BeyondMissing, Inc. began with an idea and blossomed into a reality that functioned flawlessly, twenty-four hours per day for eleven years. Since 2002, BeyondMissing technology has been utilized by law enforcement to issue 174 Amber Alerts, 56 Local Amber Alerts, 16 Abduction Alerts, and 94 Missing Child Alerts. The program had a 95% recovery rate. Yesterday we closed our doors for the last time.
Missing person flyers have been paper based ever since the first missing child flyer was issued for four-year-old Charlie Ross in 1874. Distribution was labor intensive and often times expensive and technology breakthroughs were few and far between. In 1979 the mysterious disappearance of Etan Patz riveted the country’s attention after pictures of the beautiful boy were distributed widely on television. Etan was also the first missing child on milk cartons. In 1993, my daughter Polly became the first missing child whose flyer was widely distributed via the Internet. Mostly though, paper flyers were distributed from hand to hand, appearing on telephone poles, Post Office walls, and merchants windows.
Two weeks after Polly was kidnapped we conducted a major flyer distribution. We printed thousands of our own flyers, acquired a mailing list, folded flyers, stuffed and addressed envelopes. A friend mortgaged a house to pay for printing and postage. Eight days later flyers began to arrive at their destinations. There had to be a better way.
BeyondMissing came to me in a vision. We could significantly close the time gap between a child being reported missing and the ability of the public and media to see the victim by creating an Internet based, password protected website that would allow law enforcement officers to use existing web based tools to create missing child flyers. They could then immediately distribute those flyers to pre-populated Fax and email databases.
I acquired a team of management and IT professionals and submitted a proposal for BeyondMissing to the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) with the help of Wisconsin Congressman Mark Green. In turn, the USDOJ asked the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to evaluate my proposal. They quickly concluded that it should not be funded because, “Existing programs render this program redundant.” I successfully challenged that conclusion and was eventually awarded $846,000 to build the program. By the time BeyondMissing was operational three months later we had included a parent flyer tool that allows parents of missing children to create their own missing flyers.
BeyondMissing was never fully embraced by the law enforcement community at large.
However, we did work with the Texas Department of Public Safety from August 12, 2002 through February 28, 2013. During that time BeyondMissing technology distributed 1,231,500 emails and 34,400 text messages, and initiated distribution to 1,721,800 faxes to targeted public and private recipients on behalf of law enforcement. This technology, which never broke down, was utilized by registered law enforcement in 35 states in the search for 340 abducted or missing children. Cases included 223 female and 117 male children reported as abducted or missing, including 146 White, 131 Hispanic, 45 Black, 5 Asian, 2 American Indian, and 11 identified as other.
In 1994, utilizing a $1,000,000 grant, the NCMEC created and introduced the Locator, a web-based poster-creation program that provides law enforcement agencies with access to create and distribute their own posters to include Missing Children. They said that they wanted to close the time gap between a child being reported missing and law enforcement’s ability to distribute a missing flyer. Distribution was limited to email. By this time BeyondMissing was distributing Texas Amber Alerts via text messaging. NCMEC introduced Locator Fax distribution in 2006.
In 2001, the NCMEC said that “Existing programs render this program [BeyondMissing] redundant”, yet within three years they had used 1,000,000 of our tax dollars to construct a third rate knock off. The USDOJ turned a blind eye to this waste of public funds. At best, the NCMEC’s behavior is unethical.
When I started writing this blog it was with a sense of nostalgia, but now I’m just pissed off.