Rutledge Raises Awareness of Arkansas’s Missing Persons at Never Forgotten
July 10, 2017
Benton Chief Kirk Lane receives Morgan’s Choice Award and Criminal Justice Institute receives Star of Excellence Award
BENTON – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today hosted the sixth annual Never Forgotten – Arkansas Takes Action event at the Benton Event Center. The daylong event helps raise awareness of issues surrounding missing persons and recognizes Arkansas’s missing children and adults.
“Time will never heal the hurt and uncertainty these families feel every hour of every day,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But it is my mission each year that these families walk away from the Never Forgotten event with a sense of support that their state and members of law enforcement have not and will not ever forget their loved one.”
Wayne Ruthven, a consultant with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), provided law enforcement officers with an update on a program being created to coordinate efforts to assist children who become separated from their families as a result of a disaster. The Attorney General’s office and several other Arkansas agencies meet monthly to develop an action plan, coordinated by the Arkansas Department of Human Services, as part of a pilot program.
“Under the leadership of the Arkansas Mass Care Coordinator, Edwin Lyons, and the Department of Human Services, NCMEC is supporting a great group of stakeholder representatives from a number of state, federal and local agencies working diligently to develop a children's disaster reunification plan for Arkansas which can also be a model for states nationwide,” said Ruthven. “These partners represent governmental, volunteer, private and other non-governmental organizations. Quickly reunifying children with their parents or guardians may reduce the overall trauma to a child associated with a disaster and its aftermath. Also, children who become separated from parents or guardians amidst the chaos of a disaster may be susceptible to kidnapping, abuse, and, in the most extreme cases, trafficking and exploitation. NCMEC is honored and privileged to be a part of this challenging and important program in Arkansas.”
Officers also heard from Gay Smither, president of the Laura Recovery Center. Smither’s 12-year-old daughter, Laura, went missing during a jog in Friendswood, Texas, on April 3, 1997. Her body was located 17 days later. Laura’s death led to the creation of the Laura Recovery Center, an organization that helps families and law enforcement agencies on missing child cases. The center has assisted with more than 1,700 cases and participated in more than 100 active searches. William Reece was indicted Sept. 1, 2016, in the deaths of Laura and 17-year-old Jessica Cain, who disappeared Aug. 17, 1997.
"Never give up hope. Never give up searching for missing children. Never give up seeking justice," said Smither.
The officer training session concluded with a presentation from Lori Mcllwain, co-founder of the National Autism Association. Mcllwain discussed autism, including a brief overview of Autism Spectrum Disorder, wandering and its unique dangers. Best practices for prevention and response to reduce risk were also discussed, along with findings and insights from six years of autism and wandering data.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to bring attention to the critical issue of autism-related wandering/elopement,” said Mcllwain. “Each year in the U.S., hundreds of children and adults with autism go missing from their homes, schools and residential facilities. Yet, many of these individuals cannot speak, call out for help or answer to their name. With awareness and education, we can work to reduce these incidents, and the tragic consequences that often follow.”
At the same time as the law enforcement session, a panel discussion was held for the families of missing persons on available resources to assist them with locating their loved one. Participating agencies included Arkansas State Police, Arkansas State Crime Lab, Arkansas Crime Information Center, FBI, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Missing and Unidentified Missing Persons System.
A luncheon was hosted by Rutledge to honor the families of the missing and thank law enforcement for assisting in missing persons cases. The event also provided support and networking opportunities for families still searching and for those who have tragically lost loved ones.
During the luncheon, the Morgan’s Choice Award, named for Morgan Nick who went missing in 1995, was presented to Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane for his part in the Rock One Sock campaign and use of social media to show support for missing children and their families. The Star of Excellence Award was presented to the University of Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute for its work to form Child Abduction Response Teams (CART), which brings a multi-disciplinary approach to responding to a missing or abducted child incident, across the state. Team participants include representatives from the Arkansas State Police, local and county law enforcement, FBI, probation and parole, victim advocates, social service agencies, emergency management personnel, school personnel and other key agencies.
Last year, Rutledge was part of a collaborative effort to launch a new website, NeverForgotten.ar.gov, which enables the public to access information on missing persons cases with an easy-to-use searchable database.
The Attorney General’s office serves as an information clearinghouse for reports on Arkansas’s missing children and acts as the main point of contact for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
To reach the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline, call (800) THE-LOST (843-5678).