What do you do if your child goes missing?

The Aiken Department of Public Safety sprang into action this week when a 16-year-old girl was reported missing after she didn't come home from school. But what should you do if you think your child is missing?

Lt. Karl Odenthal said missing child reports aren't common at Aiken Public Safety, but they do happen.

While an adult generally must be missing for 24 hours before they can be officially classified as missing, a child can be reported as missing immediately if a parent doesn't know where the child is for any amount of time.

“If you don't know where they are for any length of time, and you've made attempts and contacted friends and you're worried, I say go with your instincts and report it,” Odenthal said. “We'll help you look. We'll put it on the radio. We've got more people that we can put out.”

Odenthal said it's a good idea to stay clued in on what's going on in your child's life, in the event that he or she does run away or go missing.

If you think your child is missing or has run away, try to have a description of the clothing he is she was last seen wearing and places he or she likes to frequent.

“Those are all things that can help us establish our priority in terms of how serious it is,” he said. “One of the best things you can do is make sure you're talking to your kids and finding out what's going on in their lives. Knowing those things can end up making a difference.”

The National Runaway Safeline collaborates with bus charter company Greyhound for the Home Free program, which brings runaway children home for free. For more information, call 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929) or visit www.1800runaway.org.

A possible abduction adds even more urgency to a case.

“You've got a small window to try to find them and locate them,” Odenthal said. “The more time that goes by, the further away they can get.”

Odenthal cited a study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which found that out of 8,000 abductions, about 40 percent involved children ages 10 to 14. Additionally, a majority of the attempts were perpetrated by someone the victim knew.

“A lot of kids walk to school. Have them walk with a group or another friend,” Odenthal said. “Don't have them walk home alone. If they're younger, make sure they know a safe spot to go if they do encounter trouble along the way.”

Tell your kids to yell if a stranger is trying to get them or persuade them to get into a car. Rather than yell “Help,” tell them to yell, “He's trying to take me” or “This is not my mother.”

“Above all things, make sure kids know not to get in the car with somebody,” Odenthal said. “If they try to force you in, do all you can do to keep from getting in that car.”

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.

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