Investigating Missing Children Cases: A Guide for First Responders and Investigators, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Investigating Missing Children Cases

A Guide for First Responders and Investigators, 1st Edition

By Donald F. Sprague

CRC Press

314 pages | 6 B/W Illus.

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Paperback: 9781439860632
pub: 2012-09-18
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Hardback: 9781138458611
pub: 2018-06-28
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Time is an abducted child’s worst enemy. Seventy-four percent of abducted children who are murdered are killed within three hours of their abduction. It takes, on the average, two hours for a parent to report a child missing. This gives responders only one hour to get an investigation up and running in an attempt to locate and recover the child alive. Investigating Missing Children Cases: A Guide for First Responders and Investigators provides a solid training guide on missing children investigative techniques, enabling law enforcement professionals to respond confidently with a plan of action that offers the best possible chance for a positive outcome.

The book provides law enforcement agencies with the most current information available to guide them through a missing or runaway child dispatch. It is designed to help investigators respond quickly, expeditiously evaluate the situation, conduct an Endangerment Risk Assessment (ERA) of the child, and commence a thorough, organized investigation—starting from the moment the police are contacted. By following the guidelines in this book,those tasked with these cases can make the best possible decisions in the shortest amount of time.

The protocols and methodologies presented are based on personal police experience and statistical evidence from research and studies gathered from thousands of runaway and missing children cases. Details on those studies and their findings are provided in the appendix.

Time is of the essence in missing children cases. Make every second count.

Table of Contents

Introduction and Background

Missing Children Cases: The Seen and the Unseen

Law Enforcement Attitude and Missing Children

Society, Social Problems, Missing Children, and Law Enforcement

How Will This Book Assist You?

A Word on Liability

The Problem

Is It Perception or Is It Misperception?

Criticisms of Law Enforcement’s Actions


Give Them a Break

The Victim and the Offender

The Victim

Developmental Perspective Theory

Parents, Family Members, Friends, and Communities as Victims

Types of Family Reactions to Missing Children or Abductions

The Liaison

The Community

The Offender

Federal and State Statutes: Runaway and Missing Children

Know the Law

Federal Statutes

Federal Criminal and Civil Laws Regarding Missing and Abducted Children

State Statues

Missing Children Abduction Motives, Lures, and Tactics

Motives for Abducting Children

Child Abductor’s Lures

Child Abductor Tactics

Response and Initial Interview


Initial Interview

Missing Children Crime Scenes and Neighborhood Canvass

The Importance of Immediately Identifying Crime Scenes of Missing Children

Neighborhood Canvassing and Searching

Missing Children Endangerment Risk Assessment (ERA)

Getting the Information Out

Overview of Law Enforcement Communications Systems and Missing Children

Incident Command Center and Civilian Volunteers

Incident Command Center

Civilian Volunteers

Long-Term and Cold Cases


Team Approach

The Response

False Police Reports

Runaways and Thrownaways

First Responder/Investigator: Runaways (RAs)/Thrownaways (TAs)

Runaways or Thrownaways Located and Returned

A Story of a Runaway

Breaking the Cycle of a Runaway/Thrownaway

Characteristics and Traits of Runaways and Thrownaway Children

Missing Benign Episode (MBE)

Missing Involuntary, Lost, or Injured (MILI)

Family Child Abduction (FCA)

The Law

The Victim (the Abducted Child)

Law Enforcement’s Attitude

International Family Child Abduction (IFCA)

Inadequate Response Opinions from the Left-Behind Parent

Local and State Police Agency Obstacles and IFCA

Why the FBI and NCMEC?

Low Priority

The Victim

The Abductor

Nonfamily Child Abduction (NFCA)

A Parent’s Worst Fear

What Is Known About NFCA?

Primary Nonfamily Child Abduction Motives,

Difference between Nonfamily Child Abductions and

Stereotypical Nonfamily Child Abductions

Stereotypical Nonfamily Child Abduction (SNFCA)

News Media

Department Resources

Primary Stereotypical Nonfamily Child Abduction Motives

Infant Abduction (IA)


Abductor’s Four Stages of IA

IAs in a Hospital Setting

Most Common Characteristics of IAs in Hospital Settings

IA in a Home Setting and Other Places

Most Common Characteristics of IAs in Home Settings or Other Places

Most Common Characteristics of an IA Victim

Most Common Characteristics of an IA Abductor

Investigative Considerations

Internet Child Abduction (ICA)


Most Common Characteristics of an ICA Victim

Most Common Characteristics of an ICA Offender

Most Common Tactics of an ICA Offender:

Investigation Considerations

Human Sex Trafficking

Human Sex Trafficking

The Scope

The Operation

Law Enforcement Response and Investigation

Patrol Officers/First Responders/Investigators

Detectives or Investigators

Other Considerations

Missing Children Resources

Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organization (AMECIO)

Black and Missing Foundation

Child Quest International

Child Find of America, Inc.

Child Lures Prevention

Crimes against Children Program (FBI)

Federal Resources on Missing and Exploited Children: A Directory for Law Enforcement and Other Public and Private Agencies

Fox Valley Technical College, Criminal Justice Division Child Protection Training Center

Guide for Implementing or Enhancing Endangered Missing Advisory

International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children

Missing Children Clearinghouse Contact Information

Missing Persons: Volunteers Supporting Law Enforcement

Nation’s Missing Children Organization (NMCO)

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)

National Runaway Switchboard

Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth Home

Polly Klaas® Foundation

Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS)



A: Investigating Missing Children Timeline Guide Considerations

B: Long-Term and Cold Case Checklist

C: LOCATER Checklist

D: AMBER Alert Checklist

E: Endangerment Risk Assessment (ERA) Checklist

F: Missing Children Characteristics, Traits, and Probabilities

G: Runaway/Thrownaway Characteristics and Traits

H: Missing Benign Episode Characteristics and Traits

I: Missing Involuntary, Lost, or Injured Children Characteristics and Traits

J: Family Child Abductions Characteristics and Traits

K: Characteristics and Traits of International Family Child Abduction

L: Nonfamily Child Abduction Characteristics and Traits

M: Stranger Nonfamily Child Abduction Characteristics and Traits

N: Infant Abduction Characteristics and Traits

O: INTERNET Child Abduction Characteristics and Traits

P: Abduction/Missing Child Report Summary Worksheet

Q: Missing Child Neighborhood Canvass Questionnaire

R: Volunteer Background Check Form

S: Reunification Checklist

T: Missing Child Assessment Checklist

U: Research and Studies

About the Author

Donald F. Sprague is a 24-year veteran of law enforcement. He retired in June 1996 as a lieutenant from the Saginaw, Michigan Police Department. He has been a Michigan state certified police instructor in many disciplines including police patrol techniques, police emergency vehicle operation, and domestic violence. He served on the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) task force that produced the Law Enforcement Driver Training Reference Guide 2000 and the Michigan State Domestic Violence task force that produced Domestic Violence Police Response. A Project ALERT member for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), he volunteers his time reviewing cold cases of missing children and has lectured for NCMEC on child safety. He and his wife, Mary, formed the Servants & Watchmen Ministry, to educate places of worship on church security, and Michigan Child Safety Advocates, to educate parents and children on child safety and missing and exploited children.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Forensic Science