Office of Justice Programs News

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2000 at 2:00 PM, EDT


WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The Lancaster, Ohio Police Department was honored today by Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. for the quick recovery of an abducted three-year-old in April 1999. Detective Captain David Bailey accepted the Officer of the Year Award for Missing and Exploited Children Investigations on behalf of his whole department.

Detective Bailey and his colleagues recovered the child three days after her abduction. A doctor who examined the child estimated that she was approximately six hours from her death when she was recovered.

"The Lancaster Police Department's immediate investigation and swift recovery saved a child's life," said Holder. "Today we honor them and law enforcement officers nationwide whose dedication and hard work save children's lives every day."

The award was a part of the 17th annual National Missing Children's Day ceremony, which also honored six other law enforcement officers for their outstanding efforts in recovering and assisting abducted and abused children. The Deputy Attorney General also presented an award to the Bells of Love, a children's musical group from Syracuse, New York that formed in response to the 1993 abduction and murder of Sara Wood, a 12-year-old girl in upstate New York. The Bells of Love have performed at the last six National Missing Children's Day ceremonies.

In addition, Deputy Attorney General Holder presented Shamari Clements, a 10-year-old student from Fort Smith, Arkansas, the First Place Award in the first annual Missing Children's Day Art Contest. Her work, which was selected from over 57 finalists nationwide, was displayed at the ceremony and will be featured in missing children-related publications and conferences.

"Raising public awareness about missing and abducted children is a critical part of the nationwide effort to bring these children home," said John J. Wilson, Acting Administrator of the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. "It is gratifying to see so many examples of young people who have become involved in this effort."

Today's ceremony also marked the two-year anniversary of OJJDP's publication of When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, written by parents who have experienced the trauma of a missing child. The guide provides critical information for families to use in working with law enforcement to find a missing child. To date, OJJDP has distributed over 60,000 copies of the guide, including one to each law enforcement agency and public library in the nation.

In April 2000, OJJDP unveiled the Spanish translation of the guide (Cuando su Ni?o Desaparece: Una Gu?a Para la Supervivencia de la Familia). OJJDP is distributing approximately 42,000 copies to law enforcement agencies and libraries in predominantly Spanish-speaking areas, as well as to national Hispanic organizations.

OJJDP and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which receives funding from OJJDP, selected the following 2000 Officer of the Year honorees from over 60 nominations received:

  • Lancaster Police Department
    Lancaster, Ohio

On April 26, 1999, three-year-old Ashley disappeared while playing in her yard. The Lancaster Police Department began an immediate investigation. Three days later, after following up on a lead about a sexual offender living near the victim and from scent indications by search and rescue dogs, Captain David Bailey and Detective Mike Peters were assigned to interview a twice-convicted sexual predator. They coordinated surveillance of his home while they went to interview his roommate. The roommate informed the officers that he had heard noises up in the attic, which sounded like rats rustling around. Police cut a hole in the ceiling, looked in and saw clothing and a shoe--the same garments Ashley was wearing when she disappeared. Police cut another hole and climbed into the attic. Deputy Chief Jeffrey Gerken found Ashley bound, gagged, dehydrated, and tied to a wooden beam. She had several layers of duct tape around her head, and her wrists and ankles were crossed and bound with tape. Police arrested the offender, who confessed that he sealed Ashley in the attic the day after she was kidnapped, sexually abused her and left her there for at least two days. The offender also admitted that he was planning to leave town. The doctor who examined Ashley estimated that she was approximately six hours from her death when she was found. The Lancaster Police Department's swift action saved Ashley's life.

  • Scott Wilson, Senior Resident Agent
    FBI?Painesville Township Division
    Painesville, Ohio

On October 24, 1999, 16-month-old Nicole was dropped off by her mother for a visit with her non-custodial father, a Jordanian national. Shortly afterwards, the father illegally took Nicole to Jordan. Agent Scott Wilson obtained an International Parental Kidnapping warrant and visited the mother frequently to inform her of the progress of the investigation. The father called a few days later claiming to be in California. Agent Wilson contacted the FBI in Israel and asked for their assistance in pinpointing the father's exact location in Jordan. During the following two months, the father made frequent calls to the mother requesting that she drop past domestic violence charges against him. With Agent Wilson's help, the mother appeased the father, who eventually asked for Nicole's U.S. passport to travel back to America. Through NCMEC's Victim Reunification Program, Nicole's mother was able to purchase return tickets for the father and Nicole. The father was instructed to go to the U.S. Embassy and meet with the Consul General to obtain Nicole's passport. The Consul, through NCMEC, had been briefed on the FBI's strategy and was able to further calm the father's fears. Agent Wilson also coordinated efforts with the FBI at JFK International Airport. On December 11, 1999, the father was apprehended upon his arrival in New York and Nicole was returned to her mother. When she arrived, Nicole was in a deplorable state; she was filthy, had not been properly bathed in weeks and had an 102 degree temperature. Agent Wilson's dedication and ability to coordinate a multinational recovery operation led to Nicole's swift return.

  • Sergeant Investigator Awilda Cartagena
    Texas Department of Public Safety
    Garland, Texas

On October 6, 1993, three-year-old Johnny was abducted by his non-custodial father. After six years and many fruitless leads, NCMEC received a new lead from an anonymous caller in August 1999. The lead was immediately disseminated to Sergeant Investigator Awilda Cartagena in Garland, Texas. Sgt. Cartagena went to a local elementary school to discuss with school personnel the possibility that Johnny was enrolled under a fictitious name. Sgt. Cartagena showed school personnel age-progressed photographs of Johnny. One member of the school staff finally recognized a photo that resembled "Huber," a student living with his single father. Further investigation revealed that "Huber" was, in fact, Johnny. Sgt. Cartagena volunteered for morning crosswalk duty at the elementary school. On the morning of August 31, 1999, Sgt. Cartagena, along with other officers, stopped Johnny's father after he dropped his son off at school. Once Sgt. Cartagena had identified herself and informed Johnny's father that she conducted missing person investigations, he confessed to having abducted his son six years earlier and reavealed his true identity. Sgt. Cartagena's hard work and ingenuity were critical in returning Johnny safely to his mother.

  • K. Jill Hill, Special Agent
    FBI?Little Rock Office
    Little Rock, Arkansas

On the morning of June 11, 1999, the Little Rock office of the FBI was notified by the Saline County Sheriff's Office that three-year-old Destiny had been abducted from her home in Mablevale, Arkansas during the night. Special Agent Hill was assigned the case and, along with other Little Rock FBI Special Agents and the Little Rock Evidence Response Team (ERT), coordinated with the Saline County Sheriff's Office, the Arkansas State Police, and the Benton Police Department to begin a neighborhood investigation and search. Through a skillful interview of Destiny's family, Special Agent Hill was able to direct investigative teams to begin looking for the victim's uncle as a possible suspect. The ERT recovered evidence and fingerprints at the scene that proved the uncle had entered the home through Destiny's bedroom window at the back of the house. At approximately 6:30 p.m., the uncle was arrested about one mile from Destiny's home. Special Agent Hill interrogated him and found that he had left Destiny in a nearby wooded area. With darkness approaching, search teams were assembled and began on-line walks through the woods. The Little Rock Police Department provided a helicopter with an infrared search device, but thunderstorms curtailed its use. Preliminary sweeps through the area were unsuccessful. On her last sweep through the area, Special Agent Hill heard a faint response to her calls to Destiny. At approximately 9:30 p.m., Special Agent Hill found Destiny, who was covered with insect bites. Destiny was examined by a medical team, who determined that the child had been sexually assaulted. The quick and thorough response of Special Agent Hill and her team led to the successful recovery of Destiny less than 24 hours after her abduction.

  • Detective Michael Schirling
    Burlington Police Department
    Burlington, Vermont

On July 27, 1999, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's (NCMEC) CyberTipline received a report of a man using the Internet to look for pictures of 10-13-year-old boys. NCMEC staff conducted Internet searches that determined that the offender had used a computer located at the University of Vermont (Burlington) to look for his victims. They also discovered his e-mail address and identity. The staff then contacted Detective Mike Schirling, who had attended Internet Crimes Against Children training sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Fox Valley Technical College, and NCMEC. Two hours after being contacted, Det. Schirling went to the campus under the guise of organizing a student safety event. Det. Schirling learned that the suspect was away for the summer working at a boy's camp in New Hampshire, where he had worked for four years. Det. Schirling immediately drafted three search warrants to be served on the suspect's room, parent's house, and the suspect's computer files. The searches revealed that the suspect possessed approximately 6,000 images of child pornography and child erotica. Some of the files were named after children from the boy's camp, including one 11-year-old camper who was being abused by the suspect. In addition, several 35 mm pictures of nude boys, including some campers, were found hidden in the suspect's home. The suspect was charged in Vermont with multiple counts of use of a child in a sexual performance. He also will be indicted in New Hampshire on sexual assault charges. Det. Schirling coordinated the investigation with eight different agencies to handle the broad scope of this interstate case.

  • Inspector Paul Groza, Jr.
    U.S. Postal Inspection Service
    Portland, Oregon

On August 11, 1998, NCMEC received a CyberTipline report regarding a Website that contained pictures of a 12-year-old boy who lived in Portland, Oregon. The site was constructed by the child's father, allegedly for his son. The site stated that the boy was looking for a girlfriend between 8 and 13 years old. Inspector Groza initiated a sting operation, which included numerous communications with the suspect through the Website. The suspect expressed his desire to cause the sexual exploitation of his three minor sons, and to involve his family with another family in demonstrating sexual activities to the children. Inspector Groza also found that a female neighbor was involved with the suspect in planning a sexual relationship between her 11-year-old daughter and the suspect's son. Inspector Groza further identified five other possible victims, all of whom were female minors. A search warrant executed on the residence of the suspect and his wife resulted in the confiscation of a computer. Their three minor children, who evidenced signs of abuse and neglect, were taken into protective custody. Thanks to Inspector Groza's efforts, both the suspect and his wife were convicted on multiple counts of child abuse and exploitation on October 14, 1999.

  • Officer James Lee
    Lake Bluff Police Department
    Lake Bluff, Illinois

On October 1,1998, shredded pieces of photographs were found in the trash of a prominent figure in a local child mentoring organization. Officer James Lee assembled these pieces and discovered that the photographs depicted suspicious poses of the suspect and an unknown male youth. This discovery prompted a four-month investigation that produced sufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant for the suspect's home. To prepare for the search, Officer Lee assembled a group of evidence technicians, child abuse investigators, computer experts, states attorneys, and members of the Department of Child and Family Services. After three hours of searching, investigators located a false wall inside a closet. The evidence behind the wall documented severe sexual abuse and assault of three young boys. Homemade videotapes and photographs were labeled with the victims' names and recorded the sexual development of each child. The hidden compartment also contained a collection of sexual aids used during the abuse. Interviews with the identified victims and families were conducted. The suspect was arrested and charged with the aggravated criminal sexual abuse and aggravated criminal sexual assault of the youths entrusted to his care. Victims' statements matched evidence located by Officer Lee and indicated almost two decades of sexual abuse and assaults. Victims stated that the suspect would take them to other states and that he would sexually abuse and assault them during these trips. One victim had been matched with the suspect as a mentor for over nine years and had been sexually abused since the age of eight. The crimes were later described by Lake County Judge Barbara Gilleran Johnson as " the most despicable and graphic" she had ever encountered. The efforts of Officer Lee and his team helped bring the offender to justice and prevented him from hurting more children.

The Deputy Attorney General was joined at today's ceremony by Congressman Nicholas V. Lampson, (9th District ? Texas); Deputy FBI Director Thomas J. Pickard; Mr. Wilson; John Walsh, Host of "America's Most Wanted"; NCMEC President Ernie E. Allen; Dr. Dan Broughton, Chairman of the NCMEC Advisory Board; and Laurell Hall, a missing children's advocate whose own daughter was abducted.

During the ceremony, Allen and Dr. Broughton presented the Civic Leadership award to Michael R. Gallagher of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Gallagher spearheaded an effort to include photographs of missing children in nationally-disseminated IRS forms.

Allen and Dr. Broughton also presented the Corporate Leadership Award to Sherri Snelling of Canon and Suzanne H. Apple of Home Depot. Canon received its award for donating technology to police deprtments to assist in the search for missing children. Canon also encouraged some of the nation's leading publishers to print public aervice advertisements with photographs of missing children. Home Depot offers free safety and child identification information in all of their stores.

Both the original When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide and the Spanish translation, as well as information about other OJJDP publications, programs and conferences, is available through the OJJDP Website at and from OJJDP's Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20857. The toll-free number is 1-800/638-8736.

Information about other Office of Justice Programs (OJP) bureaus and program offices is available at Media should contact OJP's Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at 202/307-0703.

Additional information about NCMEC is available through its toll-free number, 1-800/843-5678 and its Website at

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