As you hit the road this holiday season, be sure to check out the video playing on your gas pump when you stop to top off your tank. You could help bring a missing child home for Thanksgiving.
At more than 26,000 gas stations in 48 states, GSTV is giving motorists – 96 million a month – some light-hearted entertainment, news, sports, music, even DIY tips on videos playing at the pump during the few minutes it takes to fill up their tanks. It’s also giving them a chance to potentially save a child at risk.
In 2019, GSTV began partnering with NCMEC and sharing photos and information about missing children at participating gas stations in 25 states. Since then, 148 of the 223 missing children it has featured have been safely recovered.
Each month, we give GSTV information about one to three children for each location who are either missing from the vicinity where motorists have pulled over for gas or are believed to still be in the area or in the state.
Many are endangered runaways – at risk of being trafficked for sex or exploited in other ways – or children who have been abducted by non-custodial family members or, in rare cases, by strangers. Some are children who have recently gone missing; others have been missing for as long as 20 or 30 years.
The company distributes 15 to 20-second videos with the child’s photo, descriptive information and our hotline number, 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678), for motorists to call if they’ve seen the child.
“If you’re on the move you need gas,” said Senior Producer Rebecca Steinbach, who oversees the program at NCMEC. “I’d encourage everyone to pay attention to what’s on the screen. It’s a short video, but please look at it. It just takes one person to find a missing child.”
Since we opened our doors more than 37 years ago, one thing has remained constant: photos of missing children are the most effective tool for finding kids. What has dramatically changed is how fast we can distribute those photos and how we can pinpoint with precision the people in the best position to help.
Through our photo partners, we’ve distributed literally billions of missing posters and helped law enforcement recover more than 355,000 kids. From the long-ago days when photos of missing kids were placed on milk cartons, we can now quickly geo-target them to a very specific area – campgrounds, shopping malls, even a stretch of highway – where law enforcement believes a missing child might be found.
The partnership with GSTV grew out of the successful music video campaign, “Runaway Train,” that featured images of missing children. We did a remix of Soul Asylum’s ground-breaking music video from the 1990s, collaborating with artists Jamie N Commons, Skylar Grey and Gallant, which was played on social media and television.
We wanted to keep the campaign going, with the goal being to get as many eyes as we could on the missing children in the video. What better place than gas stations which are in every town and where you literally have a captive audience at the pump? (except in New Jersey and Oregon where you can’t pump your own gas.)
“Our goal is to continue to help NCMEC recover missing children,” said Violet Ivezaj, SVP, Business Operations, with GSTV, which donates the video time and production to us. “We’re leveraging our platform and those 96 million monthly viewers to do good and help NCMEC bring those children home.”
The value of being able to enlist gas stations to help us find missing kids is immeasurable, said Steinbach. Everyone at one time or another stops at a gas station to fill up, get a quick bite to eat, ask for directions or use the restroom – even missing children and the people who abduct them.
In one case, Steinbach said law enforcement was especially concerned about a missing Pennsylvania girl who they believed to be in extreme danger and asked that she be featured on GSTV. A friend saw her photo, knew she was frightened and hiding, and called police.
In addition to leveraging their videos on the gas pumps, GSTV is trying to do more to help by recruiting those gas stations with convenience stores to become safe havens for missing children, said Dan Trotzer, EVP, Industry, for GSTV.
“We also want staff to be aware when a child is missing,” said Trotzer, noting that gas stations are frequent places where a missing child might end up and are often open 24-hours a day. “They can come in the convenience store and be protected.”
GSTV has been encouraging gas stations to get their employees plugged in and involved. Through NCMEC’s Adam Program, businesses like convenience stores and the public can sign up to receive emails or text messages when a missing child is believed to be in their area in real time. Gas station employees are learning what steps to take if they encounter a missing child. And it’s working.
One 15-year-old girl was being held captive for three months and her parents were frantic. More than 300 miles from home, she devised a plan to escape, repeatedly asking her abductor to stop at a gas station so she could use the bathroom. When he finally did, she bolted from the car and ran inside the convenience store for help. Realizing she was in danger, the employee locked her in the bathroom to keep her safe and called police.
Another convenience store in Texas that recently signed up for the Adam Program posted a missing poster of a 1-year-old baby, the subject of an AMBER Alert, in their store that a customer happened to see. When the customer returned to her apartment complex, she spotted the abductor with the child outside the complex and anonymously called police.
Missing children have even seen their own faces on the videos at gas pumps, including a 15-year-old South Dakota boy missing for three months and believed to be in Colorado or Wyoming. He was featured on GSTV, where he spotted his own photo and called police. Parents with children who have been missing for a long time are especially grateful to have their child featured in gas pump videos.
So please, as you head out for Thanksgiving, please look at the young faces if they’re featured on your gas pump. Their parents will be so grateful.