Why Are Missing Children’s Cases So Hard To Solve?

Recently, on the 32 months post, there was a comment by Pennyauntie.

“You know what makes me believe the child is dead? I mean besides what LE has stated?  And the non-responsiveness of Ayla’s paternal family to her plight? These are the reasons:

Hailey Dunn
Haleigh Cummings
Isebel Celis
Aliayah Lunsford
Sky Metawalla
Lisa Irwin
Kyron Horman
Dylan Redwine
Baby Gabriel Johnson
Madeleine McCann

…and any number of other missing children whose caretakers have come under suspicion for their children’s “disappearance”, but have gotten away with it because there’s no videotape of their deaths to present to prosecutors. Sad, because the “disappearing” children will continue to multiply. It’s the easiest way to avoid prosecution when one has caused a child’s death.”

I agree with Penny and I will add to the list…

Amir Jennings, Joshua Davis, Celina Cass, Jon Benet Ramsey

I’m sure there are more.


Why is it so hard to get an arrest in so many of these missing children’s cases?  It seems so apparent to us as laymen that these children are dead and (for the most part) who is responsible, so why does it appear that LE is at a standstill in these cases?

Doing a google search on this topic brought up a very interesting article.

It is written by a former detective, Stacy Dittrich of the Richland (OH) County Sherriff’s Office.   I have not posted the whole article, it is linked for you to read, but I will post some highlights.  His take on the subject is quite interesting.

There is a plethora of reasons investigations into missing children’s cases stall, get muddied, or fail to get resolved. I’ll attempt to explain a few of those reasons here. They may not be popular among public opinion or law enforcement, but sometimes the truth hurts. Only if we hear the truth, however, can we fix the problem in the future.

The Economy

This is one of the more obvious reasons. Over the last three years, city and county law enforcement have seen their budgets get cut in half, resulting in lay-offs of police officers, deputies, and cuts to major resources. 

We all know our economy is trying to recover from a recession, one that hit the Northeast particularly hard.  While cities and towns try to keep expenses in check some departments obviously take hits. Overworked, undermanned departments don’t do anyone any good.

Union Contracts

Many police and sheriff’s departments across the country choose not to join various police unions for this very reason. Administrations want more control over who to place in positions of importance and when it comes to the unions, they are extremely limited. Most departments in Ohio, including my own, are members of the Fraternal Order of Police. All contracts have the good, the bad, and the ugly, but even members of the union concede that landing a detective’s position is a tough spot to get. Most contracts go strictly by seniority for all specialized positions, including detective.

Unfortunately, with this comes the end-of-his-career veteran who goes into the detective bureau to sit on his rump, do as little as possible, and ride it out until retirement. Sad, but true. Younger, more thorough and dependable officers would do a community better, but the contracts are air tight. I’m fortunate that I have hard-working detectives in my department, but I have seen the perpetual rump sitter up close and personal many, many times at other agencies. Cases go unsolved, criminals remain on the streets, and the community pays the ultimate price.

bored at deskThis surprised me but it probably shouldn’t have.  It’s sad to think that this could be a factor in a missing child’s case but, in reality, it could.  We all probably know someone who does as little as possible to get by. In any institution, any government agency or Police Department, you’ll find those people who are simply biding their time, doing as little as possible while collecting their paycheck.

This next reason as stated in the article is the most shocking to me.  I am saddened to think that officers sworn to uphold the law can’t put their egos aside for the sake of a child.

FBI vs. Local Law Enforcement

us vs themThis tends to be one of the more senseless—and downright appalling—reasons cases go unsolved. I never thought this was possible until I began on the side of the media several years ago. A staunch defender of all things law enforcement, once I embarked on my media career, my eyes were opened to a phenomenal battle of egos within several factions of law enforcement. Specifically, local agencies versus the federal agencies. I won’t cite any agency by name, but when a child goes missing and the FBI offers all of those resources, there is absolutely no logical reason to turn down the offer. I have heard several agencies say, “We’ve got this. We can handle it.” In looking at the history of those law enforcement agencies, I found myself shaking my head and saying, No! You don’t have it!

I find it almost criminal that a small-town police force or sheriff’s department with absolutely zero experience in homicides or missing persons would turn down federal assistance. A life of a child hangs in the balance, and there is no defense in rebuffing every arm of help offered. Yet, I would see these officials who turned down the assistance plugging their smug mugs on the Nancy Grace show and HLN prime news day after day. These individuals were not looking at the big picture of finding a child, they seemingly were looking to capitalize on their time in the spotlight, emerging a national hero once they “cracked” the case. It’s a stomach-churning practice that needs to stop. If you pay attention, these children are not being abducted from big cities, but small American towns. Those places where people think, “Nothing like that would ever happen here.”

Failed Media Attention

I have personally heard the frustration from parents of missing children at the lack of media attention in their child’s disappearance. What differentiates one missing child from another? I’ve tried to figure out the answer to that question but remain stumped. Approximately 150 children fall victim to a stranger abduction every year. We might see ten of those briefly on the news. The question remains, what is it about those ten particular children that catch the attention of the national media? 

Lack of Training in Law Enforcement

As a former detective, I’ve had much specialized training in the areas of child sexual abuse and missing persons. The problem, however, is that detectives are not the first responders to an abducted child case. The uniformed officers are. I can attest that I haven’t seen many departments offer their officers comprehensive training and information regarding the steps that need to be taken in the first hour after a child is abducted. I’m sure they have plans in place, but the first responders need to be aware of what those plans are. The first hour is crucial, and mistakes are not an option. 

Kyron Horman, Baby Lisa, and Haleigh Cummings are just a few of the high-profile abducted children who have yet to be found. It’s frustrating, because when you look at the sole persons of interest in each of those cases, you realize they are not Harvard graduates. Is it truly possible that someone with a tenth-grade education can commit murder, stump law enforcement officials with master’s degrees and FBI agents who have their PhDs and not leave a trace of evidence? It looks like that’s the case, and, again, it’s truly frustrating.

The economy, training, and the other factors put law enforcement up against a wall when dealing with an abducted child case. Coupled with intense media pressure, officers are under constant scrutiny to solve the case–and quickly. Eliminate the above factors and there is a higher percentage that this will get done.

That’s not to say that officers and detectives investigating these cases aren’t tormented emotionally, because they are parents themselves. Most would lay down their own lives to prevent an innocent child from suffering the most horrific violence imaginable. The reality is that there are those cases where law enforcement does everything right, but the case will never be solved. That is the harshness of life.

Ayla Purple flowersMaine State Police Tip Line  –   207-624-7076


Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,