New Tools for Recovering Missing Children

The Texas Center for the Missing works to help families recover missing or abducted children. The center is expanding its training and recovery abilities with a mobile search and education lab. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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About 14,000 children go missing in the Houston-Galveston region every year. Suzie, who asked that her last name not be used, is the mother of one of those children. Her 15-year-old daughter disappeared from the family home. Suzie called 911 and then contacted the Texas Center for the Missing. Her daughter had been lured out of the home by an online predator.

"They were able to locate our daughter very quickly and to recover her from the home where she was at. She had been very heavily drugged, had been assaulted and getting her in our arms at the time seemed paramount. However, it's what happens afterwards where Texas Center for the Missing really was there for us in a way that I don't think any other group could be. They have so many contacts and know many people and know where to turn in a parent's worst hour."

The Texas Center for the Missing is a very small non-profit organization that acts as a go-between for parents and law enforcement officials. They help in the search and recovery process, but also provide legal and counseling resources afterward. And they just received a $100,000 grant from Humana to create a mobile unit. Pattie Dale Tye is president of Humana's Houston office. She says the Texas Center for the Missing was one of the smallest organizations to apply and beat out 89 other applicants.

"They set themselves apart really because they were going to be able to immediately transform themselves, transform their outreach and make a difference in the community very quickly and very powerfully through the mobile lab."

The $100,000 award paid for the huge mobile unit equipped with 14 computer stations and satellite internet. Beth Alberts is the CEO of the Center and also the director of the Houston Regional Amber Plan. She says they'll be able to use the lab to train law enforcement officers on how to use the Amber Alert system. They'll also provide workshops for parents and children about internet safety. And finally, the bus will serve as a mobile command post.

"If a child does go missing we can literally drive it into the area. People kind of think well why do you need something like that. From one extreme to the other across our 13-county region it's over 100 miles and you really need to set up nearest where the child went missing because that's where you're going to get your information. So working with the law enforcement officers to do canvassing and looking at traffic patterns and things like that - we'll be right there in the heart of it."

Alberts used to operate her recovery efforts out of the back of her SUV, so this is quite an improvement. And she says there are things parents can do to keep their children safer, one of the first being to monitor your child's activity and friendships on the internet. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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