Missing Persons Guidance
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.
Search for the most recent pictures. Don't look for pictures in your scrapbook. See if your camera or smartphone has recent pictures on it. 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.
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.
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 in order to send the picture by e-mail to nonprofit organizations across the country.
Put someone persuasive in charge of photo distribution. Ask your photo distribution coordinator to keep a log showing who was given a picture or video recording, then to follow up to make sure that the images 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 removable digital media. A print or computer shop can provide this service to you. Next, call individual organizations to obtain their e-mail addresses. Now, you can 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.
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