Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Two Weeks Too Long: Why NZ Needs a Child Abduction Alert System

In the 1960s and 70s, a succession of missing and murdered child cases impacted American society forever, and changed the way that law enforcement agencies in particular respond to missing child reports.  It was a lesson that the US had to learn the hard way, at the hands of serial murderers like Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer.  One of the parents at the forefront of those societal and procedural shifts was John Walsh, the man who most of you will remember as the host of America's Most Wanted.  But before he became a well-known TV personality, he was a father.  The father of a little boy who went missing one day at the mall, after his mother left him for only a few moments, watching some older boys play a video game while she went to the checkout.  When she returned only minutes later Adam Walsh, just 6-years-old, was gone.  The shy, bright eyed little boy was never seen alive again, and his murder went unsolved for many years until a drifter was arrested in Texas on a firearms charge.  That drifter was Henry Lee Lucas, and when he, and his sometime partner Ottis Toole started confessing to literally hundreds of murders across the US, law enforcement agencies from around the country began dusting off their cold case files and hot-footing it to Texas to speak to the talkative pair of serial killers.  It was Ottis Toole who eventually confessed to the murder of Adam Walsh,  and described kidnapping the boy from just outside a Sears department store in Hollywood, Florida.  I won't go into the disgusting details of the crime, because this isn't a post about Ottis Toole, or Henry Lee Lucas, or even Adam Walsh.  This is a post about how New Zealand should be learning from other countries mistakes, and how not doing so could be putting lives at risk.

Adam Walsh was just 6-years-old when he went missing, so the police response to his disappearance was immediate and heavy, but that wasn't the experience for many parents of missing children in the US.  For years parents were told that their children had just run away, they'd come home eventually, that it wasn't a priority for police who had "real" crimes to solve.  Police departments made parents of even very young missing children wait the requisite 48 hours before they would lodge a missing persons report, and even when a report was lodged, no action would be taken.  Parents had to mount their own searches, post their own missing posters and flyers canvassing the public's help in finding their children.  When the bodies were found, if they were found, police would make excuses for their inaction with the old saw that they were "only following procedure."  Clearly, it was those procedures that needed to change, and change they did.   In 1984 The National Centre For Missing and Exploited Children was established to act  as a resource for parents, children, law enforcement agencies, schools, and communities to assist in locating missing children and to raise public awareness about ways to prevent child abduction and exploitation.  In 1996 the AMBER alert system was implemented to broadcast information about missing children across emergency channels, radio stations, TV channels, electronic billboards and online.  

Earlier this year the AMBER alert system played a crucial role in distributing information about an abducted girl taken by her uncle, who was later found and rescued by members of the public.  Which brings us back to the boy who's picture is at the top of this post.  Chicaine Erihe has been missing since June 24th, but police are only today releasing that information and beginning to canvas for the public's assistance in finding him.  Chicaine has been a runaway in the past, but that doesn't change the fact that he's been missing for two weeks now.  I hope he is found safe and sound, but what if it's already too late?  What if he's already come to harm or being targeted by the kind of predatory scumbags who prey on at-risk youth?  What is alerting the public two weeks ago could have made a difference?

New Zealand's population is growing at a faster rate than ever, and we are fools to think that this country is a safe-haven where "that sort of thing" can't happen.  We NEED a child abduction alert system before it's too late.

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