Each May, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) hosts its annual Heroes’ Awards to honor those who go above and beyond to help protect our nation’s most valuable resource – our children.
For 2023, NCMEC honored heroes in the heart of our nation’s capital, hosting the ceremony on May 11 at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Callahan Walsh emceed the ceremony and remarks were made by NCMEC CEO Michelle DeLaune and Jon Grosso, NCMEC’s Board Chair.
Although four awards were given throughout the night, NCMEC also utilized the event to honor all law enforcement officers across the country, at the local, state, and federal levels, for the amazing work they do.
“The Heroes’ Awards is a very special event for us here at the National Center,” Walsh said to begin the event. “It’s a chance to recognize the men and women who have dedicated their lives to make America a safer place for children.”
“We’re here because all of you. Whether you’re getting up on this stage to accept an award or not, if you put on the badge, you’re our hero.”
This year, NCMEC honored heroes from across the country. For their dedication to the fight for children, NCMEC was proud to honor the following everyday heroes:
On Patrol: Live
Curtis Wilson and Sgt. Sean "Sticks" Larkin (ret.) of On Patrol: Live accept their award. Photo by Sarah Baker.
Beginning with its premiere in July 2022, the hit series, On Patrol: Live, joined forces with NCMEC and the Black and Missing Foundation (BAMFI) to help solve real, ongoing cases of missing children and adults, bringing critical information to nearly four million viewers weekly.
Airing live Friday and Saturday nights on REELZ, On Patrol: Live documents for viewers in real time the everyday work of police officers on patrol from diverse departments across America. Host Dan Abrams gives minute-by-minute analysis alongside Sgt. Sean “Sticks” Larkin (ret.) and Deputy Sheriff Curtis Wilson.
On Patrol: Live, along with their powerful audience #OPNation, has helped secure unprecedented results, helping reunite children with their families. Giving much-needed national attention to many missing cases across the U.S., On Patrol: Live has assisted in the recovery of more than a dozen missing children, thanks to the series’ passionate and engaged audience.
NCMEC was proud to honor On Patrol: Live for excellence in media and can’t wait to see the continued impact of the show moving forward.
Detective Joseph Smith
Det. Joseph Smith of Franklin County Sherrif's Office accepts his award. Photo by Sarah Baker.
The night’s next honoree was Det. Joseph Smith with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
In March 2022, Det. Smith received multiple CyberTipline reports from NCMEC indicating that someone was uploading child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to the internet in his jurisdiction. Through his investigation, Det. Smith was able to determine that the child in the photos was the person uploading the images.
Despite initially appearing to be a straightforward case, Det. Smith felt that there was more to uncover. After building a strong rapport with the child, he learned that the child had actually been enticed by an adult male into creating the images and was communicating with him online. After learning this, Det. Smith didn’t stop and was able to locate and arrest the offender and identify other victims.
We honor Det. Joseph Smith for his unwavering dedication to child protection and applaud his dedication to finding answers in this case and helping the survivors move forward.
Trooper David Wesche and Communications Center Supervisor Ray Shute
Trooper David Wesche of Idaho State Police accepts his award. Photo by Claire Edkins.
Communications Center Supervisor Ray Schute of the Idaho State Police accepts his award. Photo by Sarah Baker.
The next honorees of the night followed a child abduction case that spanned states, beginning in Georgia and ending in Idaho. NCMEC celebrated the heroic actions of Idaho State Police Trooper David Wesche and Idaho State Police Communications Center Supervisor Ray Shute, who both played an instrumental role in rescuing Gabriel, an 11-year-old missing child.
When Trooper Wesche noticed the same vehicle parked on the side of the road for nearly a week, he knew something wasn’t right. His keen instincts and persistence connected him to an investigation that crossed the country, more than 2,000 miles away to a parental child abduction in LaGrange, Georgia. Despite the challenges posed by the remote location and lack of communication, Trooper Wesche worked closely with Communications Center Supervisor Shute to gather crucial information to move their investigation forward.
Trooper Wesche and his team worked tirelessly to navigate the dangerous terrain and ultimately found Gabriel and his taking parent. They were sick and weak, but alive.
NCMEC admires the bravery and honors the dedication of Wesche and Shute, who saved Gabriel’s life and returned him home safely to his mother.
Gabriel accepts the 2023 Courage Award. Photo by Claire Edkins.
Gabriel, the missing boy from Georgia, was our final honoree of the night and the 2023 Courage Award recipient.
NCMEC co-founder John Walsh brought Gabriel to the stage, where he commended Gabriel for his determination during those days he spent in the wilderness with almost no food, water, or shelter.
As the 2023 Courage Award winner, the National Center honored Gabriel for his courage and fight to stay alive in the face of the unknown. Thanks to his own bravery, the work of the Idaho State Police, and the LaGrange Police Department in Georgia, Gabriel, now 12, is home.
NCMEC President and CEO Michelle DeLaune welcomes guests and thanks our federal law enforcement partners at the 2023 Heroes’ Awards. Photo by Sarah Baker.
Co-founders of the Black and Missing Foundation Derrica and Natalie Wilson celebrate alongside the co-hosts of the hit show, On Patrol: Live, Sean “Sticks” Larkin and Curtis Wilson. Photo by Claire Edkins.
Audience members joined in to celebrate everyday heroes at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Photo by Sarah Baker.
The 2023 Heroes’ Awards given to recipients at the International Spy Museum on May 11, 2023. Photo by Sarah Baker.
Here at NCMEC, we know that not all heroes wear capes or get the daily recognition they deserve for the powerful work they do.
That’s why we want to take a moment to sincerely thank those who fight each day for the rights of children around the world.
Thank you for the work that you do.
You’re our heroes.
For more information on the Heroes’ Awards, visit our website here:
To see the 2022 Heroes' Awards recipients, visit our blog page here: