Photo and Flier Distribution
Chapter 4

The more people who know that your child is in danger and what your child looks like, the better the chances are that someone will recognize your child and report his or her whereabouts.

-- Claudine Ryce

Distributing pictures of and information about your missing child is an essential part of the search and recovery process. During the first 48 hours, it is critical that recent pictures of your child and facts pertinent to the disappearance be given to law enforcement, the news media, and nonprofit organizations and agencies. Physical traits and personality characteristics should also be described as specifically as possible. This chapter contains important tips about photo and flier distribution and can guide you through both the short- and long-term process.

Photo and Flier Distribution: The First 48 Hours

Search for the most recent pictures. Don't look for pictures in your scrapbook. See if your camera has undeveloped film in it, and if so, take it to be developed. Ask family members and friends if they have recent pictures or videos of your child from a birthday party, holiday celebration, sports event, or school outing. Almost always, your child's school will have a copy of the latest school picture or will be able to tell you the name and telephone number of the school photographer. Even a passport picture, school identification card, or driver's license is better than nothing.

Pick out pictures that most resemble your child. Remember that posters and fliers will show only the head, neck, and top of the shoulders. Candid shots are fine, as long as the facial image is clear. Several pictures from different angles may give people a better idea of what your child looks like. When selecting photos, keep the purpose in mind -- to enable people to recognize your child, not admire a poster that flatters but does not look like your child. For examples of fliers, a sample template, and other items that can be distributed, see the collage on pages 38-39.

Videos or home movies are excellent choices for airing on television. Videos capture your child's appearance, mannerisms, and voice quality. They offer the added advantage of engaging the hearts of viewers, who can relate to the image on the screen as a live personality. Such viewers are more likely to be on the lookout for your child or even to volunteer to help in the search effort.

Ask someone to have copies made of the pictures and videos you select. Photographs can be duplicated quickly by Eckerd Drug Store, K-Mart, Kinko's, PIP Printing, and most camera supply shops. Some businesses may give you a discount rate if you give them your child's case number showing that you have reported your child as missing to the police.

Put all photo originals and negatives in a safe place. Never give away your only copy of a picture, unless you don't care if you get it back.

If the picture was taken by a professional photographer, you may need to get permission to have the picture reproduced. Under most circumstances, professional photographers will be glad to help by giving permission to reproduce a picture once you explain your situation. Some may even reproduce the pictures for you free of charge, so don't be afraid to ask. At the same time, if possible, have the pictures digitized onto a floppy disk that can be used to send the picture by e-mail to nonprofit organizations across the country that have access to the Internet.

Put someone persuasive in charge of photo distribution. Ask your photo distribution coordinator to keep a log showing who was given a picture or videotape, then to follow up to make sure that the photographs were distributed. In addition to local media outlets, local civic and business groups, and volunteer groups, copies of your child's photograph can be sent to local government agencies. Permission can be obtained from county commissioners, agency officers, or whoever has authority to post your child's fliers in buses, at bus and subway stops, in tollbooths, at rest stops, and in Federal and State parks and buildings.1

Get as many individuals and organizations as possible to distribute your child's picture. Start with your neighbors and friends. Then call NCMEC, your State missing children's clearinghouse, and private, nonprofit missing children's organizations in your State and surrounding States, eventually blanketing the country. Ask them to distribute your child's picture through their networks and to display it on their Internet site. Make use of today's high-speed communication links to distribute your child's picture throughout the country.

If you are not hooked up to the Internet, contact someone who is. The Internet allows you to transmit clearer pictures of your child more quickly and less expensively than you could by fax. First, you must have your child's picture scanned and digitized -- that is, put on a computer disk. A print or computer shop can provide this service to you. Next, call individual organizations to obtain their e-mail addresses. Now, you can use your disk to simultaneously send your child's picture by e-mail to a wide variety of organizations. The alternative is to purchase separate color pictures and then send your child's picture to each organization via overnight mail, which is a far slower and more expensive process than digitizing and sending them via e-mail.

Ask your photo distribution coordinator to find out where your child's picture has been posted. Check the Internet sites of NCMEC, your State missing children's clearinghouse, and private missing children's organizations to find out where your child's picture has been distributed. Expand the area of distribution to cover the entire country during the second 24-hour period by including the U.S. Customs Service, Border Patrol, and Coast Guard.

Plug into NCMEC's photo distribution services. NCMEC posts photos of missing children on its World Wide Web site ( Each day, more than 440,000 "hits" are made on the site, and many companies and agencies have links to this site. In addition, NCMEC can coordinate national media exposure through its partnership with major newspapers, magazines, television networks, and corporations.

Ask your primary law enforcement contact to request that NCMEC send a broadcast fax to its network of law enforcement agencies. NCMEC has the capability to broadcast fax posters and other case-related information to more than 9,000 law enforcement agencies, FBI Field Offices, State missing children's clearinghouses, the Border Patrol, and medical examiners' offices throughout the country. NCMEC can send your child's picture to its network of agencies as soon as your law enforcement agency or the investigating agency makes a request. NCMEC case management personnel are available oncall to make emergency posters, broadcast faxes, and distribute photographic images in the evenings and on weekends.

If your child has been abducted and is in danger, ask law enforcement or NCMEC to contact America's Most Wanted on your behalf. You need to ask either NCMEC or your law enforcement agency to make this call. America's Most Wanted can be reached by calling 800-CRIMETV (800-274-6388). The program can run a missing children alert, which is a public service announcement showing your child's picture.

Nonfamily Abduction Sample

Nonfamily Abduction Sample
Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children



Photo and Flier Distribution: After the First 48 Hours

After the first 48 hours, draw on your imagination and the ideas of your many contacts to keep your child's picture and story alive before the public. Here are some ideas of what can be done.

Be creative and aggressive in getting your child's posters put up in heavily trafficked areas across the country. Get approval for your mail carrier to place fliers in mailboxes. Ask utility companies to distribute fliers as their meter readers make their routes. Ask churches to request that their members include your child's flier in Christmas cards and other letters. Ask banks and other groups that make regular mailings to include copies of your child's flier. Ask Federal Express, United Parcel Service, local pizza companies, and other delivery companies to distribute fliers on their routes. Ask trucking lines or moving companies to post pictures on the backs of their trucks. Ask airline pilot and flight attendant unions to request that members post fliers in cities where airline personnel lay over. Call motorcycle clubs and other groups that hold national meetings to see if their members will take along fliers for distribution. If anyone helping you has difficulty convincing a company to post or distribute your child's picture, you personally should get on the phone, because it is harder to say no to a victim parent. The checklist Distributing Fliers contains further tips for flier production and distribution.

Prepare a press kit for distribution to national news and talk shows and magazines. Ask local public relations firms or persons with writing ability to help you prepare the kit and to secure e-mail and street addresses. Be sure to include local and regional radio stations. Your law enforcement agency can also give you guidance on press kit preparation.

Look for events where volunteers can distribute fliers. Have volunteers research and make a list of events such as sports contests, county fairs, festivals, and concerts planned in your community, State, and region. Distribute fliers to those events as part of your overall canvassing plan.

Send press releases and arrange interviews during special or seasonal events. Consider celebrating your missing child's birthday by reading aloud cards or special messages you hope he or she will hear. Speak at what would have been your child's graduation from elementary or middle school. Distribute age-progressed photos of your child and updated case information to refresh people's memories and renew interest in your child's plight. Enlist the aid of celebrities and politicians who can help publicize your child's case.

Continue to work with NCMEC and its photo distribution program. More than 400 private-sector participants use NCMEC's print photographs, and a number of Federal agencies place NCMEC photos in their mail as well. ADVO, a direct-mail company, disseminates NCMEC's photographs of missing children to more than 70 million homes each week, with pictures of 52 different children issued each year. About one in seven children who have been featured in the ADVO photo distribution program have been recovered. Wal-Mart works with NCMEC to distribute fliers to its 2,800 individual stores on a monthly basis. In addition, the U.S. Postal Service has a photo distribution program in place that sends fliers by fax to post offices nationwide for display and for dissemination by mail carriers.

Make your own picture cards to insert in mass mailings. Get permission from government agencies, utility companies, and private businesses to have your card inserted in newspapers and envelopes containing State license renewals, tax assessments, local utility bills, payroll envelopes, and bank statements. Talk to direct-mail advertising companies to gain access to mass coupon mailings.

A Word About Fax Machines

If you do not own a fax machine, look for one you can rent or borrow, or get permission to use the fax number of a nearby business or police station. You can use it for quick and inexpensive communications with:

  • Law enforcement.

  • The news media.

  • Missing child agencies.

  • State missing children's clearinghouses.

  • Other individuals and organizations that are willing to help.

When a face-to-face meeting cannot take place -- or if information needs to be disseminated quickly -- a fax machine can provide you with an important link to your law enforcement agency as you work together to prepare and review press releases, set up interview schedules, or provide lists of the names and telephone numbers of individuals who may hold clues to the whereabouts of your child. A fax machine in your home will also enable you to call organizations devoted to missing child issues, ask them to fax their intake forms to you, and then fill out, sign, and fax back the forms immediately.

Ask national groups for help. Ask law enforcement associations, women's auxiliary groups, civic groups such as the Rotary Club or Elks and Moose lodges, the Chamber of Commerce, military groups or associations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and college fraternities to distribute and post your child's poster or flier.

Ask a variety of franchise businesses to distribute posters through their normal supply lines. Consider especially various fast food and gasoline chains. Individuals who know who has abducted or who is holding your child may frequent liquor stores and adult bookstores more often than banks, post offices, and schools. Reward posters should be posted where people with information are most likely to see them.

Consider using publicity gimmicks to etch your child's face in the public's memory. Have your child's picture printed on buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, stamps, and baseball-type cards.

Appear on talk shows on the condition that your child's picture is shown during the program. Be sure that the subject of the talk show is compatible with the seriousness of your child's situation and that the show's topics and other guests can be verified prior to your appearance. Make sure that the storyline will help, not harm, you and your child. Steer clear of sensational shows that focus on serial child murders, child sexual exploitation, or other issues that can take the focus away from your case.

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OJJDP Report: When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, May 1998