Available data suggest a staggering number of missing children in the United States. In 2021, parents and caregivers filed 337,195 missing children reports with law enforcement agencies, documenting children who ran away or were missing, and abductions by family and nonfamily members. Because some missing children incidents go unreported, the actual number is even higher.
Every May, the Department of Justice observes National Missing Children’s Day, recognizing members of law enforcement, other professionals, and private citizens who make significant contributions to efforts to recover missing children and prosecute the people who harm them. In a statement marking National Missing Children's Day on May 25, 2022, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland underscored those individuals’ impact: “Every day, law enforcement professionals, advocates, and citizens alike step up to protect children from harm, reunite missing children with their families, and provide support in the aftermath of a traumatic event.”
In lieu of an in-person ceremony, OJJDP launched a website to commemorate the 39th annual National Missing Children’s Day. The website includes information about the awardees and video remarks from Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon, OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan, and President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Michelle DeLaune. The website also offers resources for people working to recover missing and exploited children.
The Department of Justice made the following awards:
- Attorney General’s Special Commendation—Special Agents Theodore Indermuehle and Wade Beardsley, Victim Services Specialist Leeana Liska, and Senior Digital Forensic Examiner Tyrel Olsen from the Wisconsin Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman of the Western District of Wisconsin were honored for an investigation that resulted in the prosecution and conviction of a high school teacher for producing child pornography.
- Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Award—Special Agents Maria Markley, Star’Shemah Sylvestre, Kelli Johnson, Lisa Carroll, and Brandy Nettles of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) were recognized for leading two significant initiatives, Operation Stolen Innocence and a sophisticated cyber operation, which resulted in a total of 250 investigations related to the online exploitation of children, increased training in ICAC operations for NCIS special agents, and joint participation in ICAC task force cases related to military personnel.
- Missing Children’s Child Protection Award—Assistant Special Agent in Charge Shelly Smitherman and Intelligence Analyst Emily Keifer of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spearheaded a 3-month collaboration with the U.S. Marshals Service and Tennessee Department of Children’s Services that led to the recovery of 150 children in the state and thwarted the kidnapping of a child.
OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Solomon underscored the “truly remarkable” accomplishments of the award winners in her remarks, “They have rescued missing children and returned them to their families. They have intervened to protect kids in grave danger. They have arrested those who committed harm and held them accountable.”
Sue Lee, 11, from St. James’ Episcopal School in Los Angeles, CA, was named the winner of the 2022 National Missing Children’s Day poster contest. OJJDP’s annual contest for fifth graders provides an opportunity for schools, law enforcement, and child advocates to discuss child safety strategies with youth, parents, and guardians. The winning poster also inspires the logo design for the following year's commemoration.
“National Missing Children’s Day is a time for both somber reflection and well-deserved recognition,” said OJJDP Administrator Ryan. “Today we mourn with families who have lost children, hold hope for those who wait for their safe return, and express our profound appreciation for the professionals who work to protect kids and bring them home,” she said.
With OJJDP’s support, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s 24-hour CyberTipline fielded more than 29.4 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation in 2021—a 35 percent increase over 2020. Reports can be made online or by phone (1–800–843–5678).