Missing or Just Missed

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They're stories that tug at the heartstrings---Children who go missing. Police use various tools to find these lost youngsters. But how effective are they? In a special Call For Action report, called “Missing or Just Missed,” Betty sexton puts a missing child poster to the test---with some surprising results.

You see them on milk cartons, on mailers, and on posters in store windows. Missing children photos are almost everywhere. But if you were out and about, do you think you could make the connection between lost child and photograph?

Using hidden cameras, we devised a little, unscientific test to find out. Our intent wasn't to embarrass anyone, but to see if people really notice such posters.

One of KKTV’s graphic artists designed the color poster featuring 8-year-old Dawn Morgan. It had a recent picture of her, plus her vital statistics. Then with the help of K-Mart and its' employees, we conducted our test. After taping the alert to the store’s front door, we asked Dawn, our poster girl, to stand just a few feet in front of it.

With the hidden cameras rolling, on Friday, February 13th at 3:30 p.m., we started counting. Numerous people walked right by Dawn, and walked right through the door with the poster. A few people did look at the 8-year-old and some even spoke to her. Others did glance at the poster.

In the first 30 minutes of the test, 116 people walked by Dawn and the poster. That’s when two women from Colorado Springs finally made the connection. Stephanie Jackson is a mother of four. And her daughter, Bobbie Thomas, has five children. They walked inside the store, talked to a few employees, and then came back out. That’s when they approached Dawn.

"Are you waiting for someone?" Stephanie asked her. Once we knew they made the connection, we came out of hiding and congratulated the women. And we explained our experiment. "Oh my God! I'm so glad you're not lost!" said Stephanie.

The women say the memory of a recent Florida case involving the kidnapping and murder of an 11-year-old girl kept them from leaving. "I was going to go on about my shopping and I thought again. I just can't walk away," said Stephanie. "There wouldn't be so many missing children if people paid attention to that. I worry about that constantly. And my daughters will tell you, I worry about that constantly. I don't let them go anywhere unless we're with them because that does scare me," said Bobbie.

We tried our experiment again the following Monday, February 16th around 2:30 in the afternoon. We thought Dawn might be spotted sooner with less traffic. But again, we watched as person after person walked right by our poster girl and through the door with her photo.

Finally, after one hour and 149 people had passed, Pat Williams of Colorado Springs immediately noticed Dawn. But she admits, it was Dawn’s red hair in the poster that really caught her eye. "I have two of my own, 15 and 19 now. And you know, I try to teach them to be safe. But there's a lot of slick, very conniving people out there," she says.

No one knows that more than the folks at the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children. The non-profit group was created to help law enforcement, families, and others find missing children. Officials say mailers help them find 1 out of every 6 missing children.

"No one's really paying attention to her." Detective Christy Sheppard and Detective Hugh Velasquez are with the Colorado Springs Police Department They looked at our tapes and weren't surprised by the results. "You see so many different types of posters up on the walls and on the doors that people just start walking by them and not paying as much attention to them," says Detective Velasquez.

Detective Sheppard says it only takes one person to make a connection between a child and a photo. In fact, she had a case 2 years ago where a missing Colorado Springs boy was found in Mexico because someone recognized him from a poster. "It ended up being just a really wild story. But the child's picture really was on the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children. She put it together from a picture she had seen. (They) called me and from there. We were able to get the child back to his mother."

The women in our test say, this was an eye-opener that really made them think. "That's a good idea because it's making parents aware and children aware. Really it is," says Stephanie. "It certainly makes you more aware of the fact that you need to pay attention," says Pat.

The bottom line---you never know when your powers of observation will really be needed. Police say they can't be everywhere, so they rely on your eyes and ears wherever you may be.