Child abduction. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare – and when a kidnapping occurs, it captures the nation’s attention, rocks communities to their very core, and devastates family and friends of the victim. For some, hope comes in the form of the AMBER Alert System: a team effort among law enforcement, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry dedicated to issuing urgent bulletins to prompt search and recovery efforts for abducted children age 17 or younger.
To find out more about trends, outcomes, and other details in child abduction cases in the U.S., we analyzed AMBER Alert Reports from 2006 to 2014. To date, 822 children have been rescued due to the AMBER Alert program. Keep reading for some eye-opening facts and intriguing insights about this devastating occurrence.
Note: The AMBER Alert program issues alerts only if certain criteria are met: Law enforcement must believe an abduction has occurred, must believe that child is in danger of bodily harm or death, and must provide enough descriptive information about the case, such as details about the child, the abduction, the suspect, and/or the suspect’s vehicle.
How Do Children Know Their Abductors?
When you picture child abduction, what comes to mind? A shadowy figure driving a van? An ominous man lurking at the playground? Children (and parents) are often conditioned to be wary of strangers. However, in reality, only a small fraction of child abduction cases – around 0.1 percent – involve kidnappings by strangers or slight acquaintances.
According to AMBER Alert data, who most commonly abducts children? Usually their parents. In just over 43 percent of cases, the father is the perpetrator; and in nearly a quarter of cases, the mother is the kidnapper. Other likely abductors include a range of family and friends, including a child’s mother’s boyfriend, a friend of the family, a grandmother, and even the abductee’s own ex-boyfriend.
How Old Are Abducted Children?
In the largest proportion of AMBER Alert cases – just over 13 percent – the child who is kidnapped is actually a baby who has yet to celebrate a birthday. Toddlers aged 1 and 2 are involved in around 10 percent of cases apiece.
As children get older, their likelihood of being involved in an AMBER Alert case steadily dwindles. Children aged 9 and older are involved in fewer than 4 percent of cases each. And save for a slight uptick at age 16, cases decrease steadily as teens age.
Child Abduction Over Time
Between 2006 and 2014, there was a 28.7 percent decline in the total number of child abduction cases that prompted AMBER Alerts – from 261 in 2006 to 186 in 2014. Between 2006 and 2008, the number of cases decreased sharply. And although cases increased by 7 percent between 2008 and 2009, the overall downward trend held true. However, between 2010 and 2014, cases actually increased by 8 percent.
Different types of cases – including family abductions (FA), nonfamily abductions (NFA), and lost, injured, or otherwise missing (LIM) cases – experienced unique peaks and valleys at certain times. Family abductions spiked during 2009; there were 124, compared with 100 during the prior year. 2010 saw an uptick in nonfamily abduction cases. In 2011, there was a small increase in lost, injured, or otherwise missing children. The number of endangered runaways has remained relatively low and steady throughout the years.
As of 2014, AMBER Alerts for family abductions hit the highest point since 2009; LIM cases were at all-time low; and nonfamily cases remained fairly steady. However, the trend is not simply tied to changes in the number of abductions. Since the system’s inception in 1999, officials have become better trained regarding when to sound an alert – hence the decrease. The system was designed to be used sparingly to avoid desensitizing the public to the alerts.
Kidnapping Cases Across the Country
As the map reveals, overall the South and West overall have had the highest number of AMBER Alerts, based on population. On the other hand, the Northeast and Midwest (with the exception of Michigan) have had the fewest.
Among every state, Montana has had the most AMBER Alerts per 100,000 residents. In 2005, Montana was the third state to join the AMBER Alert web portal, which allowed law enforcement to sound an alert on the national site. Officials have noted that in a state like Montana, with a low population and many locations separated by long distances, AMBER Alerts are especially helpful to spread the word of an abduction. Michigan claims second spot for number of AMBER Alerts based on population, followed by Wyoming and Tennessee.
On the other end of the spectrum, Maine has had the fewest AMBER Alerts over the years. One recent study ranked Maine as the most peaceful/least violent state in the country, based on its relatively low rates of violent crime and murders as well as its strong median household income and unemployment rates. Louisiana, Oregon, and New Hampshire ranked second, third, and fourth, respectively, and New York finished the bottom five.
The Gender of Kidnappers
According to AMBER Alert reports, nearly 67 percent of the people who abducted children were men, while almost 31 percent were women. The vast majority of AMBER Alert cases involve abductions by a non-custodial parent – and more often than not, mothers are granted custody of children after a breakup. In nearly 44 percent of the cases, the father is the perpetrator; for instance, 3-year-old Jude Ramirez was abducted by his non-custodial father in 2014 after a violent domestic dispute between the parents.
The child’s mother’s boyfriend is the perpetrator in over 7 percent of cases, including that of 7-month-old Jayden Warren in 2013: His mother’s boyfriend (who was not his biological father) kidnapped him. Though the family factor may make cases seem less serious, keep in mind that AMBER Alerts are only issued when a child is suspected of being in imminent danger.
In some cases, revenge may play a role. A recent Australian study highlighted the difference in motive between men and women who kill their own children: For men, the most likely goal is to exact revenge on an ex-partner. For women, the likely goal is to avoid leaving their kids motherless (because they are also more likely to intend to kill themselves after killing their child).
Where Do Abductions Occur?
When you think about likely spots where children are abducted, you may envision abductors lurking near public restrooms in isolated parks. However, in nearly 78 percent of AMBER Alert cases, children are taken from their own homes. In another 6.8 percent of cases, perpetrators abduct children from the street. Schools, vehicles, and retail locations comprise over 5 percent apiece.
The Average Duration of an Abduction
For frantic families desperate for the return of their children, every moment can feel like years. Hearteningly, in nearly half of cases, children involved in AMBER Alert cases are reunited with their caregivers within three hours of their abduction. Another nearly 1 in 5 kids come home within four to six hours. Fewer than 6 percent of cases see children separated from their families for more than 48 hours.
WHY Do People Abduct Children?
Not every AMBER Alert case features a clear-cut motive for abduction. But among those for which a reason can be determined, nearly 4 in 10 are the result of a family dispute. This was the cases for 6-month-old Mitchell Farris, who was abducted in 2014 by his own parents from his great-grandfather, under whose care officials had placed the baby.
In over a quarter of cases, domestic disputes play a role. For instance, in 2014, 9-year-old Alexy Voronenko was taken by his father, who had previously been jailed for abusing his mother. And in around one-fifth of AMBER Alert cases, children are abducted – in some cases unintentionally – when the vehicles they’re in are stolen. In a frightening 2014 case, a car was stolen – and in the backseat was 20-day-old Henry Flores, who was left there while his mother and sibling were in a gas station market. Other motives include sexual intentions, ransom, and Internet luring.
Happily Ever After? AMBER Alert Resolutions
In nearly 7 in every 10 AMBER Alert cases, children are successfully reunited with their parents. And in just over 17 percent of cases, the recovery is a direct result of the AMBER Alert. Just under 6 percent of cases end up being unfounded, while just over 5 percent are hoaxes. Sadly, over 3 percent of cases result in the death of the child, and 1.5 percent of cases are still active.
AMBER Alerts have been helping children reunite with their families since 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered while riding her bike in Texas in 1996. The AMBER Alert system – which stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response – was created to honor her memory.
The system has its critics – and indeed its downfalls. The information in the alerts may be vague, and it may come too late to make a difference and be delivered to people who live in places far from the abduction. However, there’s no arguing that AMBER Alerts save lives and reunite hundreds of children with their families.
At Protection1.com, your family’s safety – and your children’s safety – is our top priority. That’s why we’re happy to bring you information like that found in the report above. If you’re interested in learning more about how to protect your family with a home alarm system customized to suit your needs, visit Protection1.com for details.
We analyzed AMBER Alert Reports from 2006 to 2014, taking particular care to look at abductors, abductees, their relationships, and common abduction locations and the time it takes to recover abducted children.
Protection 1 is not affiliated or endorsed by the United States Government nor the AMBER AlertTM program.