By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Law agencies say missing children no small matter
'All hands on deck' when a child is reported missing
Placeholder Image

Parents spend their lives protecting their children, but in the blink of an eye, their worst nightmare can become reality.

Last week, a 6-year-old was reported missing from a Gainesville apartment complex. He was found less than an hour later, but the incident serves as a reminder that not all cases turn out so well.

Luckily, child abductions are rare in Hall County, but authorities are well prepared in the case it does occur.

Most child abductions are not the dramatic case of a stranger kidnapping a child, said Kevin Holbrook, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department.

"Generally you're going to see there's family involved," Holbrook said. "A stranger on stranger abduction is very, very rare."

In fact, the last major child abduction case in Gainesville in December 2007 involved a father kidnapping his daughter. But every case is serious, and local authorities have a plan.

In March 2009, Cornelio Zamites pleaded guilty to charges of murder, rape, child molestation, false imprisonment and kidnapping with bodily injury of 4-year-old Esmeralda Nava. Zamites, an illegal immigrant, kidnapped Nava in June 2005 and strangled her in a wooded area near his home where Nava and her parents had been visiting.

It's nightmares like these that Hall County authorities hope to never deal with again. That's why both the Gainesville Police Department and the Hall County Sheriff's Office have a thorough plan in case a child goes missing.

"In general, what we do is we will try to obtain as much information as possible, and we will saturate the area with officers," Holbrook said. "And that's usually our first plan of action. We get as many officers around the area on scene so we can start knocking on doors."

If a child is not found soon after being reported missing, law enforcement then takes further action, including seeking assistance from other agencies.

Unlike with missing adults, law enforcement immediately issues searches in the case of a missing chid.

Authorities can request a Levi's Call to be activated so that all of Georgia can be on the lookout for the child.

If the child is believed to have been abducted, an Amber Alert will be issued notifying several area countries of the child's disappearance.

When a child is reported missing "that's an all hands on deck," said Col. Jeff Strickland, chief deputy with the Hall County Sheriff's Office.

"We flood that area with manpower, and we begin a search for the child. But certainly if it's a verified abduction that raises the bar even higher for our response on that."

The Gainesville Police Department recommends a service to parents called the Georgia Child Identification Program.

The free program provides parents with a computer disk that includes full color photographs of the child from various angles, a set of fingerprints, information about the child's features and an identification card that includes the child's information and picture.

"It goes to the parents," said Montana Thrasher of the Gainesville Police Department. "We don't keep any of the information and if the child goes missing they can give it to law enforcement."

The kit gives police a full description of the child and may help locate the child more quickly.

"A lot of times as law enforcement this helps us or enables us to do our jobs a little more efficiently," Holbrook said. "The parents are distraught in that type of a situation, so therefore this gives us a little more to go on."

The FBI has also recently released an iPhone application for parents called FBI Child ID. It allows parents to import an updated photograph and other important information about their chid to be stored on the phone.

It also gives parents information on what to do if their child disappears.

Woodrow Tripp commander of the Criminal Investigations Division, said a child abduction report is one of the most serious issues in the eyes of law enforcement.

"That's probably, I would say, one of the most serious things that we have here," he said.

"We put all hands on deck. We call in everybody and anybody when it relates to a child missing or being abducted."

Regional events