'We wanted our son back': Bringing home runaway means digging in, checking every lead

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2007

My son waved, said he would see me later and then walked out of my life.

I wouldn't know it until I went to pick him up at school. He was always there and when he didn't come out, I went in search of him a search that would last an eternity in my time, a week in reality.

The secretary said he hadn't been there; I assured her I left him there. She did an overhead page. That was the instant I knew he was gone. The principal came, teachers were questioned and we searched his locker.

It was all I could do to not lose control. Five years at the paper kicked in: When did you last see him? Who was he with? What do you know? What have you heard?

Juggling hysteria, shock and an overwhelming need to cry, I called my husband.

The questions were necessary. The first 24 hours a child is missing are the most important in locating them. You do not have to wait 24 hours to report them missing or have a police report started. Everything you can tell the police is time saved and a step closer to finding him.

In 20 minutes, I found out that he had told teachers that he was leaving the state and even went so far as to tell the teachers just to go to his locker and pick up his books. I also learned the kids were not talking, at least not while other teens were watching.

At 30 minutes, my husband and I met at the house and pulled every phone record, e-mail code and Myspace page we had access to. We found out he used his cell up until 1 a.m. the morning he left, that he changed the code on his e-mail and shut down his page. At this point, if we would have had his computer, we would have be able to access whatever he changed because of the software we had installed. But he sold it for money and the new owner wasn't going to give it up even to let us shake it down and give it back.

At 40 minutes, we called all the phone numbers and talked to the person who he would be leaving the state to meet. She was shocked I had found her. I assured her if he made it out of the state, she had better hope the police beat me to her.

We called the troopers and answered endless questions for which we had answers. With a police report in place, we were able to call the airports and keep him from flying.

However, his plans included the Alaska Ferry System. Like the airlines, the ferry system will let and did let our underage child, with no permission and a handful of cash, buy a ticket even after we called, faxed and sent photos.

By 24 hours, we had a plan, an ad in the works, a network looking for him, flyers posted and a reward offered.

The hunt was in full swing and we reached out to everyone we knew or thought might know him. I was surprised to learn how many others had been through the same thing. I was going to learn many other surprising things during the week that he would be gone about, runways, my son and what I thought being a good parent was.

I share this because I never dreamed this would take place in our home. We thought we were doing OK. We work opposite shifts, so he didn't have hours of unsupervised time. He was involved in sports, Scouting and into saving the environment. He was engaged in life.

It happens. Teens leave home for a variety of reasons, including trouble in school, arguments with family members and the influence of predators and peers.

And if it does happen, the prospect of seeing them again is slim. What can happen to them while they are out there can make you go crazy I was tortured by the worry and fear he would be hurt, freeze to death or be killed.

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, every day between 1.3 and 2.8 million runaway and homeless youth live on the streets of America. One out of every seven children will run away before the age of 18.

According to www.focusas.com/SubstanceAbuse.html, 75 percent of runaways who remain at large for two or more weeks will become involved in theft or drugs or pornography, while one out of every three teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. Some will be robbed, beaten or killed.

In talking to other families, we learned what to do and how to help find him. Besides what we already had done, we learned:

* Write everything down in a notebook everyone and thing that pertains to the search: names, titles, case numbers, phone numbers.

You will need all of the information and you would not, even under the best of circumstances, remember it. Under the extreme anxiety, you will be lucky to remember to eat and shower. Also, you're going to need to call all those people back when you find your teen, they come home on their own or the worst happens. People will get involved, and you can't leave them hanging.

* Call adjoining jurisdictions. File reports, record the officers' names, badge numbers, telephone, fax and report numbers.

We talked to airport authorities, city police and troopers. Write it down. It saves time in which he could be found.

* Check with your child's friends, work, neighbors, relatives or anyone else who may know of their whereabouts.

This was a boon: Call those you don't think he is even close to. The first big break that he was still close on the second day was a tip from a family who only knew him on sight.

* Call runaway hot lines if you suspect your teen is a runaway.

Leave no stone unturned. Once we were able to come to grips that this was really happening and now he was capable of anything, we dug in. We wanted our son back before something horrible happened to him.

* Keep your phones on. This may be the only way your child knows how to reach you. Our outgoing message was that anything was fixable; we loved him and wanted him home. Some teens go out and find it was not the right thing to do, but they don't come home out of fear.

* Cooperate fully with the police.

Daily updates kept us sane. Remember your child ran away, crime comes first and the Amber Alert is for abductions. Understanding, consideration and a letting the officer know how grateful you are for their help goes a long way.

* Contact runaway shelters. Give them your child's photograph.

We would like to add youth hostel as a place to notify. Our son stayed at one with no questions asked.

* Leave flyers at youth hangouts, malls, recreation centers and fast food places.

We discovered this was tricky. Many flyers would go missing every few days. Go back and check on them. We also found that talking to managers and posting them behind counters kept them from disappearing.

We were and are lucky that our son decided to come home. We all have a way to go in understanding what took place so that hopefully it does not happen again. It is a process that takes time time I hope we have.

Having an opportunity to see him every morning is a gift. I know it will be years before I will be able to just drop him off without wondering if I will ever see him again.

Nancianna Misner is a newsroom assistant at the Peninsula Clarion. Comments may be e-mailed to nancianna.misner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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