In a video statement marking National Missing Children's Day on May 25, 2021, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland recognized "the brave and resourceful public safety and child serving professionals who are working every day to protect kids."
"There is no cause more worthy of honor. The Department of Justice is proud to stand with these heroes," he said.
The Department's 38th annual commemoration of National Missing Children's Day honored nine people with awards for their efforts to recover missing children and bring sexual predators to justice.
In lieu of an in-person ceremony, OJJDP launched a website to commemorate the day. The website includes information about the awardees and video remarks from Attorney General Garland, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon, OJJDP Acting Administrator Chyrl Jones, and President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children John F. Clark. The website also offers resources for people working to recover missing and exploited children.
OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Solomon congratulated the award recipients for their dedication to missing children and their families saying, "These outstanding law enforcement professionals, committed advocates and compassionate citizens show us at our collective best—as a nation dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable and determined to secure a bright future for its youngest members."
The award recipients are:
- Attorney General's Special Commendation—Sergeant Chad Stokes and Detectives Cassandra Stevens, Scott Schwamb, Randall Heckman, and Steven Souphasith from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office's Central California Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force were recognized for an investigation that resulted in the arrest of 34 sexual predators.
- Missing Children's Law Enforcement Award—Sergeant Stefan Bjes from the Addison, IL, Police Department was honored for developing several programs that have enhanced the safety of children with special needs. He also trained officers at numerous police departments across the Midwest and frequently presents at police conferences nationwide.
- Missing Children's Child Protection Award—Amanda Leonard and Kaleilani Grant from the Department of the Attorney General's Missing Child Center-Hawaii were recognized for their role in implementing Operation Shine the Light, a cooperative effort between the center; federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; and four nonprofit organizations. The operation assisted law enforcement to recover more than 180 missing children in Hawaii between November 2019 and November 2020.
- Missing Children's Citizen Award—Keith Rollins, from the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, DC, received this award for finding and rescuing a 2-year-old boy who had been reported missing after the child wandered away from home.
Every year, OJJDP invites fifth graders to participate in the National Missing Children's Day poster contest. The contest creates an opportunity for schools, law enforcement, and child advocates to discuss child safety strategies with youth, parents, and guardians. Additionally, the winning poster inspires the logo design for the following year's commemoration. Heidy Jimena Perez Veleta from Sunnyside Elementary School in Dodge City, KS, was named the winner of the 2021 National Missing Children's Day Poster Contest.
"The artwork Heidy created is a heartfelt depiction of the love, and sadness, families feel when their child goes missing. We congratulate Heidy and all the contest participants for continuing the conversation of child safety in communities across the country," said OJJDP Acting Administrator Jones.
President Ronald Reagan proclaimed May 25, 1983, the first National Missing Children's Day to honor 6-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared while walking to his bus stop in lower Manhattan on May 25, 1979.
OJJDP's National Missing Children's Day resource webpage includes a compendium of news, publications, and training and technical assistance tools.
The OJJDP website includes resources about missing and exploited children. It also includes information about the OJJDP-supported Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The AMBER Alert program marked its 25th anniversary this year. Learn about the development of the emergency broadcast system for recovering missing children in a previous issue of OJJDP News @ a Glance.