First Lady Ann Scott, along with Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, joined hundreds of law enforcement personnel, public officials and citizens today for the 2018 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.
During a formal ceremony, Commissioner Swearingen recognized citizens, canine trailing teams and law enforcement officers for their exemplary efforts in missing children investigations. Among them were winners from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.
Agent Mike Spadafora from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office won the Local Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award. Agent Spadafora conducted a months-long online investigation into a suspect who said he wanted to sexually abuse children. After communicating with Agent Spadafora for several months, the suspect, who was residing outside of the United States, expressed a desire to travel to Brevard County to abuse a child he believed was in Spadafora’s custody. After liaising with Homeland Security Investigations, Agent Spadafora discovered that the suspect was an executive of a major European company, which allowed him to travel with ease and potentially abuse child victims across the globe. When Agent Spadafora picked the executive up from the airport, the suspect admitted his desire to sexually abuse the fictitious child and also admitted to abusing other children. Upon entering Brevard County, the suspect was arrested and made a full confession. Six months later, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The Law Enforcement Task Force of the Year Award went to Brevard County Sheriff’s Office’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit ICAC). Comprised of Lieutenant Rob Vitaliano, Agent Mike Spadafora, Agent Aja Stake and Agent Alex Sorokin, ICAC discovered a loophole that was allowing suspected sex offenders the opportunity to destroy evidence. When evidence subpoenas were issued to internet service providers, the ISPs were notifying their customer that the account was under investigation, sometimes giving the suspect a full ten days’ notice and time to destroy evidence. The unit began investigating the issue and discovered it was affecting investigations nationwide. As a result, a bill was drafted that would require ISP providers to not disclose receipt of a subpoena related to child exploitation and sex related crimes for 180 days. Lt. Vitaliano and Agent Spadafora testified numerous times before the legislature. BCSO agents joined forces with the FDLE, the Attorney General’s Office, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Prosecutors Association, and the Florida Police Chiefs Association in support of the bill, which was passed by the Florida Legislature and signed into law this year.
Seminole County Sheriff’s Deputy John Locklin and K9 Panzer won the Jimmy Rice K9 Trailing Team of the Year Award. Last year, the Altamonte Springs Police Department responded to a school in reference to a missing 10-year-old autistic child who had wandered off campus. The child had been missing for about five minutes at the time of the call and had never previously left campus before. ASPD requested that a canine tracking team be dispatched to the area. Deputy John Locklin and K9 Panzer arrived on scene along with the Seminole County Sheriff Office Alert 1 helicopter, which always assists canine teams on the ground. A witness informed police that the child may have been walking toward the softball complex area. K9 Panzer was provided scent from the child’s backpack and placed on a southbound track near the complex while Alert 1 aircraft crew began to visually search the area in front of the projected tracking path. Using the scent trail and intel from the flight crew, Deputy Locklin and K9 Panzer made contact with and safely recovered the child in a wooded area nearby.
In 2017, more than 32,000 incidents of missing children were reported to Florida law enforcement agencies, while 51 Missing Child Alerts and 10 AMBER Alerts were issued statewide. Since its inception, 224 AMBER Alerts have been issued, including six so far this year. Florida AMBER Alerts have directly aided in the rescue of 66 children.
Governor Rick Scott said, “It is so important to make the safety of Florida’s children a top priority in our state. Ann and I pray for each of the parents and loved ones of those who have gone through the unimaginable pain of missing a child. We also say a special prayer for our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day in order to protect our families.”
First Lady Ann Scott said, “As a parent and grandparent, Missing Children’s Day is a solemn reminder that no family should have to endure the heartache of a missing child. I pray for continued strength and healing for the families, and the safe return of the loved ones still separated from their families.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “Missing Children’s Day is a reminder that we should all continue to pray for the safe return of all missing children and comfort for their parents. We can never lose hope or stop searching. Our law enforcement community works diligently to help reunite families and bring justice to anyone who would harm a child.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said: “Today we remember Florida’s children, and the brave men and women who work every day to bring them home. Our first responders’ dedication to not only protecting our kids but also raising awareness on child abduction prevention is inspiring. We can’t thank them enough for their service to Florida families and protecting our future generations.”
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said, “My prayers are with the families and loved ones of our missing children, and I’m grateful for our dedicated law enforcement officers who work tirelessly to protect our most vulnerable residents.”
FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said, “The safety and security of Florida’s children continues to be a major priority for FDLE, as is the successful recovery of those who are missing. We are grateful for the efforts of our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners in keeping our children safe and apprehending those who would do them harm.”
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.