What To Do If Your Child Goes Missing


Stressed-Out Mother of Missing ChildNothing could be more stressful than a child having suddenly gone missing.


You’re Child’s Gone Missing or Been Abducted: The Instructions

o  Contact your local law-enforcement agency as soon as you have determined your child is missing or has been abducted. Do not delay in reporting your child missing to law enforcement.

o  Search any area into which a child could crawl or hide and possibly be asleep or unable to get out. This includes closets, piles of laundry, in and under beds, inside large appliances, in vehicles including trunks, or any other space into which a child might fit.

o  Check areas where your child was last seen or may have played such as open or abandoned wells, caves, sheds, buildings, and crawl spaces.

o  Provide law enforcement with the date, time, and location where your child was last seen, if known.

o  Provide law enforcement with the name(s) of the last person/people who saw your child, if known.

o  Determine the names or descriptions of companions or associates last seen with your child.

o  Secure your child’s room and personal belongings until law enforcement has the opportunity to conduct a search.

o  Identify and secure any computers and wireless devices used by your child, but do not attempt to conduct a search of these devices on your own. Ask law enforcement to look for clues in any chat and social-networking websites your child has visited or hosts.

o  Provide law enforcement with information about your child’s general health and any medical conditions or concerns.

o  Compile descriptive information about your child and have the information available to provide to the first-responding, law-enforcement investigator.

o  Descriptive information should include items and information such as a recent, clear, color photo of your child; video of your child; a description of the clothing worn at the time the child was last seen; cell and other phone numbers; date of birth; hair and eye color; height; weight; complexion; identifiers such as eyeglasses or contact lenses, braces, body piercings, tattoos; and/or other unique physical attributes.

o  Ask the responding officer if immediate community notification, such as an AMBER Alert has been considered.

o  Ask the responding officer if a neighborhood canvass will be conducted.

o  Restrict access to the home, no matter where your child was last seen, until law enforcement has arrived and had the opportunity to search the home and surrounding area.

o  Try to keep all phone lines open.

o  Provide law enforcement with information regarding custody issues, if any, including court-ordered visitation conditions.

o  Provide law enforcement with information about any recent changes in your child’s behavior.

o  Provide law enforcement with information about any individuals who have recently shown unusual attention to or interest in your child.

o  Obtain the name of and contact information for the primary investigator assigned to your child’s case.

o  Report your missing child to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).

o  Verify, through the investigating law-enforcement agency, that information about your missing child has been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File. Federal law requires law enforcement to enter information about a missing child into NCIC no more than two hours after the receipt of the report.

o  Report your missing child to the missing-child clearinghouse in your state or territory. To find your missing-child clearinghouse visit http://www.missingkids.com, and from the home page search for “Missing Child Clearinghouses.”

o  Prepare posters of your missing child including a recent photo and descriptive information and post them within the local community. NCMEC may be able to provide you with copies of your child’s poster as soon as the poster has been certified by them for distribution.

o  Make every effort to obtain local and national media attention regarding your missing child. Conduct television, radio, and newspaper interviews to discuss and direct attention to your child.

o  Obtain medical records from your child’s doctor and dental records from your child’s dentist.

o  Provide a DNA sample to law enforcement if you already have one. If not, collect samples from your missing child’s possessions such as his or her toothbrush, baby’s teeth, hair brush used exclusively by your child for at least one month, and used bandage with dried blood.

o  Provide fingerprints and dental charts to law enforcement if you have them.

o  Provide law enforcement with detailed information about the description and characteristics of the abductor if he or she is known to you.

o  Provide law enforcement with the abductor’s photo, driver’s license number, credit-card numbers, cell and other phone numbers, passport numbers, and any other available information useful for tracking purposes if known.

o  Contact the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime for possible financial assistance at 1-800-851-3420 or visit http://www.ovc.gov. Also check your local phone directory for crime-victim-compensation or crime-victim-assistance programs.

o  Stay in regular contact with law enforcement, the media, and local government officials during the search for your child.

o  Conduct periodic press conferences and plan events related to the search for your child to help keep the disappearance in the public eye.

o  Notify law enforcement, NCMEC, and other agencies assisting in the search as soon as your child is located.


Sources:  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children



Free Publications Available on Family Child Abduction and Parental Kidnapping


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Kidnapped Little Blond-Haired Boy________________________________________

A wealth of information about parental abduction is available from the organizations listed below. Brief descriptions of selected publications available from each organization are also provided.



Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
Child Protection Division
202–353–9093 (fax)

National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children (NCMEC)
703–274–2222 (fax)

National Center for Prosecution of
Child Abuse (NCPCA)
703–549–6259 (fax)

American Bar Association Center on
Children and the Law (ABA CCL)
202–662–1755 (fax)




Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention________________________________________

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

The following documents are available from OJJDP (see Publications on its website or call the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse at 800–638–8736) or from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (visit ncjrs.org or call 800–851–3420).

Addressing Confidentiality of Records in Searches for Missing Children (NCJ 155183). This report makes recommendations concerning law enforcement agencies’ access to records maintained by schools, hospitals, child welfare agencies, domestic violence shelters, and runaway shelters. The Report also covers information release procedures and includes a checklist for maximizing record access from service providers.

Early Identification of Risk Factors for Parental Abduction (NCJ 185026). This bulletin presents the design and findings of four OJJDP-funded studies on preventing family abductions. The findings provide information regarding the risk factors associated with parental kidnapping and strategies that can be used to intervene with at-risk families.

Family Abductors: Descriptive Profiles and Preventive Interventions (NCJ 182788). This bulletin describes preventive interventions such as counseling and conflict resolution, and legal strategies that seek to settle custody
and access disputes for families identified as at risk for parental abduction.

A Family Resource Guide on International Parental Kidnapping (NCJ 190448). This guide presents practical and detailed advice about preventing international kidnapping and increasing the chance that children who are kidnapped or wrongfully retained will be returned. It provides descriptions and realistic assessments of the civil and criminal remedies available, explains applicable laws, identifies the public and private resources that may be called upon when an international abduction occurs or is threatened, and prepares parents for the legal and emotional difficulties they may experience.

International Parental Kidnapping: A Law Enforcement Guide. This guide provides practical information on the public and private resources and services that are available to assist law enforcement in international parental abduction cases. It explains applicable laws, defines agency roles and responsibilities, describes criminal and civil remedies, examines methods for prevention and interception, and discusses important issues and procedures to be addressed during an international parental abduction case.

Issues in Resolving Cases of International Child Abduction (NCJ 182790). This report documents a lack of uniformity in the application of the Hague Convention across countries. It includes case histories, survey findings on left-behind parents, selected practices in international family abduction cases, and recommendations for the judicial and legal systems.

Issues in Resolving Cases of International Child Abduction by Parents (NCJ 190105). This Bulletin provides an overview of the major survey findings, selected good practices, and recommendations from the Report Issues in Resolving Cases of International Child Abduction.

Obstacles to the Recovery and Return of Parentally Abducted Children (Report: NCJ 144535; Research Summary: NCJ 143458). These publications present the results of a 2-year study of the legal, policy, procedural, and practical obstacles to the location, recovery, and return of children abducted by a noncustodial parent. They include recommendations to overcome each obstacle and extensive appendixes that describe the pros and cons of existing legal procedures for enforcing a custody order, sample forms to be used with existing legal procedures, and more.

Parental Abduction: A Review of the Literature (Online Only: NCJ 186160). This online resource summarizes current research and literature related to the primary issues involved in parental abduction.

Prevention of Parent or Family Abduction Through Early Identification of Risk Factors (NCJ 182791). Based on analyses of data from several California studies related to child abductions by a noncustodial parent, this report outlines a set of characteristics of parents who abduct their children and presents indepth sociodemographic and legal information about the families of abducted children.

Using Agency Records To Find Missing Children: A Guide for Law Enforcement (NCJ 154633). This Summary focuses on procedures for obtaining and using the records of certain types of human service providers to find missing children. It examines the use of, access to, barriers to, and limitations of records from schools, medical care providers, runaway shelters, and domestic violence shelters.

When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide (NCJ 170022; Spanish Version: NCJ 178902). This guide, written by parents and family members who have experienced the disappearance of a child, explains how parents can best participate in the search for a missing child. It discusses the parents’ relationship with law enforcement, examines issues related to the media, and presents practical information about distributing fliers and photos, organizing volunteers, and managing monetary donations.


National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Logo________________________________________

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

The following documents are available from NCMEC (see Education & Resources on its website or call 800–843–5678).

Family Abduction. This handbook guides parents through the civil and criminal justice systems, explains the laws that will help them, outlines prevention methods, and provides suggestions for aftercare following the abduction. It thoroughly details search and recovery strategies and contains advice for attorneys, prosecutors, and family court judges handling these cases.

International Forum on Parental Child Abduction: Hague Convention Action Agenda. This report details the findings of a forum held in September 1998 to study the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. It offers 12 action/agenda items to help strengthen implementation of the Hague Convention.

“The Kid Is With a Parent, How Bad Can It Be?”: The Crisis of Family Abductions. This issue brief discusses the seriousness of the problem of family abduction, considers whether the problem is growing, and examines the challenges and opportunities this crime poses to policymakers.

Missing and Abducted Children: A Law-Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management. This guide, authored by a team of 38 professionals from local, State, and Federal agencies, outlines a standard of practice for law enforcement officers handling several types of missing child cases, including runaways, thrownaways, family/nonfamily abductions, and disappearances in which the circumstances are unknown.

When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide. Also available from OJJDP; see above for description.


National District Attorney's Association Logo________________________________________

National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse

The following documents are available from NCPCA (see Publications on its website).

Charging the Parental Kidnapping Case. This monograph assists prosecutors in determining appropriate charges and sentencing recommendations. It notes that an aggressive investigative and prosecutorial approach sends the message that parental kidnapping is a serious crime with serious consequences for both victims and abductors and recommends that prosecution should be seriously considered in every parental kidnapping case.

Investigation and Prosecution of Parental Abduction, 2000 (Training Conference Notebook). This notebook contains training materials compiled for the 2000 NCPCA Conference, Investigation and Prosecution of Parental Abduction.

Parental Kidnapping, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse: Changing Legal Responses to Related Violence. This monograph will assist investigators and prosecutors in developing appropriate responses to the interrelated crimes of parental kidnapping, domestic violence, and child abuse.


American Bar Association Logo________________________________________

American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law

The following documents are available from ABA CCL (see Issues/Parental Kidnapping on its website).

Hague Child Abduction Convention Issue Briefs. This material consists of four issue briefs that can help attorneys handle cases that fall under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The Hague Convention: A Curriculum for American Judges and Lawyers. This publication explains how the Hague Convention can be used effectively within the United States in international parental kidnapping cases.

Parental Kidnapping Prevention and Remedies. This material is designed to help attorneys better understand parental abduction cases and applicable laws. It includes practical tips on protections that can be placed in child custody orders to help prevent an abduction, tips that lawyers can give their parent clients, a review of possible legal actions that can be taken on parents’ behalf, and governmental resources that can be used to help in these cases.

Parental Kidnapping Law Reform Package. This package contains three proposed State laws related to parental abduction that can be adopted by State legislatures. The laws are the Parental Kidnapping Crime Act, Missing
Children Record Flagging Act, and Tortious Interference With Child Custody and Visitation Act.


Source: OJJDP, Juvenile Justice Bulletin The Criminal Justice System’s Response to Parental Abduction


International Parental Child Abduction: Pressing Criminal Charges


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Missing and Abducted Children Header________________________________________

Pressing Criminal Charges

International parental child abduction is a crime in every State and the District of Columbia under specified circumstances. International parental child abduction is also a federal crime under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA).


Your Decision to Use Criminal Charges

Your decision about whether to pursue criminal charges against the taking parent is a difficult one that should be made through consultation with your legal representative and in consideration of its potential impact on other aspects of your efforts to secure your child’s return. The Office of Children’s Issues can provide information about U.S. laws that make parental abduction a crime, resources for how to pursue a criminal warrant, and observations about some of the potential consequences of such an action based on knowledge of the laws and/or practices in the country to which your child has been abducted. We cannot, however, recommend a specific course of action or guarantee a specific outcome.

Depending on the circumstances, criminal charges filed against the taking parent can either help or hinder the successful return of your child. Therefore, it is important to weigh the pros and cons carefully and to obtain legal advice from an attorney before making the decision that you believe is best for your child. The purpose of a criminal warrant is to authorize law enforcement officials to apprehend and present the taking parent for prosecution. Your child is not subject to the warrant, which means that successful apprehension of the taking parent will not necessarily result in the return of your child. It can, however, serve as a negotiation tool since the taking parent may agree to voluntarily return the child in exchange for leniency or dropped charges.

The existence of criminal charges may also negatively impact a foreign court’s decision about whether to order or deny your child’s return under the Hague Abduction Convention. Although the Hague Abduction Convention pertains to children, not to their taking parents, in practice many judges are reluctant to order a return if the taking parent cannot accompany the child back to the United States. If the judge hearing the Hague Abduction Convention case is aware the taking parent faces arrest upon arrival, the judge may deny the return or order it only if the criminal charges are dropped. While you may request withdrawal of criminal charges against the taking parent, only the entity which issued the charges and/or a judge has the authority do so and may not agree to your request.

You will need to consider your goals and the implications criminal charges may have for you and your child. The prosecutor, the laws of the country where your child is located, and the taking parent’s behavior will all have an effect on how successful criminal charges are in securing your child’s return. Understanding these considerations may help you predict whether criminal charges can be an effective option for you and your child.


Pros and Cons of Pressing Criminal Charges


The process of filing criminal charges may help you locate your child.

A criminal charge will potentially facilitate cooperation from foreign law enforcement authorities by authorizing issuance of an INTERPOL red notice.

If the taking parent is a U.S. citizen, criminal warrants can serve as justification to revoke his or her passport, thus limiting subsequent international travel and potentially creating obstacles for his or her ability to remain legally in a foreign country.

Public awareness of the successful prosecution of a taking parent may deter others from abducting their children.


An outstanding criminal charge may deter a voluntary or negotiated return if a taking parent believes that he or she may be arrested when they return to the United States.

Criminal charges may adversely affect Hague return proceedings. Some judges may refuse to order a child’s return if there is a warrant for the taking parent’s arrest.

Criminal charges may encourage a taking parent to go deeper into hiding to avoid arrest. This is especially true when the taking parent has family or deep ties to the community.

The arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of the taking parent could be emotionally damaging for the child.

The goals of the criminal justice system to arrest a taking parent may be in conflict with your wishes, and once initiated, the prosecutor has control of any and all criminal proceedings. How these proceedings develop will be out of your hands.


Begin by Contacting Law Enforcement

When your child is missing you should immediately report the abduction to law enforcement. Law Enforcement should respond immediately, and enter your child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person Database. The initial response from law enforcement could determine whether or not a child is quickly and safely recovered.

Entering your child into NCIC does not automatically initiate criminal proceedings against the taking parent. It is best to consult with an attorney before you decide to pursue criminal charges. Depending on your State laws, law enforcement may require that you have a custody order, before seeking criminal warrants.

HELPFUL HINT: We recommend that you keep a record of all your correspondence with all parties you interact with, including law enforcement. Note as well the names of the people you speak to, the dates and times of the conversations, and the information provided.

Your Local Police: Most international abductions are first reported to your local police. If they pursue warrants, your local police (in coordination with the local prosecutor) may seek issuance of a warrant based on your state’s criminal parental kidnapping laws. You may also want to arrange to meet with your local prosecutor’s office to understand law enforcement’s considerations for moving forward, and to advocate for your case.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): You may also report your case directly to the FBI at the field office nearest your home. If possible, you should also consider meeting with the Assistant U.S. Attorney to discuss the possibility of pursuing federal criminal charges against the taking parent. The FBI may decide to treat the abduction as a felony under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act. Visit their website for more information.

HELPFUL HINT: Many law enforcement professionals have limited experience with parental child abduction cases and specifically, with procedures in international parental abduction cases. The Office of Children’s Issues can provide resources and communicate with law enforcement officials about the federal laws that will authorize them to assist you.


Criminal Warrants

Coordinated Effort: Successful resolution of international parental child abduction cases through use of criminal charges required a coordinated effort among federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities. In some cases, U.S. law enforcement will also enlist the help of Interpol and foreign law enforcement authorities to carry out an investigation.

Foreign Police, Customs, and Laws: Be aware that parental abduction is not a crime in most countries, and this can hinder efforts to prosecute a taking parent. Other factors that may obstruct the process are local customs as they relate to religion, gender, nationality, and other factors.

Foreign Criminal Charges: You should always consult an attorney in the foreign country if you intend to pursue foreign criminal charges against the taking parent. In some countries, you may be able to pursue the prosecution of the taking parent by the authorities of the country where the child is found. In many countries, citizens can be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad if the act is a criminal offense under local law; however, parental abduction is rarely considered a crime outside of the United States.


Source: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs


How to Prevent a Family Child Abduction


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Child Custody Battle Tug of War_______________________________________

You may not realize that each year around 350,000 children are kidnapped by
a family member. This is monumentally more children than are kidnapped by strangers. The good news is that family abductions can often be prevented.

Many custodial parents are not aware that parental kidnapping can happen. The following information can help you keep your children safe.


Why Do Parents Kidnap Their Own Children?

Child custody kidnapping experts say that people kidnap their own children:

To force a reconciliation or continued interaction with the left-behind parent.

To spite or punish the other parent.

From fear of losing custody or visitation rights.

In rare cases, to protect the child from a parent who is perceived to molest, abuse, or neglect the child.


Are You At Risk for Parental Child Abduction?

A direct threat of a child abduction should always be taken seriously. If your relationship with the other parent is volatile, and you argue over visitation, be concerned.

Here are some common warning signs. If the other parent:

Has threatened abduction or has actually abducted the child in the past.

Is suspected of abuse, and these suspicions are supported by family and friends.

Is paranoid delusional or severely sociopathic.

Is a citizen of another country and is ending a mixed-culture marriage.

Feels alienated from the legal system, and has family/social support in another community.

Has no strong ties to the child’s home state.

Has no job, is able to work anywhere, is not financially tied to the area.

Is planning to quit a job, sell a home, closing bank accounts, applying for passports, obtaining school or medical records.


Tips to Prevent Family Child Abduction

These are important steps you can take to clearly establish your legal custody of your children, and help prevent a kidnapping.


Respect the other parent’s custody and visitation rights. Anger, frustration and desperation are leading causes of family abduction.

Attempt to maintain a friendly relationship with your ex-spouse and his/her family. If a kidnapping does occur, you will need the support of the kidnapper’s family to bring your child home safely.

Consider counseling. As little as 10 hours of intervention can reduce the stress, anger and frustration that lead to family abduction.

Begin the custody process immediately. You cannot prove your custody rights without a custody order.

Include abduction prevention measures in the custody order.

Keep a certified copy of the custody order with you at home.

Record and document abduction threats. Report them immediately to family court or your lawyer.

Ask the police to intervene and warn the non-custodial parent of criminal consequences—family abduction is often a felony.

Notify schools, healthcare providers, day care and baby sitters of custody orders. Certified copies of custody orders should be on file at the school office etc.

Keep lists of identifying information about the non-custodial parent, including social security numbers, current photos, license plate numbers and bank and credit card accounts.

File a certified copy of the custody order in the non-custodial parent’s state, so that state’s courts know about the order.

Obtain a passport for your child, and notify the passport office that your child is not to leave the country without your written permission.

Your Children

Keep completed child ID documents for each child. Update them every six months.

Teach your children:

Their full name. Your full name, address and phone numbers.

How to use cell, home, and pay phones to call for help.

Every day, reassure your children:

You will always love them.

You will always look for them if they don’t come home.


When the Kidnapper Leaves the Country

Sometimes a family abductor will take the child out of the United States. For the most accurate and up-to-date information on international child abductions and the policies of specific countries, the following US State Department, Office of Children’s Issues resources are recommended:

U.S. Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues

International Parental Child Abduction

Text of the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

List of Participating Countries

Application For Assistance Under the Hague Convention on Child Abduction

International Parental Child Abduction Booklet

Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program

Resources for Judges on International Parental Child Abduction


Source: The Polly Klaas Foundation


Can a Private Investigator Help in Family Child Abduction Cases?


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Map and Magnifying Glass________________________________________

Millions of Americans receive advertisements in the mail with pictures of missing children and their alleged abductors. Many people quickly glance at the pictures, some study them more carefully, and some do not look at all. In the vast majority of cases, these children have been abducted by relatives, usually a parent. As research has demonstrated, the most prevalent form of child abduction in the United States is parental kidnapping.

Despite close to 35 years of organized concern about missing children, and despite the creation of missing child prevention and intervention programs, the family abduction problem remains one area where efforts may be the least developed.The landmark NISMART–1 study found that family abduction can result in psychological harm to the child (Finkelhor, Hotaling, and Sedlak, 1990). Other studies have also found that family abduction cases may not receive the attention needed from the criminal justice system and that international family abductions in particular may be more difficult to resolve and often involve serious characteristics (e.g., concealment, threats).


Traumatized Little Girl Parental Kidnapping Victim________________________________________

Parental abduction can have a devastating impact on the child who is abducted and also on the parent who is left behind. A quick recovery is crucial to reducing the trauma to both child and parent. The early and continuing involvement of an experienced and knowledgeable private investigator specializing in divorce, child custody, missing-persons and family abduction cases can make the difference in how effectively the search is conducted and can influence how quickly the child is recovered.


This website is brought to you by Bobby Ray Stacy and Thorobred Investigations. We specialize in missing-persons cases generally, and the safe and rapid recovery of missing and abducted children in particular. This includes both family and non-family abduction scenarios, nationally and internationally.

Mr. Stacy is both a legally-ordained minister and a licensed private investigator. His experience with and involvement in high-profile missing-persons cases goes back 20 years. He has been featured numerous times in the newspapers and on TV.

Mr. Stacy often takes on particularly challenging assignments for financially-distressed clients on a “pro-bono” basis as attorneys sometimes do, charging only the legitimate expenses required to close the case while waiving his standard hourly or daily fee for investigative services rendered.

If your child is missing due to a family abduction scenario or otherwise and you do not know who to turn to for assistance, Thorobred Investigations is here to help. You may contact Mr. Stacy anytime day or night: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year at the Thorobred Hotline Number:

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Or you can email us if you prefer at:



Exploding the “Stranger Danger” Child Abduction Mass Media Myth


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Pretty Upper Class White Girl Kidnapped by Filthy Low Class Male


While there has been a great deal of research published on media coverage of issues like rape, child abuse and domestic violence, very little has been written about the news coverage of child abductions or of violence against children more broadly. For example, though statistically rare, the news media disproportionally covers stories of young Caucasian girls being snatched from their middle-to-upper class homes in the middle of the night by male strangers, constructing a nationwide epidemic of “every parent’s worst nightmare”.

These kidnapping stories perpetuate powerful social myths about vulnerability in girlhood, hypersexuality and violence in masculinity, and deviance in strangers and “othered” groups. Through systematic treatment by the news media, the young girl victims that dominate media coverage not only embody important social lessons about family, childhood and sexuality, but also become a metaphor for a vulnerable, fragile nation suffering from a weakened economy and the cultural aftershock of terrorist attacks.

The high-profile cases in the U.S. that have dominated national headlines during recent times include the abduction and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam from San Diego, the abduction and eventual return of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart from Salt Lake City, and the abduction and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runion from Stanton, California. In each instance, the missing child was a young Caucasian girl from a middle to upper-class family who was taken from her home by a male stranger.


Because this article is concerned with the predominant myths perpetuated by kidnapping stories in the news, it is important to compare the types of kidnapping that garner the most media attention in the U.S. with the most common type of kidnapping according to crime statistics…

According to FBI crime statistics, kidnapping by strangers is rare and has been declining for years, constituting less that 100 cases per year. Familial abductions are far more common; more than 350,000 children are kidnapped by a parent each year. Based on information from the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Juvenile Justice Bulletin, abductions constitute less than two percent of violent crimes against children and over two thirds of abductions are perpetuated by family members or acquaintances.

Regardless of what crime statistics show, the news media’s construction of kidnapping cases, of likely victims and suspects, can substantially influence public views of crime and impact policymaking. Reports show that the news media’s increased reporting on kidnapping in general, and its specific focus on rare stranger abductions, fosters the illusion of a crime wave. According to news accounts, parents frightened by the abduction reports were wary of letting their children out of the house. As one parent told Newsweek magazine, she could no longer let her 11-year-old daughter ride her bike in the daytime: “I turn on the TV and hear about dead little girls”. These reports of high-profile child abductions not only led to widespread fear, but also pushed lawmakers to fund and implement nationwide search programs like Amber Alert.

By over-publicizing the rarest types of crimes by male strangers—whether it be rape, murder or kidnapping—the media can fabricate epidemics which serve as false warnings to women and young girls. Through the deployment of myth, crime stories teach important moral lessons and mark boundaries of social control. Kidnapping stories in particular represent “how our culture views children, parenthood, and sexuality and how it defines strangers, community and crime”.


Crime and Panic: Framing and Myth in News Narratives

News does more than report events; like other cultural forms it tells stories and teaches important social lessons. News is a narrative, literary form that provides the guiding myths which shape our conception of the world and serve as important instruments of social control. News cannot be expected to accurately represent reality or everyday life. Newsmakers are governed by news values that dictate that the most extraordinary, dramatic and tragic elements of stories will be emphasized.

However, in order for abnormal occurrences to make sense, they must be given meaning; otherwise, they remain random, isolated events. To this end, reporters organize events around major societal themes or conflicts trough a process of framing that offers definitions of social reality. Newsmakers use societal myths to structure stories in order to give meaning to incredible events, to explain that which cannot be explained and to reaffirm values and beliefs, especially when those values and beliefs are challenged.

Societies rely on negotiations of stability and crisis to survive, so myths function to simplify and maintain social boundaries. Myth is a powerful cultural force that has turned reality inside out, has emptied it of history and has filled it with nature, so it is in a literal sense “depoliticized speech”. Myth cannot simply sustain itself by replaying the past, as new meanings arise from converged discourses. Myth is not an innocent language, but one that picks up existing signs and their connotations, and orders them purposefully to play a particular social role”.

Stories about crime and deviance are especially instructive because they mark the transgression of normative boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behavior in society. In doing so, crime coverage also maintains
boundaries of class, race, sexuality, and gender. For example, tabloid news magazine shows, which target working class audiences, are more likely to cover crimes that illustrate middle and upper class deviance, while traditional news magazine programs more often show the upper class as victims of crime by lower class criminals. Thus, the news media’s focus on lower class suspects snatching upper class victims offers an opportunity to explore class distinctions in kidnapping narratives.


Stereotypical US Mainstream Media Child Kidnapping Image________________________________________

Likewise, crime news is filled with incarnations of the virgin/vamp myth. Crime coverage constructs weak female victims who may have enticed male perpetrators to attack them. In the case of child abductions involving teenagers such as Elizabeth Smart, speculations about whether she invited sexual attention from her attacker or chose to stay with him rather than escape builds on myths that girls are “asking for it” when they are kidnapped. Victims must conform to gender norms in order to be granted legitimacy as victims.

Because crime news dramatizes and exaggerates, reporting of crime is out of sync with actual police statistics, both in terms of the amount of crime reported and the types of crimes reported. Both print and television news media over represent the relative frequency of violent crimes, especially murder, when compared with FBI statistics, and public perceptions of crime more closely mirror media representations than police statistics. Others have shown that the most unusual crimes, especially homicides, are over represented and that the most newsworthy murders are those involving whites (either as suspects or victims) where the suspect is male and the victim is a woman, child or elderly person. The differential treatment of crime reporting based on race, gender, class and age is not random. Rather, this recurring pattern of news that highlight certain kinds of criminals and victims while downplaying others transmit daily messages about whose behavior matters most in society.

The process of framing, of giving meaning to seemingly isolated incidences, also helps explain how independent crimes take on the illusion of a “crime wave.” Journalists and editors organize individual cases around themes as a way to synthesize vast raw materials. The interactions among news organizations reporting on the same crimes, and the consistency with which the crimes are reported, then creates a crime wave. Furthermore, journalists feel pressure to seek out and “discover” new types of unusual crimes, at which point the news media become saturated with stories about these rare occurrences. The process of developing journalistic “story shorthand” or “branding stories” results in the type of naming (i.e. “summer of child abductions”) that frames isolated incidents as cultural phenomena.

Crime “epidemics” and “moral panic” have throughout history been well established as cyclical and intertwined with socio-economic conditions. By “amplifying” either trivial (vandalism) or serious (kidnapping) crimes, news media manufacture sensationalized coverage that prompts audience engagement and incites public outrage. Moral panics, once the unintended outcome of journalistic practice, seem to have become a goal. Moral panics about child sexual abuse signal new forms of neo-liberal governmentality that have emerged to reconcile the rift between the sexual commodification of girls, public morality, and heterosexual paedophilic desire that play out in news media. The influence of moral panics, particularly involving children, on policies, laws, and organizations has been significant. And two specific groups – child victims and sexual predators – have long been at the heart of moral panics, legislation, and media narratives.



Clear patterns have emerged in the neither random nor representative abduction cases that have garnered the most attention in U.S. press coverage, in particular in USA Today: The victim is likely to be a young female from a middle-upper class neighborhood who was abducted from her home by a male, low-class “stranger.” Furthermore, the exaggeration of victims as female and suspects as male in “the nation’s newspaper” suggests that the stories achieving national prominence are those that successfully perpetuate the myth of predatory males abducting young girls. Also, not all young girls that get abducted have the same degree of newsworthiness; media workers grant that images of “cute teenage girls” is part of the marketing strategy used by news stations to attract audiences and garner higher ratings.

The coverage of child abductions has real consequences for families of missing children; kidnapped children who receive widespread publicity in the mass media are much more likely to be returned home safely and quickly, whereas those whose kidnappings go unreported are rarely found.

In addition, the differences between regionally-targeted coverage and the more popular, nationally-targeted coverage suggests that national coverage exaggerates the myth of low class male vagrants snatching girls from stable suburban homes. This finding becomes significant when considering that the class of the suspect is related to the class of the target audience. The mainstream newspapers tend to reach an audience of older, middle to upper class, Caucasian readers, while the content perpetuates the image of low class criminals victimizing the middle class. Thus, child abduction narratives help to maintain class boundaries by “othering” members of the lower class.

Class distinctions are used to show how kidnappers come from a different world than that of victimized families. By stressing these “differences,” U.S. media reports may create perceptions that abductors are underclass vagrants, when in reality most kidnappings are committed by a family member or someone within the family’s social circle.

Racial identity is another common marker used to further differentiate victims and suspects. Media coverage routinely ignores the problem of missing minority children, especially if they are taken from lower income urban neighborhoods where crime is assumed “normal.” For example, 2-year-old Jahi Turner was kidnapped in San Diego, and 7-year-old Alexis Patterson from Milwaukee was abducted when walking home from school. Both kids were black. While their cases generated a great deal of local media attention, they did not rise to the level of national media obsession like the cases of Smart, Van Dam and Runion, the middle to upper-class Caucasian girls.

The contradiction of showing females as more sexual (revealing sexual details about the victim) yet also “tougher” reveals a specific nuance in the narratives of child abductions. Because crime news focuses on the rare, it is perhaps “newsworthy” for girls to exhibit toughness. The finding that young girls were more likely to be sexualized in the news media is consistent with research contending that the media promotes girlhood sexuality even as it attempts to deny and protect it. Girlhood elicits our collective “protective response” toward childhood, symbolizing desires to protect family life, community, and national identity more broadly.

In contrast, the predatory male abductor elicits our collective fear and hostility. While the number of stranger abductions is in fact declining, the media has played-up the theme of “stranger danger,” linked together individual yet unrelated cases which implied a broader stranger kidnapping “trend” or epidemic, and were ambiguous about reporting the relationship of the suspect to the victim (implying stranger). These news reports show how the pedophile once again becomes a popular social construct during times of economic and social upheaval.

Furthermore, by over publicizing crimes by male strangers—whether it be rape, murder or kidnapping—the media may create false warnings to women and young girls. Although family members perpetrate most violence against women, media reports stress the “extraordinary” crimes where the stranger is the culprit.

By quantifying the dominant themes used by newspapers to tell stories of child abductions, narrative devices can be uncovered which have the potential to teach powerful social lessons about family, community, strangers, girlhood and nationality. In the 1990s kidnapping reporting centered on parental abductions, representing distrust of the court system and family structures. In the 2000s, U.S. mainstream news media fixated on rare but dramatic stories of helpless young girls disappearing from culturally recognized “safe havens” at the hands of predatory male strangers.

Within the cultural context of post-September 11 America, media stories of fragile, vulnerable, violated girls become metaphors for a fragile, vulnerable, violated nation. Girls studies scholars have long noted that narratives of girlhood carried out in the media and popular culture come to signify the endangered purity of the nation more broadly. Deeply embedded cultural myths like cowboy masculinity and puritan sexuality pervade contemporary media frames during times of national crises. Specifically, in the cultural aftershocks of the terrorist attacks, U.S. media sustained narratives of idealized girls and women as fragile virgins or mothers, objects in need of protection by and from men.

By uncovering patterns in the journalistic selection of young female victims “snatched” from their homes and the narrative framing devices used to tell their stories, the hidden agenda is brought out into the light. By “othering” the kidnapper / pedophile as low-class and a stranger, and reinscribing family values, community cohesion and patriotism, these kidnapping stories reflect a post-9/11 American society struggling to protect its families and its nation.


Source: Every parent’s worst nightmare: Myths of child abductions in US news. Journal of Children and Media, 5(2), 147-163 (2011).

The Ultimate “Poster Child” Example Of International Parental Kidnapping


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A father puts his life on the line to get his son back. The mother, a former high fashion model, is a foreign national kidnapper and a fugitive wanted by the FBI…


Many children who are abducted to other countries by parents are never returned to the United States. A parent who is left behind when a child is abducted to another country faces daunting obstacles to finding and recovering the child. At first, the left-behind parent does not know who can or will help. The parent’s emotional and financial resources soon are stretched to the limit. These cases can cost a parent between $35,000 to $300,000 and up. When years pass without the return of the child, the parent is left with unresolved grief. What if a parent does not have the money? They lose their child forever.

As one parent has stated, “It’s worse than if your child died, because you cannot say the child is at peace now. You live every day wondering if your child is OK, if he/she is being abused or neglected. When will I see them again. My child probably thinks I don’t love them anymore. You never get over it.”


Berger South African Case

One extreme example of an international parental kidnapping is a case from South Africa in which a child was kidnapped not once, but twice.

It entailed one small innocent child, two international kidnappings to South Africa, three false passports, four years of litigation under the International Hague Convention on child abduction and at least 15 court battles – between two continents.

A Father’s Quest to Get His Son Back Home Has Not Been Easy

While living in South Africa for eight months attempting to recover his son. Mr. Berger was faced with two false arrests attempts, several death threats, was ultimately imprisoned while entering the country from Namibia, and stripped of his human rights to see his child for months at a time. Hal Berger finally has achieved his pursuit of happiness. He and his son Liam are together again.


Liam Berger Missing Poster


Liam Berger, only four years old, the U.S.-born child snatched by his maternal mother Linda Volschenk Berger late last year and taken halfway around the world on false passports is now living a normal life with his father Hal Berger.

Ultimately the California family courts ruled that the South African woman who snatched her son twice from her ex-husband and fled to South Africa, would lose total custody of her son. In addition, she faces extradition for her “felony complaint” for disappearing with Liam. She is wanted by the FBI.

Parental kidnappings are on the rise. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 parental kidnappings per year. The U.S. State department Office of Children’s Issues has reported there are at least 1,500 international parental kidnapping cases open per year. That number only includes the reported cases. Many cases go unreported as parents don’t know who to turn to for help.

In 1993, the U.S. Congress enacted the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (18 U.S.C. 1204), making the abduction of a child to another country or the retention of a child in another country a Federal felony. The Act specifies that, where applicable, the Hague Convention should take priority as a remedy for returning the child.

However, it is a federal felony crime to remove a child from the United States without the other parent’s consent. Under Sec. 1204 of the International parental kidnapping Act; (a) Whoever removes a child from the United States, or attempts to do so, or retains a child (who has been in the United States) outside the United States with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights shall be fined under this title or imprisoned up to 3 years, or both.

The Legal Framework Civil Law

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention) is an international treaty currently in force between the United States and 50 other countries. The treaty only applies between countries that are both parties to the Convention. The implementing legislation in the United States, enacted in 1988, is the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA), 42 U.S.C. 11601-11610. A Hague Convention proceeding is a civil proceeding brought in the party country to which the child was abducted or in which the child is retained. If the Hague proceeding is commenced within 1 year of the abduction or retention, the judge must order the child returned, usually to the country of habitual residence.

South African Child Kidnapping Case

In October 2004, Linda Berger departed to South Africa with her son, Liam to visit her family. She swore they would be back. They would return to California where they live.

Hal Berger, a U.S. investment banker at Marina Capital Partner in Marina del Rey, CA, was living with his ex-South African model wife Linda and their son Liam in Santa Monica, California. Wanting to see her homeland again, Linda convinced Hal that she will take a short holiday to South Africa with their son. Hal was reluctant to allow his son to leave the country, as South Africa is a twenty three hour flight, not very safe, nor politically sound.

While in South Africa the Berger family enjoyed the experience of the beautiful landscape in the heart of the rural bush veldt of the Northern Limpopo Province in a remote area south of Botswana, at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Linda’s family owns an 8,000 acre farm near the borders of Botswana, Zimbabwe [formerly Rhodesia] and the northern part of South Africa.

This area is home to no less than seven of Africa’s most amazing animals: the African elephant, the lion, the giraffe, the baobab tree, the eland, the ostrich, and the koori bustard. Hal thought they were a happy family.

During the trip Linda suffered a miscarriage and was suppose to stay in South Africa for a few extra weeks. Hal needed to depart South Africa and return to work in the U.S. When he returned home his worst fears were realized, Linda was not planning to return to the U.S. and she kidnapped Liam.

Linda declared that she would not return with their son from South Africa. Hal quit his job as an investment banker in the middle of a multimillion dollar deal and jumped on a plane.


Linda Berger Wanted Poster


Hal filed the International Hague Convention for Child Abduction with the U.S State Department. The Hague Convention protects children around the world from the wrongful kidnapping of children by a parent.

Hal was determined to get his son home even after his life was threatened. Linda’s family attempted to throw him in jail where they hired an assassin to kill him in the rural Limpopo province. Hal faced a long and a bitter fight in the corrupt courts during his eight months in the country.

Mr. Berger escaped an illegal arrest attempt in Sourh Africa and was escorted by his attorneys to the U.S. Consulate for asylum. While Hal remained at the U.S. Consulate, his attorneys ran to court and launched an urgent application to dismiss the trumped up false assault charges.

In South Africa he discovered that men have “no civil rights” relating to parental kidnapping and custody cases. Hal was caught in a political web as his wife’s family continued to delay the court proceedings for eight months. The courts striped away his visitation rights to see his son and were trying to prosecute him for trumped up false assault charges. Hal filed charges with the South African Human Rights commission.

South Africa did not treat Linda’s criminal act as a kidnapping. Linda’s family continued to try to break him down emotionally and physically. Hal’s love for his son was too strong to just give up. When interviewed, Hal Berger claimed, “I felt like a trapped man living in South Africa fighting the Afrikaans post-Apartheid culture and their reversal of racial power, corruption in the police department and death & jail threats by her family.”

Hal vowed, “I am not leaving this country without my son in my arms.”

After eight months Hal finally prevailed in the South African High court.

On his return flight home Linda and Raynier, her boyfriend, were waiting at the transfer gate in the Amsterdam airport and tried to grab Liam. Berger checked into the airport hotel to avoid the confrontation only to be greeted by a team of Airport police who broke into his room and claiming that Linda said Liam was kidnapped by Berger. Hal Berger and Liam were detained in the police station for five hours.

The U.S. Consulate in Amsterdam was dispatched to the airport police station. The U.S. State Department in Washington clarified the matter with the Amsterdam authorities. Hal and Liam were escorted in a five ton special bomb squad SUV to their hotel and driven to the airport by the U.S. Consulate the next morning.

Liam returned to the U.S. in December 2006 to lead a normal life playing soccer, going to pre-school, birthday parties and parks, while his parents were battling in the California family courts.

Ten months later. Hal’s biggest fear became another reality. Liam did not show up at the Circle of Children preschool in Santa Monica. Hal went to pick up Liam at school only to find his empty locker and that Liam was missing.


Linda Berger and Her Four-Year-Old Son Liam________________________________________

Liam’s mother and her boyfriend Rynier Bosman using fake passports drove Liam covertly over the Mexican border in a taxi and flew him Mexico City to Paris, Paris to Kenya, Kenya to Harare Zimbabwe and then drove him over the border to their family farm on the northern border of South Africa.

Hal Berger immediately launched a media campaign in the U.S. and South Africa, deployed an investigation team in South Africa, conducted onsite meetings at the FBI, LAPD, and secured a court order for full custody and a felony warrant for her arrest.

Since the FBI, LAPD and U.S. State department did not move quickly enough or help, Hal assembled his own mercenary recovery team comprised of military special forces operatives. They were deployed to South Africa within fourteen days. Gustava, the leader, has been involved in the recovery of seventy children around the world. Gus is a former Ranger Instructor and a member of a classified “Anti-Terrorist” Commando Team within the Ist Airborne Ranger Battalion and Special Ops Delta team.

The South African team of investigators used cell telephone records, surveillance, GPS tracking devices, and banking information to determine the exact whereabouts of Liam and Linda.

Fearing that he would be thrown in jail if he flew into South Africa, Hal stayed in Namibia for nearly a month before entering South Africa. Unfortunately Linda’s family owns a security company and has ties with the South African police department.

Hal and his armed protection officer drive over the border from Namibia into South Africa in the middle of the night. Once they reach the border post they realized there was a warrant alert for Hal. Hal was separated from his body guard, handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police pickup truck.

The border police drove Mr. Berger at 110 miles per hour toward the border town of Upington. The police vehicle broke down. Hal was left handcuffed in the back of the truck when they lowered the covers over the windows to blacken the back cab. Hal thought his life was over.

Fortunately, the recovery team stationed in Johannesburg woke his lawyer up in the middle of the night. Darryl Ackerman, called the police and demanded Hal’s whereabouts. Hal was locked up and thrown in prison that evening.

Darryl Ackerman’s successful defense team quashed Linda’s trumped-up allegations and the Judge ordered the immediate return of Liam with his father to the U.S.

The police at the Johannesburg airport tried to stop Liam’s departure at the gate. However, Gus Zama said. “There is nothing you are going to show me short of a court order from Interpol that’s stopping me from taking this child back to the U.S.”

Liam now leads a normal and happy life. He says when he grows up he wants to be an Animal Rescue person and a businessman.


Hal Berger With Liam________________________________________

Hal Berger has committed himself to a lifetime of helping other parents victimized by parental abduction through his nonprofit organization, Global Missing Children Fund, which is sponsored by Marina Capital Partner.

Mr. Berger has been working with Congressman Howard Berman, the House of Representatives’ Chairman of Foreign Affairs, on a bill that will provide some reform to improve the process of recovering internationally kidnapped children. They are close to realizing this legislation. In the meantime, Hal Berger watches his son more closely than most parents in the United States.


Source:  The Huffington Post


Criminal and Civil Laws Regarding Parental Abduction


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Father-Son Parental Kidnapping


The Missing Children’s Act of 1982 (28 U.S.C. § 534(a)). This Act requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to enter descriptive information on missing children into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, a computer database with information on missing persons that can be accessed by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 5780). This Act requires that State and local law enforcement agencies immediately enter information on missing children younger than 18 into the NCIC database and prohibits such agencies from maintaining any waiting period prior to taking a report of a missing child.

The Missing Children’s Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 5771 et seq.). Enacted in 1984 and reauthorized in 1988, 1992, and 1999, this Act resulted in the establishment of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCMEC serves as a national resource center on missing children, providing support to criminal justice system personnel and aggrieved parents as they seek to identify and recover missing children, including those who have been abducted by a parent. It operates a toll-free hotline, provides technical assistance to law enforcement personnel in the field, and educates the public and others on relevant issues.

The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980 (28 U.S.C. § 1738A). Providing for civil remedies, this Federal Act gives jurisdictional priority to the child’s home State in parental abduction cases where conflicts arise between two States. It extends the Federal Fugitive Felon Act to cases in which a child has been taken out of a State where that act would constitute a felony, thus enabling the FBI to investigate. It also authorizes certain persons access to the Federal Parent Locator Service for purposes of identifying the whereabouts of a parentally abducted child.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). An important civil remedy that exists to combat parental abduction, this jurisdictional statute governs when a court has jurisdiction over a parental abduction case and attempts to prevent the occurrence of simultaneous proceedings in two different States. It has been enacted with some variation in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands.

The Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, adopted unanimously by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1997 and approved by the American Bar Association in 1998, amends UCCJA to bring it into conformity with the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act. UCCJEA also clarifies jurisdictional provisions of UCCJA that courts have interpreted inconsistently across the country. As of January 2001, 22 States had enacted UCCJEA.1

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This Convention, ratified by the United States in 1988, is an international treaty currently in effect in 43 countries.2 It serves to simplify and expedite the return process when children have been abducted internationally. The Convention’s implementing procedures can be found in the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 11601 et seq.). In 1993, the United States also passed the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (18 U.S.C. § 1204), making the abduction or retention
of a child from the United States a felony.


1. For more detail about UCCJEA, including a list of States that have adopted the Act, see http://www.nccusl.org

2. For the most recent list of countries that have ratified the Hague Convention, see http://travel.state.gov


Defining “Family Abduction”


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Family Abduction Victim


Family abduction (also often referred to as family child abduction, parental abduction, parental child abduction, or parental kidnapping) is technically defined as: “The taking or keeping of a child by a family member in violation of a custody order, a decree, or other legitimate custodial rights, where the taking or keeping involved some element of concealment, flight, or intent to deprive a lawful custodian indefinitely of custodial privileges”.

Specific Definitional Elements

• Taking: Child was taken by a family member in violation of a custody order or decree or other legitimate custodial right.

• Keeping: Child was not returned or given over by a family member in violation of a custody order or decree or other legitimate custodial right.

• Concealment: Family member attempted to conceal the taking or whereabouts of the child with the intent to prevent return, contact, or visitation.

• Flight: Family member transported or had the intent to transport the child from the State for the purpose of making recovery more difficult.

• Intent to deprive indefinitely: Family member indicated an intent to prevent contact with the child on an indefinite basis or to affect custodial privileges indefinitely.

• Child: Person under 18 years of age. For a child 15 or older, there needs to be evidence that the family
member used some kind of force or threat to take or to detain the child, unless the child was mentally disabled.

• Family member: A biological, adoptive, or foster family member; someone acting on behalf of such a family member; or the romantic partner of a family member.


Source: Nismart-2, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention