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Stats show state has second-fewest missing children in nation

Within moments of Mitchell police receiving a report of a missing child, officers are en route to the reporting party to gather information and begin their search.

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Within moments of Mitchell police receiving a report of a missing child, officers are en route to the reporting party to gather information and begin their search.

It's all hands on deck.

They're looking for a 7-year-old, four-foot tall girl with blonde hair and brown eyes, who hasn't been seen since leaving school that afternoon - nearly four hours earlier.

Police comb the streets, trace leads and notify the media. Within an hour, officers find the girl at a park located between the school and her home. She noticed some of her friends at the park on her way home, got sidetracked and lost track of time.

She could have been the third child added to South Dakota's list of missing children, but instead was added to the even longer list of success stories.

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The hypothetical situation, laid out by Mitchell Det. Lt. Don Everson, is the "best-case scenario," and illustrates modern police practices of treating missing children reports as criminal cases from the beginning. Everson believes the swift action and evolving police protocol in regards to missing children contributes to South Dakota's nearly nation-leading statistics in keeping kids safe.

As of Tuesday, According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, of the 4,269 missing kids in the United States, two are from South Dakota, the second-lowest state total in the country, behind only Rhode Island with one missing child listed. With 632, California is the state with the most missing children, followed by Florida with 388 and Texas with 355.

The database that tracks the number of missing children is updated daily, based upon new reports and when children are located.

"I think that kind of speaks to the kind of communities we have in South Dakota," Everson said. "That's not saying there aren't incidents here, but there are people looking out for one another and helping to keep themselves and the people around them safe."

Should a case not resolve as effortlessly as Everson's hypothetical, police will often issue a Nixle alert - a message sent to subscribers' phones and emails - within the first two hours of searching. And, if a child is believed to be in danger of bodily harm or death, and enough credible information from eyewitnesses is provided that could assist in the safe recovery of the child, an Amber Alert may be issued.

Everson said Mitchell police receive reports of missing children each year, with reports increasing when weather warms, but it is difficult to determine the exact amount. Some cases are resolved nearly instantly and reports aren't written, while some are classified differently, based upon each case's circumstances-basically, Everson said, not all cases that start as "missing children," are officially categorized as such when they conclude.

Prior to the 1989 abduction of Minnesota boy Jacob Wetterling that garnered national attention, Everson said police were more lax in pursuing missing children cases, often assuming the case would fall into the majority-that the child was just late getting home, out with friends.

But the abduction, molestation and murder of Wetterling changed how officers across the country react.

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"Years ago, law enforcement treated it totally differently," Everson said. "Cops everywhere are handling cases better now."

The last serious case involving a missing child Everson can remember happened outside of Mitchell nearly a decade ago in rural Hanson County.

On June 16, 2007, Lyle Edward Doering abducted his children from an Ethan residence, leaving in a vehicle and a 30-minute police pursuit ensued. The chase ended with a fiery crash and the death of Doering and two of the three children.

"Most kids who are taken when there's foul play, are taken by somebody who knows them," Everson said.

Everson's observations line up with statistics gathered by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

The organization reports abductions are most commonly attempted by parents of the children, based on national research spanning from Jan. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2014.

And, while Mitchell is generally safe, due in part to its relatively small population and rural landscape, Everson said no place is immune to crimes against children.

"Bad things can happen anywhere at any time," Everson said. "People just have to watch children. Even if you don't know them, if you see something that doesn't quite look right ... I think everybody has a duty to look out for those situations. I don't think there's anything more important than protecting children."

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But South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said South Dakota police efforts to minimize risks that could lead to children being abducted should not go unappreciated. And much of those efforts are centered around important statewide programs, Jackley said.

"As South Dakota Attorney General, I am committed to protecting our children. Law enforcement statewide continues to participate in programs that are centered on the prevention of child abduction," Jackley said in a statement. "Statewide efforts include S.D. Amber Alert, Child Abduction Response Team (CART), Endangered Missing Advisory, S.D. Child Identification Program (SDCHIP) are all part of the overall success in keeping our children safe."

South Dakota's missing children

• Sharon Baldeagle was 12 years old when she vanished from Eagle Butte, on Sept. 18, 1984, and was last seen in Casper, Wyoming. Foul play is suspected. According to The Associated Press, Baldeagle and a friend ran away from home and hitched a ride from Royal Russell Long near Casper. He took the pair to his home, pointed a gun at them, then tied them up and beat Baldeagle. The friend escaped and called the police, who returned to an empty house. Law enforcement picked up Long a week later in Albuquerque, New Mexico He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and one count of aggravated assault and died in prison in 1993. Long maintained he had dropped Sharon off with someone in Cheyenne who took her to Texas.

• Meanwhile, a 2-year-old boy from Mission has been missing since Oct. 12, 2016 possibly in the company of his mother. Officials believe the two could still be in the Mission area. Tarron is a brown-haired, brown-eyed boy, who weighs approximately 25 pounds.

Related Topics: CRIME
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