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Missing Children: We've Come A Long Way From Milk Cartons

With the news that finally, thirty years later, that Etan Patz killer may have been found, we all have missing children on our minds.

Did you know that 800,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year? That’s over 2,100 children each DAY.

The horror of it.

Etan Patz went missing thirty years ago yesterday in Manhattan, just 200 feet from his home. His family was determined to find him, never moving or changing their phone number for the last thirty years in case he decided to come home.

Etan’s missing status was noteworthy not only because he was a lost child, but also because he became the first “milk carton kid.” Meaning that his photo was plastered on milk cartons in an attempt to find him or find out information about where he could be.

We no longer put missing kids on milk cartons. Instead, we use technology.

Today missing children no longer have to be gone for several days before the police will take action. Today Amber alerts, Facebook pages, websites, and even Twitter are used routinely to find missing kids. While there is some debate about the effectiveness of Amber alerts, there is no doubt that it’s worked in some cases.

However, police caution that you still call them first before setting up the Facebook page (um, yeah):

“If you think about how far someone can get in an hour, that hour that you’re spending actually trying to find that child…that hour that you’re spending on Facebook or you’re driving through the neighborhood on your own, think how far that child can already be,” Greensboro Police Sgt. Chad Williams said.

Mashable wrote extensively about how the way technology has changed the search for missing children.

If you can’t remember the last time you saw someone’s face on a milk carton, or never even heard of the concept, there’s a reason: Technology and social media have drastically changed how we search for abducted persons.

While Etan Patz’s case isn’t quite closed yet (and certainly did not have a happy ending), I hope his family finds the peace and resolution that they need. Losing a child in that way on the very first day they let him walk to school alone is the stuff of nightmares. I’m so sorry they had to go through that, and I will definitely keep them in my prayers.

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