“There’s no place like home for the holidays.”
It’s a simple sentiment for some, the quoting of a well-known holiday song most everyone knows, but for others, especially families with missing children, being “home” for the holidays is everything they could have wished for this year.
“Home” has numerous meanings here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Whether it’s our Missing Children Division bringing home a child; our Forensic Services Unit giving an unidentified child back their name, or our Exploited Children Division making the homes of children everywhere a safer place, the idea of home holds a special place in our hearts at NCMEC. Now, as the holiday season is upon us, we’re taking time to reflect on some of our 2021 success stories from across our departments.
As we prepare for this year to end, join us in celebrating the gift of togetherness and proving that there really isn’t anything better than “home sweet home” for the holidays.
The Power of Photos: NCMEC Posters Help Bring a Hawaii Teen Home
In August 2021, Hawaii-resident and mom, Micki, reported her son Charles missing after he told her he was going to spend the night at a friend’s house and never returned home the next day.
After reporting him missing, Micki documented her sole custody of Charles and provided our team at NCMEC with information about his non-custodial father’s address in Ohio. Much like many of our other missing children’s cases, NCMEC got to work geotargeting posters on social media in Hawaii and Ohio. On Sept. 10, our hotline received two promising leads, one of which would help bring Charles home.
A local troop of boy scouts became suspicious when a teenager filled out an application without knowing some of his own personal details, so the scouts quickly searched the boy’s name on this internet and found his NCMEC missing poster. After calling the police, Charles was recovered while boarding a bus for a field trip. On Sept. 20, Micki flew to Ohio and was reunited with her son.
According to Micki, “NCMEC posters are the bomb!”
Justice is Served: NCMEC CyberTip Leads to Arrest in Wyoming
In October 2021, NCMEC received a CyberTipline report from an electronic service provider (ESP) containing information on possible child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Upon a review of the files reported by the ESP, NCMEC analysts located numerous images and videos showing the sexual abuse of a young female child. The images appeared new to analysts, who immediately started conducting analysis on the information in hopes of determining a possible location for the child victim.
Through this work, NCMEC was able to refer the information to the Wyoming Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force and alert them to this high-priority case. Less than 24 hours later, the task force in Wyoming obtained a warrant on the possible suspect and took him into custody. It was there that he confessed to possession of child sexual abuse material and a prior sexual assault.
After a successful arrest of the suspect, NCMEC received high praise from the Wyoming ICAC as well.
“Without you and your team’s amazing work, we wouldn’t be able to effectively investigate these cases,” a member of the task force said. “Due to your excellent work, we were able to get this suspect into custody and rescue the child victim less than 18 hours after receiving the first email.”
In December of this year, NCMEC’s CyberTipline reached a daunting new milestone after surpassing 100 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation. In 2020 alone, NCMEC received a total of 21.7 million reports.
Cracking a Mystery: NCMEC's Forensic Services Unit Helps ID Virginia Woman
It was Sept. 12, 1976, in the town of Woodlawn, Maryland, just west of Baltimore. That day, along a cemetery access road, the body of a Caucasian female was found wrapped in a white sheet. Less than 24 hours earlier, she had died of asphyxia, and there was evidence of a sexual assault.
Over four decades, the unknown woman was called “Woodlawn Jane Doe.” The only clues to her identity: two brass keys, a homemade tattoo on her upper right arm with the letters “JP” and a scar on her right thigh.
Original leads led the investigation to Massachusetts, where police hit a dead end. 30 years later, DNA profiles were developed for the victim and an unknown male, but there were no hits in the national database as matches.
That’s when the Baltimore County police called NCMEC for help. In 2008, our Forensic Services Unit (FSU) began tirelessly working on the case. Forensic artists did three facial reconstructions over the years, the media team produced a video and posters were mailed to 148 law enforcement agencies across Massachusetts. In addition, our Team Adam consultants met with Baltimore police to offer recommendations and our analysts took on the job of chasing down any potential leads.
“NCMEC never put this case down,” said Carol Schweitzer, supervisor of FSU. “We were always evaluating the case and applying internal resources and emerging forensic resources to help keep it moving forward over the years.”
After hosting a comprehensive case review at NCMEC headquarters, the FSU team met with Baltimore police and our partner, Bode Technology. Together, they developed a plan to do whole genome sequencing and forensic genealogy on the victim through DNA evidence.
In Sept. 2021, 45 years after her body was found, Bode’s team identified a potential lead to a female named Margaret Fetterolf. After locating her relatives and obtaining DNA samples for direct comparison, the mystery was solved.
Finally, “Woodlawn Jane Doe” was given a name. Margaret was 16 when she vanished while living with her family in Alexandria, Virginia. Baltimore police continue to look for her killer.
Since 2018, NCMEC has seen 36 unidentified juvenile cases resolved by a tip developed through forensic genealogy efforts. Twenty-one of those cases were resolved in 2021 alone.
Schweitzer and her team anticipate an even higher success rate in 2022.
There’s an old saying, “home is where the heart is,” and here at NCMEC, our hearts are dedicated to a promise to never stop fighting to keep hope alive. So, no matter how far away you roam, there really is no place like home for the holidays. From our NCMEC family to yours, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season!
If you think you may have information that could bring another child home this holiday season, we encourage you to call 1-800-THE-LOST. Current missing posters can be found on our website at https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/search