanying the successes is a recent trend of abductors releasing children after seeing Amber Alerts, he said. Along those lines is the case of a South Carolina abductor who saw a highway alert and called police, demanding they remove it. Police tracked the man through his cell phone and arrested him. Arkansas utilizes highway road signs in and around Pulaski County, on intestates 530, 30 and 40 for Amber Alerts, Belew said.
INTERNET A SOURCE FOR
PARENTS, PREDATORS McBride said one in six missing children featured in a photograph is located as a direct result of the photograph. "Ten years ago, when a child went missing, weâ€™d stand over a printing press saying faster, faster, faster," she said. "Now if we have a photo, we can move it across the country in a matter of minutes."
McBride encourages parents to be aware of pedophiles who live in the community. Arkansas and other states have Web sites with the names, photos and addresses of registered sex offenders. Arkansasâ€™ site is www. acic. org. While the Internet can be a safety tool, itâ€™s also a pathway for predators. In 2002, Kacie Woody was abducted by a man she met online and thought was a teenager. David Fuller, 47, killed Kacie and himself, police said. McBride said a study shows that 57 percent of child homicides are committed by predators who sought out access and opportunity. Amber Alerts and safety devices work, McBride said, but they canâ€™t replace parental supervision. "It all comes back to the parent and the child," she said. "Parents have to know what their children are doing, who theyâ€™re with and who they know." More important than trying to be on the lookout for abductors, parents should teach children how to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
Often, offenders try to desensitize their "stranger status" with potential victims, she said. And children have a different perception of who is a stranger. "Someone whoâ€™s friendly or whoâ€™ve theyâ€™ve seen around can seem benign," McBride said. "As adults, we donâ€™t know what predators look like. How can we expect children to?"