Approximately 775 cases of missing children have been reported in Prince George’s County in the past decade, but 23 still haven’t been found, according an official from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The center’s website displays 28 headshots of children who disappeared this year, including Kimberly Martinez Garcia, 14, of District Heights, who was last seen Feb. 1.
“Law enforcement is good at finding these kids — the key is keeping them around,” said Robert Lowery, vice president of the center’s Missing Children Division and former police officer from the St. Louis area, who joined law enforcement, District Heights and school officials and advocates Thursday, April 13 for a forum on missing children at the city’s Municipal Center.
The topic drew nationwide attention last month after rumors spread on social media that 14 girls went missing in one day in D.C. Though the Metropolitan Police Department released figures to show juvenile cases actually decreased by nearly 200 between 2015 and 2016, Mayor Muriel Bowser nevertheless announced recently a new initiative to find the city’s missing youth that includes an increase of police officers designated to the Children and Family Services Division.
In District Heights, city police Chief Elliott Gibson Sr. led the discussion on a tragedy he said has been around for at least 30 years.
Gibson conducted a PowerPoint presentation before roughly three dozen people to explain an average of 13,500 children are reported as missing annually in Maryland, with nearly 12,000 of them eventually located.
He said some misconceptions are that most missing children are runaways and not abducted by strangers and that the situations are resolved quickly.
He also offered suggestions on how to protect a child:
• Keep children out of adult conversations and situations;
• Allow children to express their feelings; and
• Know your child’s friends, teachers and habits.
Gibson even recommended parents and guardians purchase a GPS tracking watch for their children.
“A parent is always supposed to be in their child’s personal and public business,” he said. “For example, a child is supposed to get out [of] school at 3 o’clock and supposed to be home at 3:30. If you have this GPS tracker watch, a parent would know when a child is at home. [Parents] should know what their children are doing 24 hours, seven days a week.”
Clifford Thomas of Suitland said parents should teach their children how to be safe.
“A 5-year-old girl ran to me and gave a me hug. No child should hug someone” they don’t know, he said. “Parents need to teach children to know what’s right from wrong.”
A group with Kelektiv Films showed a clip of an upcoming movie about a teenage girl who used social media to meet with a guy.
As she walked on a street in broad daylight, she got grabbed by a man who wore all black, pushed inside a van and taken to an unknown location. The film showed her and another girl tied up with tape over their mouths.
The film will be shown Saturday, April 22 during a community day event at Oakcrest Community Center in Capitol Heights.
Nicole Brice, a Waldorf resident who recently joined the Kelektiv as an associate producer, had her two children ages 13 and 9 attend the forum. She explained how she recently allowed them to go to a park near her house by themselves for the first time.
“I allowed my children to go the park and I told them to come home from the park at 4:30. They didn’t return until 5:15 and my mommy had a little panic attack,” Brice said. “So, when they pointed [a scene in the film] out and I gave them the look, they got it. They understood why I said anything could have happened to them and why I said come back home at a certain time.”
For information on safety prevention, go to http://www.missingkids.com/Safety. If a child disappears, call 911 or 1-800-THE-LOST.