Every parent wants to protect their children against the dangers of the world, in the hopes that they will flourish and thrive. As missing person experts here at Lauth Missing Persons, we know that each year that passes makes it increasingly important that we safeguard our loved ones against threats that may lurk behind a screen, just as much as those out in the everyday world. Happily, protecting children online is something that any parent can learn to do with a little guidance.
Today’s children are more computer literate than any generation that came before them. Most toddlers master their parent’s smartphones with dizzying speed, and the Covid-19 pandemic certainly transformed devices into necessary portals, allowing the young to stay connected with friends and get schoolwork done. Framed by the ever-online reality of modern life, how can parents allow their kids to enjoy the bounties of the digital era without exposure to the risks? Read on for our top strategies for protecting your children online in 2021.
Set Parental Controls on Your Devices
There are a range of digital tools available to parents who want to keep their children safe online. Many web browsers and sites offer these services for free—for example Google’s SafeSearch allows you to block out sites that contain adult or illegal material. Content filters like these prevent accidental discovery of violent or sexually explicit content online, while usage controls allow you to time-limit or prevent certain types of device use. Parental monitoring tools help you keep an eye on which sites or apps your children access. While a variety of free tools can be harnessed, many parents take comfort in using paid parental control software, for an iron clad level of security.
Teach Your Children to Be “Share Aware”
With innocent young minds, few children are aware of the potential dangers of sharing personal information online. Details ranging from locational information to photographs, email addresses, phone numbers, schools, and even private thoughts can each become a vulnerability in the wrong hands. As such, teaching your children to be “share aware” can help them avoid heartache or danger in the future. Everything that goes out online can be considered our “digital footprint”, and it can be difficult to know how far it will travel. If they wouldn’t share that information or image with a total stranger, then they should never post it online—even privately—and if they feel unsure, they can always ask you before they click.
Talk to Your Children About Who They Connect With Online
Parents will always vet who their children spend time with in the real world, so it stands to reason that the same should be true online. Without the life experience to teach them otherwise, children can be naive about who they trust, and what they believe. An important part of protecting children online is discussing their digital social circles, and educating young minds on what constitutes bullying or unacceptable behavior. Teach your children to be social media savvy, including how to block unwanted contacts, and report inappropriate or offensive posts so that they can protect themselves and others too.
Lead By Example and Keep the Dialog Flowing
Modeling courteous, safety conscious, and responsible online etiquette can influence your children more than you know. Be sure to set a good example, including limiting your own screen time. Encourage free conversation with your children about what they do online, and ask them to show you the different sites and apps that they enjoy. Keep screens and devices in shared spaces, or check in regularly when your child is using a device in another room. By making all things virtual at least a partially shared experience, you are far more likely to be the first port of call if your child ever feels unsafe online. The missing person investigations team here at Lauth Missing Persons often encounter families who are facing their worst parental fears. To combat these moments, we encourage focusing on safety awareness from an early age, protecting children online, and staying informed about contemporary risks. If you have reason to doubt the safety of your child, the team at Lauth Missing Persons may be able to assist. Learn more about what we do, or contact us today.
It’s not uncommon for women to jog alone. Unfortunately, it’s also not uncommon for women to go missing while jogging or exercising.
Millions of women exercise daily while alone, and most come home safe. However, imagine your friend goes out for a jog or bicycle ride and is never seen again. Women who go missing while jogging are not an isolated event. It may be hard to comprehend, but sadly, stories like this are becoming more common in today’s society.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), there are approximately 100,000 people missing in the United States right now. As of May 31, 2018, there were 19,183 women over the age of eighteen listed as missing in NCIC. Many of them go missing while jogging or exercising.
Stories like Molly Tibbets, who was abducted and murdered, make national news headlines, creating fear throughout the country. Women being attacked or kidnapped, or going missing while jogging is a nightmare we cannot run away from and one that continues to haunt families of the missing.
The Disappearance of Rachel Cooke
Our first woman who went missing while jogging is Rachel Cooke. Rachel Cooke, 19, was visiting her parents in Georgetown, Texas, during her winter break from college. No one knew that would be her last trip home. On January 10, 2002, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Rachel went out for her four-mile daily run and was last seen 200 yards from her family home. Somewhere in that short distance, the beautiful young college student with a smile that could light up the Texas plains—vanished.(Northlake subdivision in Georgetown, Texas, where Rachel Cooke vanished while taking a morning run.)
Northlake subdivision is a quiet place, about 45 minutes from Austin, where streets are named after Native American tribes and the only people there are residents and their visitors. The houses are set back on several acres of property with expansive drives. The serenity is rarely disturbed by strangers, making it a perfect storm of cirumcstances to go missing while jogging.
224 Navajo Trail was the Cooke family’s dream home, and they loved its spaciousness and tranquility. Robert and Janet Cooke raised Rachel and her little sister Joann there while Janet taught English at a nearby high school. Robert was a long-time software engineer for IBM and commuted daily to Austin. It was a place where people felt safe going outside alone and kidnapping did not happen—until Rachel.
The Cooke family’s idyllic life came to an end that fateful Thursday, but the day started like any other. Robert and Janet left early to work, and Joann went to her classes at the local high school. Rachel was enjoying her winter break as a freshman at Mesa Junior College San Diego, and her family let her sleep in.
(Rachel Cooke was last seen at her parent’s home in Georgetown, Texas on January 10, 2002.)
When the family left that morning, Rachel was asleep on the living room sofa. Her mother kissed her goodbye.
Authorities believe Rachel got up and left the home at approximately 9:30 a.m. for her morning run. She went missing while jogging that morning.
When Robert got home at 5:00 p.m., Rachel was still not there and had no contact with anyone in the family the entire day. At first, Robert was not that concerned thinking Rachel was out with her friend Shannon, who she had plans with that evening. But, as time went by, Robert began to worry. He called Wildfire, a local restaurant, Rachel sometimes worked at while visiting. To the worried father’s relief, they told him Rachel had worked a shift that evening. However, morning came and there was still no sign of Rachel, so Robert called the restaurant again. To his horror, they told him, in fact, it was another Rachel that had worked the previous night shift.
Rachel was missing—and a sinking feeling overcame her father.
In the days following Rachel’s disappearance, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search with help from hundreds of volunteers. After the initial search efforts concluded, Robert and Janet continued to organize searches on weekends.
“We carried on for nine months, but at some point, we thought we’ve done our best,” Robert told the Guardian. “If they took her 12 miles, there is no reason why they wouldn’t take her 15 miles. We could search the entire state of Texas and still not find her.”
Robert Cooke passed away in November 2014, never knowing what happened to his daughter.
(The FBI erected billboards of Rachel Cooke in the state of Texas offering a $100,000 reward for information.)
In May 2019, the FBI erected billboards throughout Texas offering a $100,000 reward for any information about the whereabouts of Rachel.
As drivers passed Rachel’s smiling face along I-35, it read “Missing but not forgotten,” and placed there on Rachel’s 37th birthday. Janet Cook saw it as a Mother’s Day gift as well. Time has not lessened the mother’s hope of finding her daughter—and at least knowing what happened.
(In 2020, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office released two suspect composites in the disappearance of Rachel Cooke.)
In 2020, for Rachel’s 38th birthday, deputies met with Rachel’s mother Janet and released two new composite sketches of potential suspects in the case.
Her mother had a remembrance ceremony at the campus of Georgetown High School where they planted a tree in memory of Rachel. Sheriff Robert Chody spoke at the ceremony to remind the public his investigators are still working the case.
Janet Cooke, who also spoke, said she is just “seeking closure” on the case. “At this point I just want Rachel and to be able to tell her sister it’s over,” she told the Statesman.
If you have any information about the disappearance of Rachel Cooke, please call the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office at 512-943-5204 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Suzanne Morphew is missing from the small community in Maysville, Colorado, approximately 120 miles from Colorado Springs.)
An avid cyclist, Suzanne was biking near her home in Maysville, a small community in Chaffee County, approximately 120 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. Her disappearance has spurred nationwide press coverage and a Facebook page with over 16,315 followers.
There have been reports that Suzanne’s bicycle was found just west of County Road 225 and West U.S. Highway 50. However, the Sheriff’s Office has only publicly confirmed a “personal item” was found that they believe belonged to the missing biker.
(Barry Morphew, Suzanne’s husband, made an emotional plea to the public offering a $200,000 reward for his wife’s safe return. Photo courtesy of Inside Edition)
Suzanne’s husband, Barry Morphew made a dramatic plea offering a $200,000 reward for the safe return of his wife. “No questions asked,” said Barry. “However much they want. I will do whatever it takes to get you back. I love you and I want you back so bad.” Barry, a volunteer firefighter is said to have been 150 miles away in Denver when Suzanne vanished.
(Suzanne Morphew has been missing from Maysville, Colorado, since May 10, 2020.)
Suzanne is a mother of two daughters and a cancer survivor. A former English teacher, Suzanne is described as “happy and active” who was always at the gym, hiking, or biking. She is loved in her community, and fliers dot the windows in the local businesses. Hundreds of volunteers have helped with the search efforts, organized by her nephew Trevor Noel, who has also become the family spokesperson.
“As time goes by, it gives us concern, but we are searching as if she is still alive and we think she could still be alive,” Sheriff John Spezze of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office told Inside Edition. In an earlier interview, the sheriff also said they are not ruling out foul play.
Initially, authorities had seized the Morphew home but confirmed on May 26, 2020, that the house has been released back to the family. Investigators have also searched a local home construction site in Salida, approximately 11 miles east of Maysville, spurring rumors that Suzanne Morphew had been located and the husband arrested. The sheriff’s office issued a press release in response to the speculation.
“In response to the widespread rumors, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office relays that Ms. Morphew has not been located and there have been no arrests in the investigation,” the release said.
Authorities say they have received over 400 tips and continue to encourage the public to call in with leads.
If you have any information about the disappearance of Suzanne Morphew, please contact the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office at 719-312-7530.
The Disappearance of Amy Bechtel
Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, vanished on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains approximately 15 miles south of Lander, Wyoming.
(Amy Wroe Bechtel vanished on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.)
Amy Bechtel went missing while jogging in a little hamlet of middle America. Lander, Wyoming is located in Fremont County with a population of under 8,000 people. A popular tourist destination with guest ranches, it is located just below the Wind River Mountains where people go hiking, rock climbing, and backpacking.
That Thursday morning of July 24, Amy told her husband, Steve Bechtel, that she was planning on running several errands in town after teaching a children’s weightlifting class at the Wind River Fitness Center. Steve planned to drive with his yellow lab, Jonz, to Dubois, 75 miles north, to meet his friend Sam Lightner, and scout some possible new climbing areas at Cartridge Creek.
After teaching class, Amy stopped at the Camera Connection, a photo store near her home in Lander, and then stopped by Gallery 331, where she spoke to the business owner about submitting her photographs into a competition. Amy was an amateur photographer, an avid runner, and a marathon hopeful who loved the outdoors and pristine beauty of Wyoming.
(A quaint mountain town, Lander is located in Central Wyoming just south of the Wind River Indian Reservation.)
Steve and Amy lived on Lucky Lane, a hipster community where many rock climbers live, drawn by some of the most difficult mountain walls in the United States. Lander is a quirky town with funky shops and art galleries, old school watering holes, and small home-town restaurants. Steve and Amy both worked part-time at Wild Iris Mountain Sports, a local outdoor equipment store.
The couple had just closed on a new house and were busy planning a move. Amy was also organizing a 10k hill climb scheduled for September 7. She planned that the runners would climb a series of mountain switchbacks not far from town, then jump into the Frye Lake and finish with a picnic. On the day she vanished, Amy’s “to do” list included a run and lifting, recycling, get photo mounted, get more boxes, mow the lawn, and get flyers.
John Strom, the owner of Camera Connection remembers Amy wearing a yellow shirt, black shorts, and running shoes that day. He said she seemed busy and cheerful when she left at about 2:30 p.m.
After completing several of her afternoon chores and leaving the camera shop—Amy’s life becomes that of speculation.
(Steve and Amy Bechtel with their dog Jonz.)
Steve returned from his day out with his friend at about 4:30 p.m. and found the house empty. He had returned earlier than planned and was not concerned but at about 10 p.m. he called her parents to see if Amy had driven to their house on the spur of the moment. She had not.
By 11 p.m. Steve had called the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office who sent two deputies to the house. They alerted the following shift who began to organize a search and rescue team to head out at daybreak. Steve and his neighbor Todd Skinner went to look for Amy’s car on Loop Road, a 30-mile road through the Shoshone National Forest.
(Amy Bechtel’s car was found alongside the road in Burnt Gulch, about 45 minutes from town.)
At approximately 1:00 a.m., Steve received a call that Amy’s white Toyota Tercel station wagon was found alongside the road at Burnt Gulch, about 45 minutes from town in the mountains, so he headed there immediately. Her car unlocked, the keys under her “to do” list on the front passenger seat, along with her sunglasses.
Steve and a small group began searching the woods with flashlights, calling Amy’s name. By the time the official search party arrived, a dozen people were searching for Amy and the site had not been preserved for evidence. Thinking Amy was just lost, no one could have imagined the site might be a crime scene,
For years, evidence remained elusive, and over the last two decades, law enforcement has only developed theories about what happened to her. They believe Amy left the camera shop and then went to scout the location for the 10k.
In recent years, national television and media interest in the case has waned and generated little leads that have been useful to authorities. A $25,000 reward went untouched and was eventually converted into two college scholarship funds in Amy’s name.
Fremont County Sheriff Sgt. Roger Rizor has been the lead investigator and told the Billings Gazette in 2007, that Amy’s case was cold, but it is still an open case. “I believe it was a homicide, and I believe that’s what happened on the day she disappeared.”
(Jo Anne Wroe wanders in the meadows of her log home above Red Lodge to feel close to her missing daughter Amy Wroe Bechtel. Photo courtesy of the Billings Gazette.)
As years passed, Jo Anne stopped marking the anniversaries of Amy’s disappearance with yellow ribbons. She does not have a grave to visit so she loves to meander near the mountain creek among the aspen trees and wildflowers to feel close to her missing daughter.
Amy’s disappearance has deeply affected every facet of Jo Anne’s life and that of her three other children.
“A part of me is realistic, and I’m aware that she is probably not alive,” she said. “I have learned to live with the fact that Amy is gone. But I have not accepted it, and I will not until I know what happened.”
If you have any information about the disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel, please call the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office at 307-332-5611.
Kym served as CEO of the National Center for Missing Adults from 1994 to 2010 and advocating for missing persons and their families for over 25 years.
Kym has worked with national media to raise awareness and featured on Anderson Cooper Live, Greta Van Susteren, Montel Williams, the John Walsh Show, CNN, BBC, FOX, L. A. Times, People Magazine, Ladies Home Journal.
The story of Sherry Papini, 34, is one of the most bizarre kidnapping cases in recent years.
On November 2, 2016, Sherri, vanished without a trace in Northern California while jogging near her home in Redding. Her family and the community were shocked that such a beautiful and outgoing young woman could be abducted while innocently jogging in such a safe and tranquil place.
22 days later, at approximately 4:30 a.m., on Thanksgiving morning, a passing motorist saw Papini desperately waving on the side of the road in Yolo County. The location is approximately 150 miles south of her home near Interstate 5 and County Road 17.
Papini was severely emaciated weighing only 85 pounds and bound at her waist by a chain that was fastened to her wrist with a zip tie. Shasta County Sheriff’s Office described hose clamps attached to both of her ankles as “pain compliant restraints.”
Papini told police she had been abducted at gunpoint by two Hispanic females driving a dark SUV, who primarily spoke Spanish around her. She had also been branded on the left shoulder, though a description of the brand has never been released.
Keith Papini, Sherri’s husband, described his wife as being covered in bruises that ranged from yellow to black, the bridge of her nose was fractured, and her long blonde hair cruelly chopped off.
On November 2, Papini’s husband Keith returned from his job at Best Buy and could not find his wife at home. He was immediately concerned. He frantically searched the house and then pulled out his iPhone.
Keith told the 911 operator he came home from work to find his wife and children gone and that his wife had never arrived at daycare to pick them up. He also told the operator he used the “Find My iPhone” app to locate his wife’s cell phone and earbuds along a dirt trail at the intersection of Sunrise Avenue and Old Oregon Trail, approximately one mile from their home.
“I just drove down there, and I found her phone with her headphones because she started running again, and I found her phone and it’s got her hair ripped out of it, like in the headphones,” Keith told the NZ Herald. “I’m freaking out, thinking that somebody, like, grabbed her.”
When police began their investigation, they began a ground search and distributing flyers throughout the area shortly thereafter.
The search for Papini gained attention throughout the United States and internationally with people all over the world wondering what happened to Sherri Papini.
When Papini was found she had both female and male DNA on her. “It’s still an active and ongoing investigation,” said Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko in November 2018. Police have not determined why Papini was abducted, where she had spent 22 days and why she was released.
Papini told police that just before her release, she heard her captors arguing, then a gunshot. The younger attacker then took her from the room where she had been held and dropped her off at the nearest corner. However, early on, her story wasn’t adding up to the police.
“The male DNA was compiled from the clothing Sherri had been wearing,” said Sgt. Brian Jackson. Also, the female DNA was taken directly from Papini’s body.
These facts didn’t coincide with the story that Papini had been abducted and held by two female abductors. Also, the male DNA did not match her husband’s, fueling speculation that Papini had met up with a man willingly. The DNA samples were uploaded in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) at the FBI, but there have been no matches.
Frustrated with the lack of progress with the investigation by police, Keith Papini set up a GoFundMe page during 2017, to raise money for a missing person private investigator. This in turn would frustrate the police, who thought it would compromise the investigation.
Theories and speculation began swirling around in the public sphere about what happened to her, including conjecture that she had been kidnapped by sex traffickers, was involved in a drug deal gone bad, or had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but somewhere along the line the public started doubting Papini’s story.
While police say they have no reason not to believe her story, some details of her case caused some people to question whether she had been taken and held against her will.
During the police investigation, authorities had uncovered text messages between Sherry and a male acquaintance who resides in Michigan. Police determined they had an online texting relationship, but it was unclear if the two ever had a romantic relationship.
“The text messages went back several months to days before the disappearance,” Jackson told People. “It was prior contact that she had years before. Somebody she met and kept in contact with. A male acquaintance she was talking to through texting.”
Many experts believe the public scrutiny of Papini’s story has been unfair. Thomas Lauth, CEO of Lauth Investigations International is an expert in the field of missing persons and a missing person private investigator for over 25 years. “Few people would ever willingly subject themselves to the abuse and trauma Papini experienced,” said Lauth. “The branding, the starvation, the cutting of hair willingly — just does not make sense.”
Papini’s Life After the Abduction
Three years later, police seem no closer to closing this mysterious case. The paparazzi still follow Papini around trying to get a shot, which has forced her to live like a recluse.
Last year, a neighbor told Newsweek that Papini leads a “very quiet life” at home and rarely goes outside while trying to put back the pieces of her life.
“She doesn’t come out of the house,” neighbor Joyce Allison said. “I don’t see the kids outside playing in the yard.”
Another neighbor who requested anonymity said they just wanted the family to find closure. “I hope if her story is true that she’s getting along alright and getting counseling so she can live with it and get better,” the neighbor said. “But, is it a real story? I don’t know. I hope one day we’ll all have answers.”
For the Papini family, we can only try to imagine what life has been like being forced into hiding and that they, too, need answers.
While scars heal and hair grows back, the brand on her shoulder will forever be a reminder of the traumatic events she endured, whether the public believes her or not.
Americans are captivated by missing child stories, haunted by the nagging specter of “What if this happened to my child?”
The year 2018 was punctuated by a handful of missing child cases that were covered by mainstream media, including Jayme Closs, Mollie Tibbetts, and Karlie Gusé. Interest in missing children cases continues to grow with the production of documentaries and docuseries about famous missing child cases, like Madeline McCann and Jan Broberg. This cultivated curiosity can only benefit the ultimate goal of keeping a missing person’s face in the public eye in the interest of unearthing unexplored leads in their cases. Here is a list of fast facts about missing child cases to inform coverage in the media and online.
Law enforcement in the United States received reports of
424,066 missing children in 2018.
The FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing
Person File states that as of December 31st, 2018, there were 85,459
active missing person records in which children under the age of 18 account for
It’s estimated that 1,435 kidnappings occur every year, but
due in large part to a majority of those being familial abductions, not all
have likely been reported.
The Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted,
Runaway, and Throwaway Children released by the Department of Justice in 2002,
spanning the years of 1997-1999, reported that 203,900 of the 797,500 reported
missing children in a one-year period were abducted by family members, and 58,200
were abducted by non-relatives. 115 of those reported cases were classified as
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children, since 1965, there have been 325 reported infant abductions in the
United States. Of those abducted children, 140 were taken from healthcare
facilities, 138 were taken from the home, and 47 were abducted from other locations.
Of those abducted infants, 16 remain missing.
Not all missing minors and children qualify for Amber
Alerts. America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response Alerts are emergency
messages broadcast when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has
been abducted and is in imminent danger. The broadcasts include information
about the child and the abductor, including physical descriptions as well as
information about the abductor’s vehicle—which could lead to the child’s
recovery. Missing children and teenagers who are classified as “runaways” may
not qualify for an Amber Alert because there is no evidence of abduction.
When people think of abductions, they likely think of
stranger danger and violent attacks. However, in 2016, 60% of all AMBER Alerts
that were issued were for abductions committed by a family member.
Since 1997, the AMBER Alert Program has been responsible for
the safe recovery of 957 children.
The AMBER Alert system was named for Amber Hagerman, who was
abducted and killed in 1996.
Missing Children in Media
Etan Patz, a six-year-old boy who disappeared on his way to
his bus stop in Manhattan, was one of the first missing children to be featured
on a milk carton.
Media coverage of missing child cases has been elevated in recent years by American television personality John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted. John Walsh became an anti-crime advocate following the disappearance and murder of his son, Adam Walsh, in 1981.
The disappearance of 3-year-old Madeline McCann is often regarded as one of the highest-profile missing child cases globally.
NCMEC received 23,500 reports of endangered runaways in
2018. One in seven of those children were estimated to be victims of sex
The average age of a child sex trafficking victim is 15
years old, according to NCMEC reports.
Child sex trafficking has been reported in every single
state in the United States.
The age group of children targeted by strangers in
abductions are female children aged 12-17. This aligns with approximate age
range of minor children targeted for sex trafficking.
The average minor victim of online predatory behavior is 15
years of age.
Of the predators targeting minor victims online, 82% are male, 9% are female, and 9% could not be determined.
Online predators most commonly target children on social media, photo sharing platforms, and video gaming platforms.
Autism & wandering
Between 2007 and 2017, 952 children with autism were
reported missing to NCMEC. In 61% of cases, those children were classified as “endangered
runaways” or lost, injured, or otherwise missing (20%).
Almost half of the cases of children were autism reported (48%) were recovered within one day of going missing, and 74% were recovered within 7 days.
We can help…
If your child has gone missing, call Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation and learn how our expertise and experience can provide you answers in the search for your missing child. Call 317-951-1100, or visit us online at www.lauthmissingpersons.com
There are many different types of missing persons—adults with mental illness, homeless individuals, children, and runaways. Each type of case deserves to be treated with a special approach, with careful regard given to the circumstances of each case. Perhaps the type of case that deserves the most particular care and approach is the case of a missing/abducted infant.
In good hands
The presumption behind any missing infant case, because they cannot take of themselves, is they were abducted by an adult. When an infant’s whereabouts cannot be accounted for, it leaves investigators with a very polarizing theory of the case: The baby is with a caregiver or something tragic has occurred. In March 2019, the Indianapolis Police Department found themselves in the middle of a search for 8-month old Amiah Robertson. The infant was last seen on March 9th on the west side of the city in the custody of her mother’s boyfriend, Robert Lyons. He left the residence he was at with the infant, and returned empty-handed around 10 PM. Lyons assured authorities Amiah was in good hands, but because police could not verify the baby’s whereabouts, they officially classified the investigation as a homicide. Now, Robert Lyons has been named a suspect by IMPD in the infants disappearance, while Amber Robertson, Amiah’s mother, remains cooperative with authorities.
Familial vs. stranger abductions
In cases of missing children, familial abductions, or abductions by a party close to the child’s family, are the most common. But the data on missing infants indicates the odds of being abducted by a stranger are nearly half. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists the number of infants abducted in the United States since 1965 as 325 where 138 of those children were taken from their homes, and another 140 were taken from health care facilities. Only 47 were abducted from other locations. Women who take babies from health care facilities are generally of childbearing age who may appear pregnant, or express they have lost a child or are unable to have a child. They often live in the vicinity of the abduction and impersonate health care personnel in order to gain access at a facility. They rely heavily on deception and manipulation in order to carefully plan the abduction, but usually not with any particular focus on a single infant. These are crimes of opportunity, which is why such a woman would have lots of detailed questions for hospital staff about the layout of the building and procedures following birth.
Just last June, Gloria Williams was sentenced to 18 years for abducting a baby girl from a hospital in Florida and subsequently raising the child as her own into adulthood. On July 10, 1998, Williams posed as a nurse in order to kidnap Kamiyah Mobley, when she was only hours old. She used fraudulent documents to raise the baby under a different name. It wasn’t until investigators followed a tip made to NCMEC about claims Kamiyah made that she was kidnapped from a Jacksonville hospital the day she was born.
How to protect your newborn
Despite this narrative continuing to terrify expectant parents, the FBI assures us this cloak and dagger scenario is far less common today. Ashli-Jade Douglas, an FBI intelligence analyst working in the Crimes Against Children Unit, credits this decline in abductions to new developments in security technology. Hospitals across the nation are implementing the use of security bracelets on babies, so if they make an unauthorized exit from the building, alarms immediately go off. This security measure, however, has a dark consequence. Douglas says, “Now, women who desperately want a child—and are willing to go to extreme lengths to get one—have to gain direct contact with their victims, and that’s when things can turn violent.”
The FBI advises “exercising good sense online and in the home.” On the internet, don’t be an over-sharer when it comes to personal details, and always have your security settings restricted. Any law enforcement official or private investigator will tell you it’s easy to use this information to plan the abduction. “We have seen several recent cases involving social networking sites,” Douglas explains, “and we see how easy it is to use these websites to gain access to targets.” The FBI also cautions against displaying any exterior decorations, such as pink or blue balloons, indicating there is a new baby in the home.
The disappearance of Madeline McCann is arguably the most internationally famous missing child case since the Lindbergh baby vanished in 1932. The story received an unprecedented amount of media attention throughout the globe due to the international nature of the case and the public relations campaign that struggled to keep the child’s face out there in the public eye. Now, in 2019, Netflix has released an eight-episode docuseries, The Disappearance of Madeline McCann, about the case, taking a hard look at the investigation and media coverage surrounding the case since Madeline disappeared 11 years ago.
Madeline McCann was just three years old in May 2003, when she accompanied her family—mother Kate, father Gerry, and a set of younger twin siblings—on a family vacation to Praia da Luz, Portugal. During the course of their stay at a resort community, it became regular practice for Kate and Gerry to put the children down for the night before travelling less than 200 feet away from their apartment to a tapas restaurant where they had dinner with friends. The parents were not worried for their children’s safety because—according to the McCanns and their friends—the window to their apartment was in full view of their regular table at the tapas restaurant. According to statements from the McCanns and their party, the parents would walk back over to the apartment hourly to check on their children. After checking the children several times, it wasn’t until 10:00 PM that Kate McCann realized her daughter was missing, and immediately raised the alarm.
The documentary chronicles the roller coaster of investigative measures and leads over the course of the investigation. Over the years, there have been multiple leads in the case that appeared promising, such as a famous sighting by one of the McCann’s party of a man walking in the vicinity of the McCann’s apartment carrying a sleeping child. Praia de Luz local, Robert Murat, was a suspect early on in the investigation due to his inexplicable special interest in assisting law enforcement and his continued insertion of himself in their investigation. He was eventually cleared by Portugal authorities. Many angles in the investigation concern the likelihood that Madeline was abducted from her bed by a predator who had been casing the apartment during the McCann’s stay at the resort. The docuseries, The Disappearance of Madline McCann, goes into heavy detail about how simple it would be for a predator to abduct Madeline, and then—within a window of less than 2 hours—have been able to smuggle her out of the country to jump jurisdictional lines and cover their tracks, all in the interest of introducing the child into the dark world of sex trafficking.
While support for the McCann family has remained in the years since Madeline went missing, the vitriol that Kate and Gerry McCann have endured comes from allegations that they themselves might have played a role in their daughter’s disappearance. Law enforcement in Praia de Luz made note that the two smaller children sleeping in Madeline’s room remained asleep during their time in the apartment at the onset of the investigation. Despite a great deal of commotion and adults moving from room to room as they searched for Madeline, the set of young twins did not wake or stir at any time. This led to suspicions that the children might have been drugged in order to ensure they would not wake while the parents were across the way at dinner. Both Kate and Gerry McCann were physicians at the time of Madeline’s disappearance, with Kate having reportedly specialized in anesthetics before moving into private practice.
The docuseries makes a point to highlight the importance that media coverage can play in any missing persons case. It was a subject of note that the McCanns hired public relations representatives to help keep the campaign to find Madeline alive in the media, with high saturation of her name in the UK, Portugal, and throughout the globe. Of the thousands of missing child cases that are currently open throughout the world, Madeline’s face is one of the most famous—along with Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, two young girls who were abducted, were kept captive, and were eventually reunited with their families following a successful, albeit years-long investigation. Talking heads in the series note that although Madeline’s case was an extreme example of media coverage, the question remains how other missing children’s cases would have benefited from the same amount of attention the McCann case received. Despite hundreds of tips and leads that have surfaced over the years, the truth of what happened to Madeline McCann still remains a mystery.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on private investigation and missing persons topics. For more information, please visit our website.