Photography by: Sarah Baker and Claire Edikins
Dressed in a silver sparkling dress, a shy first grader stood next to her parents on the big stage, as she was recognized for her bravery. 6-year-old Ken’adi Nash was one of several honorees at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s 2022 HOPE Gala awards in Washington D.C. Thursday night.
In August, Ken’adi was nearly abducted just steps from her front door in Hamilton, Ohio. She was taking out the trash when a stranger grabbed her and dragged her down the sidewalk. When Ken’adi screamed and kicked, the man let her go. He was later arrested after her father chased after him and police located the man hiding in a parked car.
NCMEC honored the courage of 6-year-old Ken’adi Nash for her bravery in fighting back against her abductor just steps from her door in a small town in Ohio.
Every year, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) celebrates the inspiring work being done globally to protect children. Two years after COVID-19 forced many events to go virtual, NCMEC was excited to welcome back the HOPE Gala, held at The Wharf, stretching out over the Potomac River. With a stunning sunset above the 8,000-square-foot pier, it was the perfect venue for this year’s awards. Angie Goff, news anchor at WTTG-Fox 5 DC served as Master of Ceremonies for the three-hour event.
In addition to honoring Ken’adi, NCMEC paid tribute to Peddle the Pacific, Palantir, Attorney Maggy Krell, Soledad O’Brien Productions and Sheri and Bo Farmer.
“I look around and see so many of NCMEC’s Champions,” said Jon Grosso, Chair of NCMEC’s Board of Directors as he addressed attendees. “It gives me immense pride, knowing you are all here to support children and this great organization.”
“We lead the fight to protect children, creating vital services for them and the people who keep them safe,” said NCMEC’s new President and CEO, Michelle DeLaune. “I’m thrilled to share this beautiful night with you all.”
To kick off the evening, NCMEC presented the first Hope Award to a nonprofit organization, Pedal the Pacific (PTP). The group of young women is dedicated to raising awareness around human trafficking, riding their bicycles from Seattle to San Diego every year. In 2022, they raised more than $120,000 and donated their proceeds to NCMEC to help fund outreach programs.
The first award of the night went to Pedal the Pacific. Grace Pfeffer, Savannah Lovelace former NCMEC employee, director of Pedal the Pacific and Sara Belmer.
Sara Belmer, Grace Pfeffer and Savannah Lovelace, former NCMEC employee and Director of PTP, accepted the award. “Trafficking and exploitation is such a heavy topic, that having something simple as a bike allows people to come up to us and ask questions, show interest and curiosity and break down walls,” said Belmer.
“We are shocked that NCMEC is honoring us. NCMEC deserves all the praise,” said Lovelace. “And how proud we are to represent NCMEC as an organization.”
NCMEC also honored one of its largest and most supportive technology partners, Palantir. Palantir’s software program, Foundry, has revolutionized NCMEC’s database capabilities to help locate missing children, stop child sexual exploration, and track down predators. NCMEC receives more than HALF a million reports of suspected child exploitation through its hotline and CyberTipline weekly, which is a staggering number.
Angela Muller, the software engineer who leads Palantir’s work in child exploitation accepted the Hope Award on behalf of her team at Palantir.
“Not only does NCMEC do an incredible job supporting law enforcement in the U.S, but also in every single country in the world. They are an incredible organization and it's been a pleasure supporting them,” said software engineer Angela Muller, who leads Palantir’s work in counter child exploitation.
The criminal justice system is a vital link in fighting child safety and NCMEC wanted to recognize criminal prosecutor and human rights lawyer Maggy Krell. She was instrumental in dismantling the website Backpage.com. which was a classified ad site where people could buy or sell children for sex. NCMEC thanked Krell, author of Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World’s Largest Sex Trafficker, for being a true champion for children.
Maggy Krell, Criminal prosecutor, human rights lawyer, and author of “Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World’s Largest Sex Trafficking”.
“This is an incredible honor,” said Krell. “NCMEC isn’t just fighting tirelessly day and night to find missing kids, they are also giving us the tools to prevent trafficking and exploitation in the first place.”
NCMEC paid special tribute to Sheri and Bo Farmer. In 1977, their 8-year-old daughter, Lori, was murdered along with two other young girls while at an overnight Girl Scout Camp. The Farmers have spent the past 45 years advocating for victims’ rights across the country, helping to pass stronger victim rights laws. They also founded Oklahoma’s Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. Their story is now the center of Hulu’s recent docuseries, “The Keeper of Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders.”
Sheri and Bo Farmer are honored for their commitment & bravery.
“Thank you so much for giving us this award. We are grateful and humbled, said Sheri. “It’s been 45 years, and Beau and I have come to realize there is always hope. Hope for us and all families. This award is for Lori.”
NCMEC also honored award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien and her team at SOB Productions for their HBO Documentary, “Black and Missing.” The four-part series explores the socioeconomic factors and perceptions that play a role in the disappearance of Black women and girls. It also delves into how mainstream media often focuses on missing white women and girls, while other races don’t get the same kind of coverage. Soledad O’Brien was unable to attend but did send a video message. “Thank you NCMEC it is truly an honor to be recognized by you,” said O’Brien. “And thanks to all of you for your advocacy, pressure and the hard work that you do to bring those that have gone missing home.”
Callahan Walsh, Executive Director of NCMEC’s Florida branch and Co-Host of “In Pursuit with John Walsh”.
The event gave NCMEC another opportunity to raise awareness about sextortion. Callahan Walsh, NCMEC’s Florida Executive Director and Co-Host of “In Pursuit with John Walsh,” talked about how children across America are being blackmailed online, forced to send explicit photos of themselves. “At NCMEC, we’ve ramped up our messaging, specifically to teenage boys. It’s more important than ever that children have access to help and resources they need if they get in trouble.”
The final award of the evening was presented by John Walsh, host of Discovery ID’s “In Pursuit” and co-founder of the National Missing and Exploited Children. He praised little Ken’adi for her brave actions, fighting off her abductor and doing everything right.
“NCMEC teaches children to cause a scene; scream, kick, fight back,” said Walsh. “That’s hard enough for an adult, but for a child it’s remarkable.”
Ken’adi’s story of courage brought tears to many in the audience. It was a beautiful highlight to an amazing evening dedicated to the mission of protecting children. Because every child deserves a safe childhood.
For more information on how you can join NCMEC’s mission and educate yourself on abductions and child sexual exploitation, visit our website here: https://www.missingkids.org/.