The Boogeyman in the Backyard: Stats Show Most Abducted Children Know Their Captors
It’s arguably the worst and most common nightmare of a parent: Taking your eyes off your child for a moment and realizing they're gone, taken by an unknown monster with unthinkable intentions.
But data shows that abducted children are rarely taken by strange boogeymen — or women — lurking in the shadows.
Nearly all children whose abductions were reported through the Amber Alert system from 2006 to 2014 were taken by someone they know.
Incredibly, about 43 percent of cases in that eight-year span identified the abductor as the child’s father. The missing child’s mother was responsible for kidnapping in about 24 percent of cases, according to the data compiled by Protection 1, a home security company that analyzed data from Amber Alert reports to identify U.S. abduction trends.
Just last month, an Amber Alert issued for an 8-month-old boy noted he was abducted by his parents in South Carolina after he was placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services, according to authorities. Little John Eastlack was found safe in a hotel room about 2,000 miles away in Montana.
“The assumption is, if they’re with their father, the child is safe. That’s not always the case,” Bob Lowery, vice president for the missing children division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told InsideEdition.com.
“Many of the times, these are going to be family disputes, and the children become a way for the taking parent to harm the custodial parent, the left behind parent,” he said. “It’s inflicting pain and suffering on that parent.”
In many instances, a history of domestic violence will be present, which raises the stakes even higher, he said.
“We take those cases very seriously,” Lowery said, noting the level of violence in those instances can be extremely high. “We’ve seen as many children killed in that scenario as we have in non-relative abduction scenarios.”
An Amber Alert was issued in December for 3-year-old Rebecca Valenzuela, who was allegedly abducted by her father after he repeatedly stabbed the child’s mother in New York City, police said.
Diomedes Valenzuela allegedly plunged a knife into the woman multiple times during a domestic dispute in a Bronx apartment, police said. Little Rebecca was found unharmed about 40 minutes after the Amber Alert was issued when New Jersey State Troopers pulled over an SUV driven by Valenzuela, who was taken into custody without incident, authorities said.
Two months earlier in Tennessee, 2-year-old Brooklynne Enix was allegedly abducted by her father after he killed her mother and took off in the slain woman’s car, police said.
Tyler Enix, who police said has a history of domestic violence, was charged with first-degree murder after a citizen who heard the Amber Alert on the radio realized he was behind Kimberly Enix's black Chevy in Ohio, police said.
"The citizen called 911 and deputies with the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office responded and initiated a traffic stop. Enix was taken into custody without incident. His 2-year-old daughter Brooklynne was recovered and is safe," the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a statement at the time.
What’s more, 77 percent of children featured in Amber Alert reports were snatched from a home, stats show.
“Just because you’re at home or you’re in a familiar place, you shouldn’t take things for granted,” said Brandon Fleming, marketing manager at Protection 1. “It’s a real threat at home [too].”
In those cases, the abductor is also usually someone familiar to the child, Lowery said.
“Unknown offenders... [are] extremely rare,” he said. “We’re seeing sharp trends of those cases (moving) downward. The last case [we saw] of a child taken by a nonfamily member was Ashlynne Mike, those classify as the worst of the worst stereotypical scenarios.”
Ashlynne, 11, was lured into a maroon van after she and her brother got off the bus in New Mexico as they returned home from school in May, officials said.
Though he reportedly said no when the stranger asked if they wanted to see a movie, 9-year-old Ian Mike said he got into the van because he didn’t want his sister to go alone.
The siblings were brought to a deserted part of the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest American Indian reservation, where the man and Ashlynne walked off without the little boy.
When the man came back without his sister, Ian ran more than two miles to Navajo Route 36, where he was found later that night, officials said.
Tom Begaye, 27, of Waterflow, was arrested and charged for the girl’s murder, the FBI said. He allegedly told investigators he took off Ashlynne’s clothes and was preparing to sexually assault her as she cried and begged to be taken home. He hit her twice in the head with a crowbar, he allegedly said.
Calling cases like that the “proverbial needle in a haystack,” Lowery said those instances have in part become so rare because of the world we live in and the resources that are now available.
“But I do caution... because we have the Amber Alert, we can engage the public very quickly with information about the child, we can use the public as [our] eyes and ears... and share information very quickly,” he said.
The 1996 murder of Texas 9-year-old Amber Hagerman gave rise to the AMBER Alert System, or “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response,” America’s child abduction alert system.
The little girl was playing with her brother in an abandoned Winn-Dixie grocery store parking lot when she was snatched by an unknown-- and yet to be apprehended-- man driving a black pickup truck on January 13, 1996.
Amber was found dead with her throat cut in a drainage ditch four days later. Her body was found just a few miles away from where she was abducted.
The system began in Dallas-Fort Worth when broadcasters teamed with local police to develop the protocol, according to its website. To date, 830 missing or abducted children have returned home safely thanks to the system, Lowery said.
"We can safely say … these children were saved as a result of Amber (Alert)," he said.
He also noted that technology can help dissuade would-be abductors from taking action.
"There are cameras in almost every one of our communities... These offenders do not want to be seen. Technology really has been a game changer when it comes to the criminal act of child abduction.”
But technology is both a blessing and a curse, he said.
“There’s been a shift in criminal behavior… we now see children being lured on social media,” Lowery said. “Now offenders are able to come right into the homes of families, in the bedrooms of these children and they’re communicating online. They’ll groom children over time... and lure them to come meet.”
Authorities arrested Christopher David Schroeder, 41, in December after he allegedly lured a 15-year-old Ohio girl to his Missouri home and held her captive while he raped her repeatedly for three weeks.
The pair met earlier in the month or in late October on Kik, an internet chat forum, according to an affidavit filed in court by FBI Special Agent John Mark Burbidge. Once he had her, Schroeder allegedly made the girl remove her phone’s battery and SIM card, which he smashed into pieces, and later threw the phone into a river, the affidavit said.
Police from Warren and St. Charles counties and the FBI rescued the girl using information from the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
“We could see as the world as a safer place, but there are still dangers,” Lowery said, noting that shouldn’t mean children or their parent have to live in fear.
“We can’t make our children so afraid to leave their house and ride their bicycles... because of what’s out there,” he said.
Parents should have often and honest “common sense conversations” with their children of the potential dangers in the world and how to address them, he said.
“Have an open dialogue with your children,” he continued. “It’s helpful to be aware. It’s helpful to talk.”
Fleming agreed that awareness is key when it comes to remaining safe, saying Protection 1’s decision to produce their report was “not a fear-driven sort of thing; it’s a reality.
"We don’t use scare tactics. The truth is [that] there’s danger, there’s crime, and were in the business to provide peace of mind. We don’t need to be prisoners in our own homes, but really staying cognizant of who’s around and what’s going on makes a difference."