Southwest Florida contributes 12 innocent faces to National Missing Children's Day

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Photo by Piotr Sikora

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Adji Desir 
 (Aged progressed to 10) 
 Missing From: Immokalee 
 Missing Date: Jan 10, 2009 
 Age now: 10

Adji Desir (Aged progressed to 10) Missing From: Immokalee Missing Date: Jan 10, 2009 Age now: 10

Austin Seiler 
 Missing From: Fort Myers 
 Missing Date: Oct 12, 2012 
 Age now: 16

Austin Seiler Missing From: Fort Myers Missing Date: Oct 12, 2012 Age now: 16

Bryan Dos Santos-Gomes 
 (Age progressed to 6) 
 Missing From: Fort Myers 
 Missing Date: Dec 1, 2006 
 Age now: 6

Bryan Dos Santos-Gomes (Age progressed to 6) Missing From: Fort Myers Missing Date: Dec 1, 2006 Age now: 6

Carlos Ventura-Santos 
 Missing From: La Belle 
 Missing Date: Sep 22, 2008 
 Age now: 7

Carlos Ventura-Santos Missing From: La Belle Missing Date: Sep 22, 2008 Age now: 7

Donald Jackson 
 Missing From: Golden Gate 
 Missing Date: Jun 16, 2010 
 Age now: 3

Donald Jackson Missing From: Golden Gate Missing Date: Jun 16, 2010 Age now: 3

Hilary Reigns 
 Missing From: Fort Myers 
 Missing Date: May 7, 2013 
 Age now: 16

Hilary Reigns Missing From: Fort Myers Missing Date: May 7, 2013 Age now: 16

Jairo Lopez Contreras 
 Missing From: Fort Myers 
 Missing Date: Jan 20, 2005 
 Age now: 16

Jairo Lopez Contreras Missing From: Fort Myers Missing Date: Jan 20, 2005 Age now: 16

Jonathan Martinez 
 Missing From: Bonita Springs 
 Missing Date: Mar 25, 2009 
 Age now: 23

Jonathan Martinez Missing From: Bonita Springs Missing Date: Mar 25, 2009 Age now: 23

Neil Eddleman 
 Missing From: Naples 
 Missing Date: Oct 17, 2003 
 Age now: 23

Neil Eddleman Missing From: Naples Missing Date: Oct 17, 2003 Age now: 23

Nery Ventura-Santos 
 Missing From: La Belle 
 Missing Date: Sep 22, 2008 
 Age now: 5

Nery Ventura-Santos Missing From: La Belle Missing Date: Sep 22, 2008 Age now: 5

Nevaeh Cifaldi 
 Missing From: North Fort Myers 
 Missing Date: Dec 15, 2011 
 Age now: 5

Nevaeh Cifaldi Missing From: North Fort Myers Missing Date: Dec 15, 2011 Age now: 5

Wendy Hudakoc 
 Missing From: Naples 
 Missing Date: Nov 15, 1998 
 Age now: 28

Wendy Hudakoc Missing From: Naples Missing Date: Nov 15, 1998 Age now: 28

If recent events in Cleveland, Ohio, weren’t enough to make the nation mindful of missing children, May 25, designated National Missing Children’s Day, should help communities reflect on the plight of children who simply vanish.

For every child that disappears, a family faces an emotional catastrophe. For every abduction, a community and often the nation share in the crisis.

This month, 272 missing children from Florida appeared on the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Twelve of them disappeared from Lee and Collier counties.

Luckily, abductions are rare and many of those are the result of family or custody disputes.

Since the beginning of May, two teens were taken to another state as part of a custody dispute. The event warranted an Amber Alert, an urgent bulletin to law enforcement agencies in the most serious child abduction cases.

The two Golden Gate females, ages 14 and 15, were found safe in Kentucky on May 12. They were taken by 22-year-old Ivan Eugene Coleman, a Missouri man one of the girls met online.

“Outside the safety of home, children need to be aware of the dangers that they may face,” said Sergeant Ken Becker of the Collier County Sheriff’s office. Dangerous liaisons have resulted in brutality, sexual assault and death for abducted children.

In the same week, a 13-year-old Goodland female was reported as a runaway. Another 13-year-old girl disappeared in East Naples, and a 15-year-old Immokalee male was reported missing after he failed to get on his school bus and never made it to school.

All three teenagers were located and were found safe.

Collier County deals with 20-30 missing cases per month or about 400 cases per year. Those include adults and children, but the majority are runaway children, Becker said. They may be missing a couple hours or a couple of days.

Abduction cases can last for years or a lifetime.

Six-year-old Adji Desir was last seen in 2009 in Farm Workers Village near Immokalee He went missing on Jan. 10, 2009, from his grandmother’s yard. Adji is developmentally challenged and speaks very little. Police were called and law enforcement searched the area, listing him as endangered missing. His whereabouts are still unknown and no new information has surfaced since his disappearance. Adji would be 10 years old now.

Meanwhile, Bryan Dos Santos-Gomes of Fort Myers has been missing since Dec. 1, 2006. He was abducted when he was one month old. Bryan’s mother was taking a walk with him when a woman driving a dark colored SUV stopped to ask for directions. Bryan’s mother entered the vehicle to help the driver find her way, but once at the destination she was forced out of the car at knifepoint. Her son was still in the car as the abductor drove away.

An Amber Alert was issued on the date of Bryan’s abduction, but his whereabouts are unknown at this time.

Law Enforcement uses different levels of intensity for taking action when a child is reported missing. If officers determine there is an elevated risk of danger in a situation, a designation of “critically or endangered missing” is initiated.

Amber Alerts have very strict requirements, and are given highest priority because so many bad things can happen when abductions occur, Becker said.

The Florida branch of the NCMEC has a team of consultants called Team Adam that joins the search for critically missing children. NCMEC also has a Family Abduction Unit trained to focus on and provide support for families involved in child custody battles. In the case of runaways, the Critical and Runaway Unit handles them.

“We used to talk to children about ‘Stanger Danger’ to protect them, but the majority of times it’s someone they know that abducts them,” Becker said. “Now we teach parents to have a safety plan.”

That plan includes teaching children to be aware of their surroundings and respectful of the dangers. The biggest part of the plan is parent-child communication, Becker said.

“Parents need to talk to their children about situations that can put them in danger,” he said. Children also need to know they can scream, stand up for themselves by saying ‘no’ to an older person, and run away to a trusted adult when they feel threatened.

Marco Island’s Assistant Police Chief Dave Baer said there are no open cases of missing children from Marco Island, but the department often gets calls about children missing.

“A mother at the beach might turn around and her child’s gone,” he said. “That can be very frightening for an adult and we handle every case seriously.” Often, another family member has taken the child to get something to eat or an ice cream, he said, and the missing child is found in a matter of minutes.

There is no minimum time a child must be missing before calling 911 to open an investigation, Baer said.

When a toddler went missing from a home on Marco Island, police searched the house looking in appliances, closets, car trunks and small spaces. The one place they didn’t search was the car. The child had managed to climb into the family’s vehicle and was later found sitting in a child’s car seat.

Parents can be prepared when officers arrive after a 911 call, said Baer.

Have a current photo of the child available for law enforcement. Know what the child was wearing that day and have the child’s name and date of birth on hand. Know who the child’s friends are and allow officers to search the child’s Internet access.

Understand that when the police ask personal question, these are customary and routine.

Officers know parents are the best source of information on a child, Baer said.

“An abductor can travel about 60 miles every hour after an event,” he said. “Parents need to prepare so we can search right away.”

Groups such as the NCMEC accept contributions to help with the search for missing children. Donations to this non-profit organization, established by President Ronald Reagan, John Walsh and Ernie Allen, can be made at the website www.missingkids.com.

When asked about donation jars displaying a missing child’s face by cash registers in retail establishments, Becker said those are not collected by the sheriff’s department.

“They easily could be fraudulent,” he said, “but maybe they were placed there by a friend of the family to help them search on their own.”

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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