An astounding 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children. This is six times the average daily amount of missing person reports recorded in 1984. However, only approximately 100 of those reports are stereotypical abductions or kidnappings by a stranger.

For example, the federal government counted 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001. All but about 50,000 were juveniles, classified as anyone younger than 18.


The National Center for Missing Adults, based in Phoenix, consistently tracks about 48,000 “active cases,” says president Kym Pasqualini, although that number has been bumped up by nearly 11,000 reports of persons missing after this year’s hurricanes.

In a phone interview, Pasqualini said a breakdown of the 48,000 cases reveals the democratic nature of America’s missing persons.

Slightly more than half—about 25,500—of the missing are men. About four out of 10 missing adults are white, three of 10 black and two of 10 Latino. statistics

Among missing adults, about one-sixth have psychiatric problems. Young men, people with drug or alcohol addictions and elderly citizens suffering from dementia make up other significant subgroups of missing adults.

About half of the roughly 800,000 missing juvenile cases in 2001 involved runaways, and another 200,000 were classified as family abductions related to domestic or custody disputes.

Only about 100 of the missing children reports each year  fit the profile of a stereotypical abduction by a stranger or vague acquaintance.

Two-thirds of those victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight out of 10 are white females, according to a Justice Department study. Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases.

To further complicate categorization of cases, the FBI designates some missing-person incidents—both adult and juvenile—that seem most dire as “endangered” or “involuntary.”

For example, the agency deemed Taylor Behl, the 17-year-old college student missing in Richmond, Virginia, endangered.


Photo of Taylor Behl

More than 100,000 missing persons, the vast majority of them children, are designated as endangered each year. About 30,000 are deemed involuntary.

“The words ‘missing child’ call to mind tragic and frightening kidnappings reported in the national news. But a child can be missing for many reasons, and the problem of missing children is far more complex than the headlines suggest. Getting a clear picture of how many children become missing—and why—is an important step in addressing the problem.” Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency PreventionOffice of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

800,000 Missing Kids? Really? According to a 2002 study, 797,500 people under 18 were reported missing in a one-year period. Of those cases, 203,900 were family abductions, 58,200 were non-family abductions, 115 were “stereotypical kidnappings,” defined as “a non-family abduction perpetrated by a slight acquaintance or stranger in which a child is detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom or abducted with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.” These include: Over-staying a visit with a non-custodial parent qualifying as a family abduction. Some missing children have multiple entries in the database due to multiple disappearances on different occasions resulting in misleading statistics.

Out of Sight — A child’s chances of being abducted by a stranger are rare, and kidnapping ending in murder is rarer. There is one child abduction murder for every 10,000 reports of missing children, according to the Attorney General of Washington state. Parents feel children should be warned about “stranger danger,” but also fear scaring them and the greatest threat to a child is a family member or friend.

The media’s fixation with pretty white girls who become victims is so prevalent that the concept has been coined the “The Missing White Girl Syndrome.” Girls of a certain image receive disproportionate media play while missing and exploited minority children never make it beyond the local media and are soon forgotten. The Missing Pretty Girl Syndrome. Why do so many people seem to care so much more about beautiful missing white girls from privileged backgrounds than economically deprived children of all races and backgrounds.If you’re missing, it helps to be young, white and female, the legendary Damsel in Distress .

National Estimates of Children Missing Involuntarily or for Benign Reasons .

Federal Resources on Missing and Exploited Children:

The Jacob Wetterling Foundation– Protecting Children from sexual exploitation and abduction.

When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide

What About Me? Coping With the Abduction of a Brother or Sister (Guide)

Family Resource Guide on International Parental Kidnapping,

AMBER Alert: Best Practices Guide for Public Information Officers,

Amber Alerts interrupt radio and television stations regularly scheduled programming to notify the public that a child has been kidnapped. Since 95% of all people in cars listen to the radio, this is an effective way of disseminating information..The rules of use of the Amber Alerts vary, but the criteria for activation usually includes:

  • A predefined age;
  • Law enforcement believes a kidnapping occurred;
  • An agency believes the child is at high risk of serious bodily harm.

Since the late 1970s there have been reports of children of former members of the Children of God, The Family, and The Family Internationalbeing abducted and moved to other countries to keep them from parents, law enforcement and child welfare from finding them.

Missing Person’s & Unidentified Remains: The Nation’s Silent Natural Disaster


→ If you ask most Americans about a mass disaster, they’re likely to think of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina, or the Southeast Asian tsunami. Very few people—including law enforcement officials—would think of the number of missing persons and unidentified human remains in our Nation as a crisis. It is, however, what experts call “a mass disaster over time.”

The facts are sobering. On any given day, there are as many as 100,000 active missing persons cases in the United States. Every year, tens of thousands of people vanish under suspicious circumstances. Viewed over a 20-year period, the number of missing persons can be estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

Due in part to sheer volume, missing persons and unidentified human remains cases are a tremendous challenge to State and local law enforcement agencies. The workload for these agencies is staggering: More than 40,000 sets of human remains that cannot be identified through conventional means are held in the evidence rooms of medical examiners throughout the country. But only 6,000 of these cases—15 percent—have been entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

Efforts to solve missing persons cases are further hindered because many cities and counties continue to bury unidentified remains without attempting to collect DNA samples. And many labs that are willing to make the effort may not be equipped to perform DNA analysis of human remains, especially when the samples are old or degraded.

Compounding this problem is the fact that many of the Nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies don’t know about their State’s missing persons clearinghouse or the four Federal databases—NCIC, National Crime Information Center; CODIS(mp), Combined DNA Index System for Missing Persons; IAFIS, Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System; and ViCAP, Violent Criminal Apprehension Program—which can be invaluable tools in a missing person investigation. (See sidebar, “The Federal Databases and What They Do.”) Even in jurisdictions that are familiar with the State and Federal databases, some officials say they have neither the time nor the resources to enter missing persons and unidentified human remains data into the systems.

 Click here to continue reading Missing persons and unidentified remains: The Nation’s Natural Disaster written/edited by Nancy Ritter from the National Institute of Justice and Editor of the NIJ Journal.

Below is a message and resources published by John Walsh Host of America’s Most Wanted (AMW) and The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)


AMW Logo

If Your Child is Missing

Act IMMEDIATELY. Read more here or call 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

A Message from John Walsh

Pictured: John Walsh

When my son Adam was murdered, I began my journey through an America that I wish I knew nothing about. An America where adults do appalling things to children. Back in 1981 when Adam was abducted, there weren’t any resources for endangered children and their families. My wife Revé and I had no idea what to do. In an instant, our lives were turned completely upside down. We just began beating on doors asking for help. We called anyone and everyone. It felt as if we were in charge of the investigation. While we feared for our son’s safety, we were also angry at the system that was supposed to protect our son and help us.
Adam’s abduction was our private hell — but it was not an isolated incident. Life is an obstacle course for children in America today. Sadly, stranger abduction cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Physical and psychological violence and abuse, abduction, molestation, and sexual exploitation are all overwhelming in magnitude yet largely unrecognized and underreported



From the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

With viewers’ help America’s Most Wanted has helped reunite abducted children with their parents and put lots of perverts behind bars. But we’re only on TV for 1 hour a week. NCMEC is there 24/7. Since 1984, they’ve handled 2.5 million calls, assisted law enforcement in the recovery of more than 157,720 children. Their Cyber Tipline has handled more than 1,075,400 reports of child sexual exploitation.

What to do If Your Child Is Missing
Information about International Abduction
Where to Report Child Sexual Exploitation
Child-Sexual-Exploitation State Resources
Learn about Keeping Your Child Safer
Learn about how to stay safer online with the NetSmartzWorkshop

You Can Make a Difference

NCMEC was established in 1984 as a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization to provide services nationwide for families and professionals in the prevention of abducted, endangered, and sexually exploited children.

Other resources: