ABC News(NEW YORK) — Robert Lowery had only been working for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for three days when the shocking news broke in 2009 that Jaycee Dugard, who had been missing for 18 years, had been found.
“Jaycee now serves as a visible reminder to us that we could never give up on our children – our missing kids,” Lowery, Vice President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer.
Dugard was just 11 years old when she was kidnapped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido in 1991 near her home in Lake Tahoe, California. She was held captive for 18 years and gave birth to two daughters while she was a prisoner. Dugard and her girls were rescued in 2009 and reunited with her mother, Terry Probyn.
Lowery calls Dugard one of NCMEC’s “heroes” for the way she and her family use her story and experience to help others.
Dugard founded the Jayc Foundation, which helps other victims of trauma and their families recover. For more information on the Jayc Foundation: http://thejaycfoundation.org/
“Jaycee reminds us that no matter what happens we don’t give up on these children,” Lowery said. “And at the National Center, we will not close a case until that child has been physically found, no matter what the circumstances. Hope is always going to be there.”
Studies show that about 100 children are taken captive by strangers each year in the United States. Many are rescued but in Jaycee Dugard’s case, law enforcement had many chances to find her but failed over and over for 18 years.
NCMEC’s missing child recovery rate has increased from 62 percent in 1990 to 97 percent today, according to the Center.
Lowery credits new technology as the main reason more children are rescued today.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes in the 25 years since Jaycee Dugard’s been gone. One, we have Amber Alert now, we have stronger laws, we have technology today that didn’t exist when Jaycee was taken,” Lowery told Diane Sawyer.
But Lowery notes, “that doesn’t make it a safer world.” He said that while advancements in technology have helped recover children, technology has also allowed predators into homes via computers where they can lure children online.
“We don’t want to frighten children to the point to where they don’t leave the home or to the point that they don’t go outside and do things that children should do,” Lowery said. “We encourage parents to have frank conversations with their children – telling them things that are common sense, what to do, what not to do.”
Lowery encourages parents to walk their children’s route to school with them, using that as a teaching moment to practice “what if scenarios,” such as what to do if a car pulls up and someone asks for help searching for a lost puppy.
His advice to children who find themselves in this situation is to get away as quickly as possible and find a trusted adult. If someone tries to grab you, kick, scream and do whatever you can to draw attention to the person.
“Yell things like, ‘This is not my father! This is not my mother!’” Lowery said. “So passersby and people that are nearby will see what’s going on.”
Lowery said bystanders can also play an important role in saving a life.
“The public has to understand that they have a role when it comes to victimized children, missing children, abducted children,” Lowery said. “One of the most powerful tools that we have at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is engaging the public as the eyes and ears of law enforcement. If they see something, they must say something. They must call 911. They must report it.”
If you see anything strange or suspicious and suspect a child could be in danger, call 1-800-THE-LOST, which is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s hotline. Their website: http://www.missingkids.com/home
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