There are three missing child cases in the news today. Can you help find them? And how can we protect our own children?
As mothers, any time we see a story about a missing child, it sends chills down our spines. It's every mother's worst nightmare.
Today, three mothers are living that nightmare ... their kids have gone missing in the last week. Can you help find them?
• 7-year-old Somer Thompson of Florida has been missing since Monday afternoon. She was last seen on her way home from school. "Please bring her back to us," her mother, Diena Thompson, said through her choked-back sobs during an interview from Clay County, Fla., with TODAY's Erin Burnett. "She belongs with her family. She belongs with us. She belongs with her twin brother, please bring her home." Somer is 3 feet 5 inches tall, weighs 65 pounds, and has long brown hair,
which was pulled back in a ponytail. She was wearing a cranberry
jumpsuit with pink striped sleeves and carrying a black, pink, and white
Hannah Montana backpack with a skull and hearts on it when she disappeared. Police are urging anyone with any information to contact the Clay County Sheriff's Office at 1-877-227-6911.
UPDATE 6:17 AM PT: The body of a small child found in a Georgia landfill has been identified as Somer Thompson. Our heart is breaking for the family.
• Authorities are searching for a Thousand Oaks, California, teen who has been missing since Monday. Alexandria Phipps, 15, left her house on Monday morning on her way to Westlake High School. Phipps never arrived at school, and foul play is suspected. She has no prior history of running away and is described as a quiet girl. She is 5' 8" and weighs 120 pounds, and has red hair and brown eyes. Phipps was last seen wearing a gold tank top with multicolored horizontal lines, a blue hoodie, blue jeans, black shoes, and carrying a black and red backpack. Anyone with information regarding Phipps' whereabouts is asked to contact Detective Jon Smith at the Thousand Oaks Police Department, (805) 494-8216.
UPDATE 12:05 PM PT: Alexandria Phipps has been found at a California youth center. Story developing...
• Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old education major, went to the Metallica concert at the University of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville with several girlfriends Saturday night, but disappeared from their sight around 8:40 PM, according to police, who are calling it a missing person case. Harrington is 5' 6", 120 pounds, has blond hair, blue eyes, and was wearing a black Pantera T-shirt, black mini skirt, black tights, and black boots. "She was excited about the concert, and she brought home three outfits that she tried on for me," her mom, Gil Harrington, said Tuesday on HLN's "Nancy Grace." Anyone who has seen her or has knowledge about her whereabouts is asked to call U. Va. police at (434) 924-7166, or state police at (434) 352-3435.
These families are in our thoughts every minute ... we hope and pray their children are found safe as soon as possible.
An alarming 39% of stranger abductions happen when kids are walking to and from school. Should you let your kids walk to school? Dr. Janet Taylor recently appeared on the "Today" show discussing this very topic, and said it's a very individual decision. You want your kids to develop independence without fear, but you also want to keep them safe. (You can see the full segment here.)
Former FBI agent Dr. Clinton R. Van Zandt says if you let your kids walk home alone, you must teach them to be cautious and to be able to recognize when something may be wrong. He gives away a free DVD, "Protecting Children from Predators," on his website.
Here are Van Zandt's top tips for parents:
1. THE KEY IS COMMUNICATION: It is important to talk openly with your children about all safety issues, including what to do in a potential abduction situation.
2. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: Talk to your children about the rules pertaining to strangers. Let them know a stranger or predator looks just like any other person, and will use any number of ways to lure a child. Remember, the vast number of children who are victimized know their assailants.
3. COMMON PREDATOR LURES: Pretending to look for a lost pet; asking the child for directions; giving or promising candy and/or money if the child will go to their car; and threatening to hurt family members if the child does not comply. It's time for your child to run!
4. Never label clothing, backpacks, or other personal items with your child's name. A predator will use this information to try to gain your child's trust. (Place the label inside the object and/or use the child's initials or some design for easy identification.)
5. Give your children instructions on what to do if they get separated from you in a mall, supermarket, or any other public place. Tell them to first find a mother with children or any woman and let them know they are lost. Also they can go to a check-out counter, information desk, or approach a police officer.
6. Make sure that your child knows his or her full name, address, and phone number and the phone number for the place where you work or how to contact you. They also need to know how to dial 911, make collect calls, and dial the operator on a pay phone.
7. Know where your children are at all times, and keep a list of their friend's names, addresses, and phone numbers, and remember to update your children's records including a photo every 6-12 months. Be aware of overnight parties unless you personally know and trust the teens and adults living and having access to that home.
8. Trust your own instincts -- if you don't feel good about a person, keep your child away from that person.
9. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: Going over this information once with your children is not enough! You need to continue to rehearse and "role play" to make the learning permanent so your child can react properly when under pressure.
10. IF YOUR CHILD IS MISSING: Try not to panic. First check everywhere in the house, then check with your neighbors and your child's friends. If you still cannot locate them, call the police immediately. REMEMBER: There is no waiting period required to report a missing child to the police.
We hope that these girls are found safe as soon as possible, and are brought back home where they belong.