Gainesville police breathed a sigh of relief late Sunday night when a little girl who had gone missing from a holiday event earlier in the day was found safe and sound and returned home. She was located thanks to an emergency alert system put into action by the Gainesville school system.
An 8-year-old girl named Victoria, who goes by Tori, went missing at about 6 p.m. Sunday when she last was seen at the Christmas on Green Street celebration, according to Lt. Brian Kelly. She was found shortly before 11 p.m., having gone home with a friend, Kelly said.
Tori last was seen playing with several children in the area of Ridgewood Avenue and Green Street, Kelly said. They turned out to be schoolmates of hers, he said. When Tori’s stepfather and grandmother, her caretakers, each returned home from the Christmas event, they discovered that neither had brought Tori home.
A parent of a child with whom Tori had been playing couldn’t find Tori’s relatives and took the child home with her, Kelly said. Tori couldn’t provide her address or telephone number, he said. The woman realized Tori had been reported missing after receiving an automated phone call from officials at Enota Elementary, which authorities had contacted.
She called police, brought Tori to the department, and the child was returned to her family, Kelly said.
Kelly said though this case had a happy ending, it does serve as a warning for parents. He said parents should make sure their children know their address and telephone number and at the very least know to contact 911 if they are lost. He said it also is a good idea for parents to introduce themselves to other parents and exchange phone numbers before letting their children play with children they don’t know.
"Especially when you have large groups of individuals, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on everyone," Kelly said. "(Parents and children) can become separated quickly."
The report of the missing child triggered the police department’s A Child is Missing locator program, Kelly said. The program starts calling phone numbers of locations within the area where a missing child last was seen, then branches out to neighboring locations, he explained.
Officers also canvassed homes and businesses in the area, as well as contacting neighbors, friends, classmates and other known associates of the child, he said.