Florida’s missing children are the focus of today’s 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.
Last year, about 28,000 missing children reports were made to Florida law enforcement agencies. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) issued 55 Missing Child Alerts and 12 AMBER Alerts statewide. Since the Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC) opened 40 years ago, Florida has activated over 4,400 AMBER, Missing Child, Silver and Purple alerts and more than 1,600 missing persons have been directly recovered through their efforts, roughly 40 every year.
Attorney General Ashley Moody said, “It is every parent’s worst nightmare to have a child go missing. My heart goes out to every family who has to face this unimaginable pain. As we recognize Missing Children’s Day in Florida, I will continue praying for the safe return of those lost and for our law enforcement officers who work tirelessly to reunite families.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said, “As a parent, I know that there is nothing more terrifying than the thought of your child going missing. Every child in our state should feel safe and protected. Thankfully, Florida has a robust safety network in place to find missing children and return them home quickly and safely. Thank you to FDLE and our dedicated law enforcement personnel statewide for working to protect Florida’s families and children.”
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson said, “On Missing Children’s Day, we grieve with the loved ones who live with the pain every day of not knowing where their child is or if they are safe. As we recognize this day, I want to thank our law enforcement officers and child safety advocates who work tirelessly, never losing hope, to bring these children home to their families.”
FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass said, “Today we remember Florida’s missing. We honor their memories and reaffirm our promise that we will never abandon the search for them. Help us by signing up to receive email alerts at http://www.missingchildrenalert.com/ and follow us on Facebook and X.”
During a formal ceremony, Commissioner Glass recognized citizens, canine trailing teams and law enforcement officers for their exemplary efforts in missing children investigations.
The following individuals are recipients of the 2023 Florida Missing Children’s Day Awards:
Combating Human Trafficking Award
Sergeant David Polce, North Port Police Department
Last spring, the North Port Police Department received a report of a missing 15-year-old girl. The juvenile was picked up by an unknown person shortly after running away. Sergeant Polce received information the teenager was possibly heading to New York. As Sergeant Polce continued his investigation, he learned the girl was intentionally misleading those looking for her and was instead in South Florida. Sergeant Polce was able to locate the girl in North Miami Beach and bring her home.
School Bus Operator of the Year
Renee Hill, Brevard Public Schools
In September 2022, Renee Hill, was driving her regular bus route when she noticed a 4-year-old child alone along the road. She immediately stopped the bus, directed her assistant to retrieve the child and called dispatch to inform them of the lost child. Ms. Hill and her assistant comforted the lost child while waiting for law enforcement. Because of her quick thinking, the child was safely reunited with his family.
Local Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award
Detective Roberto Palmer, Miami-Dade Police Department
Last August, a mother reported her 6-year-old son missing after his father failed to return him after a custody visit. Law enforcement discovered a handwritten letter outlining the father’s intention to disappear with the child and an AMBER Alert was issued. In September, law enforcement officers received a lead from Maine that the father and child were in Canada. Detective Roberto Palmer traveled to Maine to investigate. With additional information the father was apprehended in Canada where he confessed his plans to disappear with the child forever. Thanks to Detective Palmer’s hard work, dedication, and leadership the child was found safely and returned back to his mother.
Citizen of the Year
Mr. Roy Link
A 2-year-old boy went missing earlier this year from Brooksville, Florida. The child wandered from his home while his family slept. When the family woke up, they realized he was missing and called 911. Mr. Link joined in the search for the toddler and heard whimpers coming from the woods. He located the child, kept him safe and called 911 to report their location.
Evelyn Williams Memorial Award
Kim Figueroa, More Too Life
Ms. Figueroa uses her expertise and knowledge to assist law enforcement agencies with human trafficking cases. She has completed over 120 training hours on human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. In addition, she recently assisted the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office in a multi-jurisdictional human trafficking case involving a minor which resulted in the arrest of four individuals. Some of the charges include human trafficking, using a child in sexual performance, transmission of child pornography, and unlawful sex with a minor. The case is still active.
Demetris Crump, Florida Department of Children and Families
Ms. Crump worked two different cases to prevent human trafficking in 2023.The first case involved a missing 17-year-old homeless minor with a history of being trafficked. The teenager was missing for 14 days and Ms. Crump diligently continued her searches, knocking on doors multiple times a day until the teenager was located. The teen was provided food, clothing and medical care and received placement in another city as a victim of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).
The second case Ms. Crump worked involved a 15-year-old minor who had a history of drug use. Nearby residents suspected the minor was possibly trafficked to obtain illicit substances. A safety plan was implemented and the child placed with a provider. The child ran away and reunited with her mother into an unsafe environment where she was found actively taking illicit substances. During the removal process, the child began making threats to harm themselves. Upon release of medical treatment, the child was placed in a safe environment and is now being assessed for possible placement with other family members.
John and Revé Walsh Award
Todd Raleigh, Florida Department of Children and Families
Since Mr. Raleigh joined DCF 17 years ago, his geographic area has seen a reduction of runaways from foster care. DCF indicates that Mr. Raleigh has ultimately reduced the number of juvenile pick up orders in the Northeast region significantly, from an average of one per week to only two or three per year over the last several years.
In April 2022, Mr. Raleigh worked a human trafficking case regarding a minor whose mother was trafficking them. The child ran away from foster care to reunite with their mother. Mr. Raleigh’s hard work resulted in the child being located in another state and safely removed from the mother’s custody again. Mr. Raleigh has multiple instances of child recoveries similar to the one outlined above.
State Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award
Deputy Marshal Mario Price, United States Marshals Service
Deputy Marshal Price led the investigative and coordination efforts for Operation We Will Find You. The operation resulted in the recovery of 34 missing juveniles from six counties.
Deputy Marshal Price also oversaw the recovery of a 13-year-old human trafficking victim who was reported missing earlier this year. Information revealed that the juvenile was in Highlands County with an adult male felon. Through Deputy Marshal Price’s direct coordination with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, a traffic stop was conducted leading to the recovery of the child. During a post recovery interview, the child revealed she was being trafficked and forced to work as a prostitute.
Jimmy Ryce K-9 Trailing Team of the Year
Detective Paul Osborn and K9 Jon Jon, Tallahassee Police Department
Earlier this year, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call about a missing 4-year-old autistic child in Carrabelle. The surrounding area was wooded and marshy. Children with autism have a higher risk of drowning than others when they go missing. K-9 Jon Jon and Detective Osborn arrived on the scene and began an extensive search trailing more than a quarter mile into the woods where the child was located standing in knee deep in water in reasonably good health, avoiding serious injury.
Law Enforcement Task Force of the Year
Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, Sanford Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Kids House Organization
Last year, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office received an allegation about children being abused in a foster home. The investigation found substance abuse, sexual molestation and exploitation by a caregiver. After retrieving evidence from home cameras and electronic devices, 17 foster children, the suspect’s ex-stepdaughter and two of her friends were identified as victims.
With this dedicated team, the perpetrator was arrested, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 170 years in prison. Participating on this team were:
- Seminole County Sheriff’s Office:
- Deputy Sheriff Nelson Tai
- Deputy Sheriff Daniel Bliss
- Investigator Teresa Jaap
- Susan Malcho
- Detective Eric Phillips
- Federal Bureau of Investigation:
- Special Agent Rod Hyre
- Michelle Thorne
- Leslie Santos
- Sanford Police Department:
- Investigator David Thomas
- Kids House
- Eunice Carasas-McIntosh
To see a current list of AMBER Alert cases, please visit: http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/MCICSearch/CurrentAlerts.asp.
A current list of Missing Child Alert cases can be found here: http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/MCICSearch/CurrentMCAlerts.asp.
We invite 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 www.missingchildrenalert.com. For more information about the Florida Missing Children’s Day Foundation, visit www.fmcdf.org.