Lt. Governor Carlos López-Cantera and First Lady Ann Scott joined Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen and hundreds of law enforcement personnel, public officials and citizens today for the 2017 Florida Missing Children’s Day ceremony in Tallahassee. The annual event is held to remember Florida’s missing children, recognize the state’s efforts in child protection and educate Floridians on child safety and abduction prevention.
Governor Scott said, “As a father and grandfather, I take the safety of Florida’s children very seriously, and my heart goes out to the parents and families who have experienced the heartache of a missing child. Our prayers are with each of them every day. Florida is now at a 46-year crime low thanks to our hardworking law enforcement officers and we will keep fighting to protect those most vulnerable in our state.”
First Lady Ann Scott said, “As First Lady, I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands of children across the state, and I am constantly reminded of how important it is to protect them. Rick and I are so grateful to the law enforcement officers, first responders and volunteers who dedicate their time to reuniting these families and ensuring the safety of our communities.”
In 2016, more than 33,000 incidents of missing children were reported to Florida law enforcement agencies and 12 AMBER Alerts were issued statewide. Since its inception, 218 AMBER Alerts have been issued, including 10 so far this year. AMBER Alerts have directly aided in the rescue of 69 children.
FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said, “The security of Florida’s children and the safe recovery of those missing remain a priority for FDLE. We are committed to working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to prevent child abductions and apprehend predators.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “Today we remember all of Florida’s missing children and their loved ones—who continue to hope and pray for their safe return. My heart breaks for families still searching for their children and I pray for our law enforcement officers working diligently to locate missing children and bring to justice those responsible for so much pain.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said: “Those who dedicate their lives to protecting Florida’s children and educating our communities on ways to prevent child abduction are nothing short of heroic. While there is always more work to be done, we are forever grateful for the service they have provided, and will continue to provide, to the children and families of our great state.”
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said, “Florida Missing Children’s Day is a solemn day to remember our missing children and grieve with their families and loved ones. It is also a day to recommit to doing all that we can to make Florida a safer place for our most vulnerable residents.”
During a formal ceremony, Lt. Governor López-Cantera and Commissioner Swearingen recognized citizens, canine trailing teams and law enforcement officers for their exemplary efforts in missing children investigations.
The following individuals are recipients of the 2017 Florida Missing Children’s Day Awards:
Combatting Human Trafficking Award
Winner: Miami-Dade Police Department, Human Trafficking Squad
- Lt. Lewis Velken
- Sgt. Marie Perez
- Sgt. Joseph Menendez
- Det. Raul Cabrera
- Det. Hector Arreola
- Det. Kurtis Lueck
- Det. Isabel Soto
- Det. Paul Espana
Agency: Miami-Dade Police, Special Victims Bureau, Human Trafficking Squad
In June of 2016, the Human Trafficking Squad (HTS) assisted in the arrest of a human trafficker whose crimes spanned three countries and multiple states. The investigation resulted in the recovery of seven human trafficking victims.
Local Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award
Winner: Officer Troy Belden, Daytona Beach Police Department
Officer Troy Belden, while off duty, witnessed an attempted kidnapping when a suspect attempted to enter a vehicle occupied by two children. Officer Belden chased and apprehended the suspect and placed him under arrest.
State/Federal Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award
Winner: Special Agent Donald Cannon, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Miami Regional Operations Center
Special Agent Donald Cannon led an investigation that resulted in the arrest of a suspect accused of abusing nearly a dozen children, both in Florida and in the orphanage he operated in Haiti. The suspect was arrested for violations in Foreign Commerce with the Purpose of Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct with a Minor.
Jimmy Ryce K9 Trailing Team of the Year
Winner: Deputy Sheriff Jacob Durrance and K9 Chase, Polk County Sheriff’s Office
Summary: Deputy Jacob Durrance and K9 Chase tracked a 16 year old, suicidal girl. They began from her home and tracked her into the woods a mile from her home, where she was recovered and transported to the hospital.
Law Enforcement Task Force of the Year
Winner: Child Abduction Response Team: Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Florida Highway Patrol
- Resident Agent in Charge Brett Thompson, FDLE
- Special Agent Scott Gibson, FDLE
- Special Agent Andrew Powell, FDLE
- Special Agent Joshua Rios, FDLE
- Special Agent Charles Massucci, FDLE
- Special Agent Donald Schrenker, FDLE
- Sergeant Joseph Makal, Polk County Sheriff’s Office
- Detective Maria Sorensen, Polk County Sheriff’s Office
- Deputy Sheriff Jeffrey Bradford, Polk County Sheriff’s Office
- Task Force Detective Robert Mateo, Polk County Sheriff’s Office
- Sergeant Robert Kirkpatrick, Polk County Sheriff’s Office
- Special Agent Joe Boland, FBI
- State Trooper George Seiler, FHP
This Child Abduction Response Team led an abduction investigation that covered three states: Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. The young girl was taken from her home and AMBER alerts were issued in all three states. The girl was recovered in Tennessee and flown back to Florida by the FDLE Aviation Unit.
School Bus Operator of the Year
Winner: Linda Sheldrake, Flagler County
Linda noticed, at one of her stops, a strange man sitting in his car focusing on one of the girls in a group. Knowing the girl had a further walk than the rest, Linda contacted the mother about the situation and began dropping the girl off closer to her home to avoid the strange man.
John and Revé Walsh Award
Winner: Dr. Michael Warren
This year, Dr. Michael Warren retired from his position as director of the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory where he helped identify numerous remains of missing persons in the state of Florida. Dr. Warren has remained an integral part of the investigation into the disappearance of Tiffany Sessions.
Evelyn D. Williams Memorial Award
Winner: Jan Henderson
Jan Henderson recently retired from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement where she led FDLE’s Unidentified Deceased Initiative. Ms. Henderson helped identify the remains of multiple unidentified deceased cases. Ms. Henderson has also played an important role in the organization of the Missing Children’s Day event for over a decade.
To see a current list of unsolved AMBER Alert cases, please click here.
A current list of unsolved Missing Child Alert cases can be found here.
FDLE invites the public to follow FDLE on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up to receive Missing Child and AMBER Alerts via email or text message by visiting missingchildrenalert.com. For more information about the Florida Missing Children’s Day Foundation, visit fmcdf.org.