Steve Lewis: It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: You turn your back for a moment, and your child vanishes. Or they run away from home. Or they’re taken by someone they know.
Helping local law enforcement find missing kids–and find them fast–is one of the FBI’s most important jobs.
In today’s episode marking National Missing Children’s Day, our host Monica Grover will share with you information about the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team, an elite group of investigators who help police departments around the country find missing kids.
We’ll also discuss some of the myths about the FBI’s involvement in missing children’s cases and teach you how to keep your own family safe.
I’m Steve Lewis, and this is Inside the FBI.
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Monica Grover: Six-year-old Faye Swetlik was just playing in her front yard on February 10, 2020, when her mother stepped inside the house for a few minutes. In just those brief moments, Faye disappeared.
Following several days of searching for the little girl, she was found murdered. The investigation would reveal that Faye had been abducted by a neighbor—a killer who later took his own life.
It was a tough case for Special Agent Jim Granozio, who’s a member of the FBI Charlotte Field Office Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team and the other law enforcement officers who searched tirelessly for Faye.
Jim Granozio: Even though law enforcement did everything right, the community did everything right, that family did everything right, unfortunately we were all just too late. And this is devastating. That's devastating on us, it was devastating on that police department, but really devastating on that community. And it has lasting effects.
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Grover: When looking for a missing child, every minute counts.
Child abductions are rare in the United States, but half of all kids who are taken, and are later murdered, are killed within an hour. Within three hours, that figure jumps to 76 percent of children.
And after 24 hours, nearly 90 percent of children who are abducted, and later murdered, are killed.
Armed with these harrowing statistics, the FBI and local police departments know that they’re running a race against time whenever they set out to find a missing child.
Many police departments don’t always know exactly how to respond to child kidnappings because they’re such a rare occurrence. In fact, some departments might never have had one in their area before. As Jim Granozio explains:
Granozio: Less than 1% of all kids that go missing are true stranger abductions. It’s rare, thank goodness, right? But when it does happen, it’s so rare that most police departments have little experience working that case. And then, when you actually go in, and we actually teach how to respond to missing children to local law enforcement. And when I asked the police officers in the classroom, how many have actually ever responded to a true stranger abduction? There’s very, very few officers that raise their hands.
Grover: You just heard Jim mention teaching—that’s where the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment—or CARD—Team comes in. The team, which is currently made up of 75 agents, analysts, and other bureau personnel from across the country, teaches local law enforcement officers how to respond to child abductions. When a child goes missing, law enforcement can contact their local FBI office and ask for assistance from the team.
Granozio: So the CARD team is a tool for local law enforcement. We’re consultants, if you will. So there’s nothing that says anyone has to use the CARD team, but my job sometimes is to go out there and convince local law enforcement, state law enforcement, and local field offices, for that matter, on why they would want to use us.
Grover: Once state and local authorities ask the CARD team for help on a case, the team gets to work, first learning everything they can about that missing child.
Some of the team’s questions may seem like standard fare: “How old is the child? Have they run away from home before?”
But others questions may be less obvious: “Who have they been communicating with online? Does it look like they took their phone or their toothbrush?”
The CARD Team uses a research-based approach in their efforts to find missing children. After they’ve gathered information about the child and the circumstances of their disappearance, they partner with police on the investigation.
The tactics they use can involve canvassing the area, interviewing family, friends, and neighbors, and looking at what the child was doing online around the time they vanished. The FBI also often uses publicity tools to spread the word to the community.
And even if authorities have reason to believe that the child wasn’t kidnapped, the CARD team will still provide assistance. Children under 13 years old are less likely to run away, but older children, whether they’ve runaway or have been abducted, are vulnerable to human trafficking and other threats.
No matter the circumstances, the team’s goal is always the same: to win that race against time and bring the child home.
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Grover: What does it take for the FBI to help in find a missing kid?
As soon as a child isn’t where they’re supposed to be, we want to know. And we want to help.
But when it comes to missing children, there are a lot of myths out there that Granozio and his teammates work to dispel.
You’ve probably heard there’s something like a “24 hour rule,” this notion that FBI won’t get involved in a case until after the first 24 hours. Or that the FBI can only investigate kidnappings if it’s thought that the child has been taken to a different state. These are damaging, potentially deadly, myths.
As Jim explains:
Granozio: No need to wait 24 hours. There’s absolutely no need to show interstate travel, that the child's cross[ed] interstate lines. No need for an AMBER Alert. No need to even show evidence of an abduction. The mysterious disappearance, meaning the child, is just not where they're supposed to be, is enough for us to get involved and get involved very, very early.
Grover: So if you think a child is missing, it’s never too soon to call someone.
It’s a crucial step because the CARD Team is passionate about finding missing kids and bringing them home safe. It’s tough work, but there’s nothing they’d rather do.
Granozio: I’ve done a lot of things with the FBI. I’ve traveled to Afghanistan, to Iraq. I’ve been to Nigeria. I’ve been in critical situations all over the country, but nothing has put me more in the arena, if you will, than working a missing child case. The command post of a missing child case is like no other location I’ve ever been to. The stress, the camaraderie, the work that is involved is like nothing else I’ve ever done in the FBI.
And when you have the ability to go out and save a child and bring them home alive, it’s something that stays with you and creates a little tattoo on your heart, if you will.
Grover: At this point, if you are a parent, you’re probably asking yourself how you can protect your child. Moms and dads have chanted the mantra of “stranger danger” for decades. But as Granozio noted, strangers rarely kidnap kids, so that’s no longer enough.
Parents and caregivers also need to be aware of the dangers to children online. A now-common strategy for abducting children is meeting them online first before luring them away.
So what are some things you can do to help keep your kids safe?
Granozio: I think it’s important for parents to get involved. Know what your child is doing online, know who they're talking to. Be a resource for your child, because if you’re not the resource for your child to vent out frustrations, life’s issues, someone online will be that for them and then they’ll make a connection.
And unfortunately, lots of times that person online is a bad guy who’s trying to groom your child. And they're not gonna’ come in your house and try and abduct them. They don’t need to because that child’s going to come to them. So get involved in your child’s life. Know what they’re doing, know who they’re talking to. Know who their friends are and know who they’re communicating with.
But you also need to prepare for one day, that your child might go missing. So have your child’s information at hand quickly ready to go.
Grover: Prevention is key, but parents also need to be prepared for the unthinkable.
That’s why the FBI offers the Child ID app, which lets you store photos and physical descriptions of your child directly on your device. If you child ever goes missing, you can use the app to quickly send their information to the authorities. So instead of watching that crucial first hour after a kidnapping tick by as you search for a current photo of your child to give the police, you can help them get to work instantly.
The FBI Child ID app is available for Apple and Android devices. And know that the FBI does not store or collect the photos or information you enter into the app. The data lives on your device unless you choose to email it to law enforcement in an emergency.
For more information, visit fbi.gov/apps.
Granozio keeps the app on his own phone for his children. He knows as well as anyone that time is of the essence.
Granozio: So literally at the click of a button, literally one button, I can email that to the responding law enforcement agency, so they can have that for any missing person flyers or to send out the local and state law enforcement who are responding. And that’s a time saver. It’s all about time in this business. And if I can save that responding officer a half hour or an hour of collecting that data from me, and I can get that to them quickly. Well, by all means, I want to do that. And so I do that for my own family, and I would encourage any parent to do that for theirs.
Grover: Our partners at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have additional resources for keeping your kids safe. Visit their website at missingkids.org.
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Grover: Thanks for joining us as we got a glimpse at the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team and its vital mission. While we work to find as many children as we can in those crucial early hours, kids can go missing for months or even years. No matter how long they’re gone, though, we never forget a missing child—and we never stop searching.
In fact, on the next episode of Inside the FBI, we’ll explore the stories of a few of these kids—some of whom have been missing for decades. Tune in to learn about their cases and find out how you can help us bring them home.
Last, but not least, please take a moment on this Missing Children’s Day to visit fbi.gov/missing2021 and look at the faces of the kids we’re still searching for. You may spot a child you recognize.
This has been another production of Inside the FBI. You can follow us on your favorite podcast player, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. You can also subscribe to get email alerts for new episodes of our show at fbi.gov/podcasts.
I’m Monica Grover from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks again for tuning in.