When a child goes missing, it usually isn’t because of an abductor or foul play. In most cases when a parent is left frantically searching, it’s because the child has wandered off. Yet this hardly means they are out of harms way. Children are far more likely to end up dead by wandering off into trouble than they are to meet the same fate because of an abduction. If they did manage to get themselves in trouble, time is of the essence. That is why it’s important to know a few things about what you should do ahead of time, so that you’re prepared to act properly when the situation arises.
In our monitoring of child safety stories, we’ve seen far too many instances of children perishing because the kid went missing, and parents didn’t reach them in time. Although adults were frantically searching for the child – checking bedrooms, neighbors, etc. – they weren’t checking the right places. Thus, a child who might have been saved if only adults had known where to start looking at the start of their search instead perished because the kid was found 20 minutes too late. Sadly, even the police all too frequently go about their search in a haphazard manner, and in at least one case, were sued because two kids died as police walked right past where they were slowly suffocating without checking.
The minute you realize a child is missing, your search should begin with the most dangerous areas and then work your way to less dangerous ones. This involves some obvious and not-so-obvious dangers:
First Priority: Water Hazards
Water is one of the quickest killers. It takes only a few seconds for a child to drown, and then you have about a five to 10 minute window afterwards at the most to have a decent hope at revival. So start by checking pools, nearby ponds, hot tubs, large puddles, or any other large bodies of water. Then move on to things like outhouses, septic tanks, even toilets if the missing child is a toddler.
Second Priority: Cars, Car Trunks & Trailers
This is the invisible danger that is commonly overlooked. A child can succumb to hypothermia in the heat of a trapped space in anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, and vehicles and trunks are alluring play spaces. A preschooler in Hawaii went missing at the beach. While his parents were frantically searching every other place, he was dying in the car trunk. The two kids in the case above where the police were sued? Suffocating in a car trunk as several officers walked right by. On an Indian reservation, two girls went missing and were later found dead…you guessed it, in a car trunk. I do not want to have to read or write another story about a child dying like this, especially since it is commonly preventable. So the second place you should check immediately is the car, the car’s trunk, any trailers or other utility vehicles you may have on the property, etc. Also check cars on the neighbor’s property; kids have died because they crawled into a neighbor’s trailer or car and couldn’t get out.
*Print a ‘Don’t play in trunks coloring sheet’ for your kids
Third priority: Attics, fridges and freezers, and other enclosed spaces
Next you want to search any small, enclosed spaces that a child might have climbed into, particularly those which pose a suffocation or hypothermia risk. We’ve seen cases of kids dying inside clothes dryers, old freezers or ice chests, freezers that are still in use, small supply closets or sheds, large trunks, and other similar nooks and crannies where they can either run out of air or overheat.
After you’ve exhausted the search in these danger areas, then you can expand throughout the house and neighborhood in general. Just make sure you check those places where the clock might be ticking first. And to avoid unnecessary panic, teach children how important it is not to hide unless they are playing hide and seek, AND FOR ADULTS TO KNOW WHENEVER THEY ARE PLAYING HIDE AND SEEK.