Facebook, Twitter & the Fate of the Missing!

girlsTwo recent kidnapping cases that have captured the world’s attention have demonstrated the importance and power of Social Media as it applies to missing children. In one case a foreign government’s ambivalence over a mass kidnapping was exposed as the world took note and promised action. In the other social media empowered a girl held captive for decade to break the bonds of abduction and abuse.

Boko

A militant Islamist group called Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from a boarding school in the northern town of Chibok, Nigeria on April 14, 2014. This jaw-dropping mass abduction received little attention outside of Africa and the Nigerian Government’s indifference to girl’s plight prompted the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign which has thus far been tweeted more than a million times. As a result the world has taken note and France, China, Canada, and Great Britain have all joined the United States in sending advisors to Nigeria to help recover the girls. The case remains wide open and it is difficult to envision a happy ending, but if it hadn’t been for the Twitter campaign the girls would have either been killed or sold into slavery in obscure anonymity.

Alleged kidnapper Isidro Garcia

Alleged kidnapper Isidro Garcia

Ten years ago a fifteen-year-old girl who had just arrived in the United States from Mexico was stolen from a park near her mother’s apartment in Santa Ana, California. The incident was reported to the police, but the case soon went cold, until this week when the now twenty-five-year-old woman told her story to the Bell Gardens Police. She had been kidnapped, drugged, raped, tortured, conditioned and told that her family would be deported if she went to the authorities. The kidnapper eventually forced her to marry him and two years ago she had his baby. Finding her sister’s Facebook account finally empowered the young victim to break the chains of her psychological captivity. Her abductor, forty-two-year-old Isidro Garcia, has been charged with kidnap for rape, lewd acts with a minor and imprisonment.

 

Less than a decade ago both of these cases could have easily disappeared altogether. Instead, because of Social Media and the Internet, several things have happened. Many countries with no dog in this fight have volunteered to aid in the recovery of more than 200 young kidnap victims, so the morally bankrupt Nigerian government can no longer sweep their plight under the rug. Unlike Nigeria, our government and our people care very much about the rights of the individual. Now, one child, kidnapped more than a decade ago, has an opportunity to put her life back in order knowing that her tormentor will never be able to touch her again.

 

As the Internet and Social Media become more ubiquitous there will be even more opportunities to expose the plight of the unfortunate and rescue the victims of abduction and abuse. This is an exciting time in the war to recover kidnapped children: a very exciting time.

Missing Kids on Facebook

Bryce

We see and hear about these stories all the time. Some hideous pervert, masquerading as Johnny Cool, befriends a young girl on Facebook and entices her to a clandestine meeting at a remote location. By the time she realizes that she has been duped it is too late. We then read the disturbing results online or watch the grisly aftermath on Nancy Grace or any of a number of True Crime television shows. Well, that’s not what this is about. This is about how Facebook has become the milk carton project of the 21st Century.

 

The most enduring symbol of the missing child issue is the flyer. They have been with us ever since 4-year-old Charlie Ross was kidnapped in front of his Germantown, PA home on July 1, 1874. Since then very few things have changed. Flyers are printed on paper, and people post them in storefronts and on telephone poles. As technology advances, so do the places that you will find missing child flyers. First they were in newspapers, then on TV, and now on the Internet. For a short time in the early 1980’s they were even reprinted on milk cartons.

 

Polly was the Internet’s first missing child. But, instead of that representing an evolutionary step forward the Internet simply became another missing child flyer destination. The only difference is that instead of taping them to telephone poles, various organizations stacked missing flyers like cordwood on their website.

 

BM WebsiteIn 2001 I co-founded BeyondMissing.com, to provide law enforcement with a cost effective, efficient means of using the Internet to create and distribute missing flyers to targeted recipient lists. This was the first time that missing flyers were able to be easily created and distributed en-mass by America’s law enforcement community. Although the program had a 95% recovery rate lack of Federal and industry rival support forced us to shut our doors earlier this year. The BeyondMissing parent flyer tool has been accessed and utilized over 3,560 times by families and organizations searching for a missing child, and will be available on KlaasKids.org in the very near future. BeyondMissing was evolutionary in that it represented the first and only option beyond print media utilized to create and mass distribute missing flyers.

 

Facebook has changed all that. Instead of a static, forlorn photograph staring  back at you from a missing poster, Facebook has enabled the families and supporters of missing persons to post multiple photo’s, videos, links to news stories, and testimonials from friends and family in one easy to reach destination. Missing person Facebook pages are not static so they can be updated in real time. Pending fundraising events or press conferences can be advertised, as can case updates. There are missing person communities on Facebook that share missing pages far and wide. They talk about the kids, create forums, share ideas and find commonalities. There is no charge for this dynamic, user friendly application.

 

LinneaMy advice to anybody with a missing child is to use the Facebook advantage. You don’t have to be particularly computer savvy, and in fact you don’t even really need a computer. FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s) has all of the hardware and software tools, including online access that you need to create a missing person FB page. If you still don’t feel that you have the skill set to accomplish this objective ask friends and family to help you.

 

Of course, there is a downside to all of this. There are no restrictions on who can create these pages. Unfortunately, I know of many cases where either fake or misleading pages have been posted.  People who have no attachment to the case and don’t even know the missing person or their family have also exploited this opportunity for one reason or another. Therefore, you must be careful and try to determine if the page that you have landed on is real, or is it fake!

 

I think that we can all agree that technology has and will continue to change the way we approach child safety and missing kids. However, Facebook above all other technologies or applications has evolved the imagery of missing children in ways that were unimaginable during the 20th Century.

Missing in San Jose

Finding Madeline and Emily

Learning that Madeline and Emily Dorcich had been found was like a breath of fresh air until it wasn’t, because when you scratch beneath the surface something stinks! The girls were reported missing by their father after they failed to return home from a church event at San Jose’s Del Mar High School around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 13, 2013.

 

By Tuesday, October 15, friends and other volunteers, including members of Mr. Dorcich’ church, were posting fliers throughout the South Bay. The girl’s father Chuck Dorcich said, “I think they are somewhere in the South Bay. I can’t imagine anywhere else they would be.”

 

Chuck Dorcich set up a Facebook page “Finding Madeline & Emily” to assist in the search and quickly attracted the public’s attention gaining more than 4,000 likes (including mine). It was renamed “Safe and Sound: Madeline and Emily” after they were recovered at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 16. The page currently has 5,054 likes.

Safe and Sound Madeline and Emily

On Wednesday, October 16, the San Jose Police Department issued the following advisory: The two missing sisters (Madeline and Emily Dorcich) have been safely located and are with their biological mother. The entire incident was related to a child custody matter that will have to be resolved in family court. No criminal acts were committed and the San Jose Police Department will be closing the case and no further action will be taken.

 

My questions are pretty basic. If Madeline and Emily’s parents were engaged in a child custody battle, and Mrs. Dorcich had relocated to Pismo Beach, why did Mr. Dorcich say that he couldn’t imagine that they (the girls) would be anywhere else but the South Bay? Mr. Dorcich said that the ordeal gave him empathy for parents whose children have gone missing. “You assume the worst.”

 

If I were Mr. Dorcich I would have assumed that my ex-wife were somehow involved, or at least checked with her prior to reporting them missing to the police, freaking out the Bay Area, soliciting an army of volunteers to distribute 1,500 missing flyers, and posting a Facebook page that grabbed the attention and solicited the sympathy of thousands.

 

I will not go so far as to say that Mr. and Mrs. Dorcich used these lovely young girls as weapons against each other in a custody battle, but I will say that they need to re-evaluate their parenting skills and figure out their priorities because I don’t see that the best interest of the children were served.

 

As the parent of a child who really was missing, I do know what the parents of missing children go through. I also understand how families, friends, neighbors and communities are affected when the worst is feared. In this case there really wasn’t anything to fear. Police, media and community resources were expended to recover two girls who were never really missing in the first place and nobody is being held accountable.

Life is Good!

With Polly & Ariel 1989

Last night when it was dark and I was listening to Billie Holiday sing the blues, I read my sister Elizabeth’s Facebook post, “19 years ago today I had to say goodbye to my angel, my soul mate. Polly, I think about you every day and I will love you forever! I know we will see each other again… someday.” Within a very few minutes I was seized in grief. Probably not the best time to listen to Billie Holiday.

 

I posted my feelings, in the moment, on Facebook, though I try to avoid becoming too personal with people I don’t really know. Then I reached out to my niece Ariel who was also online. I vented, I may have spoken inelegantly, but she listened and comforted me. Then I closed down my computer and continued to listen as the lady sang the blues.

 

Slowly, I regained my composure and wiped the tears from my cheeks. Eventually, Violet came downstairs and I told her what had happened. She held me in her arms as we sat quietly. Finally, we watched a little TV and went to bed.

 

This morning I opened Facebook and realized that thousands of people had responded to my post. There were expressions of support and sorrow that took my breath away. Ariel left a message that spoke to my heart as she had never done before. Somehow, my life suddenly felt validated.

 

I don’t know most of the people on Facebook who reached out to me, but their motivations were pure, good, and provided relief. My sister reminded me of the significance of a very difficult day and the importance of unconditional love, my niece was there to offer comfort during a difficult moment, and my wife held me when I felt isolated.

 

Life is good.