National Missing Children’s Day — Dr. Betty Kuffel on stopping child abductions

My friend Betty Kuffel, MD is author of Eyes of a Pedophile: Detecting Child Predators. Her book is available free from Amazon Kindle for 24 hours on May 25th in commemoration of Take 25 Day, a day when parents are urged to take 25 minutes to talk with their children about safe behavior and avoiding abduction.

Get the download at Betty’s website


Convicted pedophile Jose Antonio Ramos remained the primary suspect in the disappearance of Etan Patz for three decades until last month when investigators reopened the case. The new search focused in the basement of a building near Etan’s home where a handyman neighbor worked. Suspect Othniel Miller denies involvement but was reportedly seen with Etan the night before his abduction.

Now, NY investigators are focused on Pedro Hernandez. Details have not been released but the man was taken into custody on Wednesday, May 23. Hernandez was interviewed as a suspect in the past. This may be the break in this case we have been waiting for.

The morning Etan disappeared he left his home in lower Manhattan, NY, to walk alone two blocks to a school bus stop. The extensive local investigation, coupled with widely distributed photos of Etan, triggered the missing children’s movement of today. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates 2,000 children per day are reported missing. Many are located unharmed, but like Etan some are never found and unfortunately, the latest search produced no new evidence.

In 2007, the NCMEC joined with other organizations across the US to raise awareness for child safety and keep kids safer through education. In their Take 25 campaign, they encourage parents and guardians to take twenty-five minutes on May 25 to talk to children about safe behavior and how to avoid abduction. National Missing Children’s Day has been observed annually on May 25 since 1983 in  commemmoration of the day in 1979 when six-year-old Etan Patz disappeared.

From the tragedy of Etan’s and other high profile cases of child abduction many improvements in safety, education, prosecution and ways to rapidly locate missing children have occurred. The Code Adam alert was devised after the 6-year-old son of John Walsh (host of America’s Most Wanted) was abducted from a department store in Florida and later found murdered. First started in Walmart stores, this rapid response mechanism is designed to stop a child abduction in progress. Now broadly used in malls and public buildings, if a child is reported missing, a Code Adam alert results in an immediate lock-down.

In the aftermath of two other child abductions, Jacob Wetterling and Megan Kanka, the tireless work of their parents stimulated the US Congress to pass a law mandating registration of sex offenders to alert neighbors about their residential locations.

Statistics show finding an abducted child quickly is prime for a safe return. Over 500 children have been recovered since the development of the AMBER Alert system. Named for Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old abducted and murdered Texas girl, this alert results in rapid dissemination of information about missing children. Call 9-1-1 if you witness an abduction. Describe the child, perpetrator, incident, location, vehicle and license number. If the missing child is thought to be in imminent danger, law enforcement issues the Amber Alert which interrupts radio and television broadcasts with details. Electronic billboards along highways, the Internet and smart phones flash the information.

In cooperation with local agencies, ten FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Teams are on alert. Covering five regions, the experienced personnel provide resource support and investigative tools including electronic mapping to identify and locate known sex offenders residing near the abduction location. Partnership of the public with law enforcement is essential for interactive systems to work. But educating caregivers and children to take action to avoid abduction is also key. There are many safety tips at the NCMEC website.

Talk to your children about safety on May 25th. Try using discussion scenarios like “What if…What would you do?” Walk through the neighborhood with your kids and show them safe homes to seek refuge in an emergency. Teach crowd safety. Point out situations of potential danger. Tell your kids to avoid traveling alone and if grabbed, scream, kick and try to escape.

May 25th is a reminder day for what caregivers should do all year long to keep children safer. Like the FBI CARD Team, check online at and learn addresses of convicted sex offenders near you, particularly the more violent Level 3 offenders. One may be living next door.

6 thoughts on “National Missing Children’s Day — Dr. Betty Kuffel on stopping child abductions

  1. Thanks, Leslie, for this outstanding post. I remember etan’s abduction like it was yesterday. I hope that this guy Pedro is truly the person responsible for Etan’s disappearance, and that etan’s parents will finally get the answers, all these years later. I can’t imagine their agony of the past 33 years, and how ironic to possibly learn the truth on this tragic anniversary of his disappearance.
    Thanks, also, for letting us know about the availability of your friend’s book; that is my next stop. I hope all parents “take 25” today –it may be the most vital 25 minutes they’ve ever invested in the safety of their child’s life.

    • Thanks, Kathy. (For those who don’t know her, Kathleen is a retired Long Island police officer, and a writer.)

      Apparently it’s not uncommon to get confessions on anniversaries.

      • Since reading more about the case, there’s no doubt in my mind that Pedro Hernandez was the killer. Unlike the deranged guy who claimed to kill Jon Benet Ramsey, there IS a substantial piece of evidence that gives credence to Pedro’s story — the fact that he is listed in an early police report as having been employed at the bodega — steps away from Etan’s bus stop. The police have some heavy-duty explaining to do. How did they fail to interview him? Had they simply gone back a month later to find out if anyone quit ~ they would have learned Pedro split shortly after Etan’s disappearance. That alone would have raised a red flag. I wrote a blog post about this (and mentioned Dr. Kuffel’s giveaway, thanks to you!) on Women of Mystery. It also helps that Pedro admitted it to several family members & even a spiritual advisor since the 1980s.
        As I know you understand these reasons, Leslie, but to share with your readers:
        In Crime Stoppers (where I worked for 13 years), we always profiled unsolved murders on or near their anniversary date for the following reasons: mainly to let the family and public know we had not forgotten the victim; the media was more likely to run the story on the anniversary, since they are not in the habit of airing “old” news, unless there’s a good reason (the anniversary provides the reason); it will jar people’s memories (and they may finally realize that the small tidbit of info they have might actually be worth telling); and one of the biggest reasons of all: the shifting of relationships…the police actually “benefit” when a shift occurs (a death; divorce; passage of time; less or more pressure exists; guilt; etc.).
        In order to produce a resolution to a case, I always used to say we needed the right person (the one w info), at the right time (sees, hears, or reads about the case), with a good conscience to come forward. Crime Stoppers allows this to occur anonymously. We don’t have Caller ID, we don’t tape our calls. Callers are assigned a code number, and that becomes their identity to us. Informants can call, send an encrypted email or text to pass this information along.
        I truly hope this case inspires other folks who carry information about unsolved cases to come forward. Time will tell!

        • Kathleen, many thanks, as always! I’m sure my readers — who are mostly writers — will be able to use your insights in their own stories as well. Your point about shifts in relationships is particularly intriguing.

  2. To me this is one of the saddest crimes committed. I hate anything that harms children. I heard that the original suspect confessed yesterday. I hope it is him so the parents can have some closure.

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