A Day to Remember All Missing Children
Photos by Sarah Baker
“You may be asking yourself, ‘Who is this guy?’” the 59-year-old guest speaker at the podium tells the crowd filling the Justice Department’s Great Hall in the nation’s Capital. “In short, it’s complicated. I’m still trying to figure that out.”
If you look at my birth certificate and driver’s license, he says, I’m Paul Joseph Fronczak.
If you ask a genetic genealogist, I’m Jack Thomas Rosenthal.
For a short time, I was Scott McKinley.
The guest speaker, a former missing child who’s now searching for his missing twin sister, told his remarkable story at a ceremony yesterday at the Justice Department to mark the 40th Annual National Missing Children’s Day, which is recognized on May 25.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland recognizes law enforcement officers at 40th Annual National Missing Children’s Day ceremony
President Reagan named the day in memory of a 6-year-old boy named Etan Patz who vanished in 1979 while walking alone to his school bus in New York City for the very first time. National Missing Children’s Day serves as a reminder of missing children everywhere and honors those dedicated to finding them.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) was created in 1984 after Etan’s abduction and a succession of other shocking child abductions awakened the nation to the critical problem of missing children. Since then, NCMEC has helped law enforcement recover more than 400,000 missing children and has become the nation’s largest and most influential child protection organization.
“As we commemorate National Missing Children’s Day, we hold close in our hearts the families and loved ones who must go to sleep every night not knowing where their missing children are,” said Michelle DeLaune, NCMEC’s president and CEO. “Today is also a day for each one of us to recommit to our mission to ensure all children have a safe childhood.”
Michelle DeLaune, CEO and president of NCMEC, thanks audience for all they do to find missing children
A contingent of NCMEC staff who search for missing kids every day attend ceremony
The guest speaker then told the audience how he was one of the beneficiaries of the work NCMEC does every day to help find missing children. In July 1965, he was abandoned as a toddler on a street corner in Newark, New Jersey. No one had any idea who he was, or who his parents were, so he was placed into foster care where he was given the name Scott McKinley.
A little over a year earlier, in April 1964, an infant named Paul Joseph Fronczak had been abducted from a Chicago hospital by a woman posing as a nurse. The trail had run cold, but law enforcement wondered if the foster child named Scott could be that missing baby in Chicago. It couldn’t be ruled out.
The FBI contacted Paul’s parents, who had no proof that he was their biological son, but he could be, and they adopted him. With that, Scott became Paul Joseph Fronczak. Fast forward 10 years, when young Paul was snooping for Christmas presents in the crawl space of his adoptive parents' home. He stumbled upon boxes of sympathy cards and old newspaper clippings about his devastated parents' search for the son stolen from them. He asked his mother about it. She told him it was true, that he’d been kidnapped, but he’d been found and returned to them. He was their son. End of story.
He had a happy childhood, but that story haunted him growing up, he told the rapt audience. He had noticed there were differences in how they all looked, their personalities, and interests. He asked his parents in 2012 if they would take a DNA test to confirm that he was their biological son. They agreed. As it turned out, he was not Paul Fronczak. But who was he? And where was the real Paul?
He had to find out. Over the objections of his parents, he said, he hired an investigative reporter, George Knapp, whose story about the case made national headlines. The man known as Paul was interviewed by Barbara Walters on 20/20. Tips poured in.
Finally, in 2019, the “real” Paul was located. The guest speaker said he was elated that his mom, the woman who raised him, was able to talk to her biological son before he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. Her husband had also passed and didn’t get that chance.
But he still didn’t know who he was. CeCe Moore, a renowned genetic genealogist, offered to help him figure that out.
He now goes by the combined name Paul Jack Fronczak
And she did. In 2015, using his DNA, she and her team put together his family tree and discovered his true identity: Jack Thomas Rosenthal, born six months before Paul was abducted. In another twist, it turns out he had a twin sister, named Jill Lynn Rosenthal, who’s still missing.
Jill was last seen in Atlantic City sometime before July 2, 1965. NCMEC launched a campaign to help find Jill, which has yielded many tips. He thanked NCMEC for continuing the search for Jill. He now goes by the combined name Paul Jack Fronczak and prefers being known simply as “Jack.”
“The fact that I am standing before you today is a testament to the tireless work that these organizations do to reunite missing children with their families,” said Fronczak, who has written two books, was featured in a movie about his life, and is now an avid child advocate. “Unfortunately, my story is just one of many. We’re here to honor these individuals and organizations who work together to reunite missing children with their loved ones.”