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2,000 children go missing every day, authority tells Chambersburg group

April 10, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- A few seconds of surveillance video tape showed just how fast a child predator can strike.

Eleven-year-old Carlie Brucia was walking by a car wash in Sarasota, Fla., four years ago when a man walking in the other direction confronted her, grabbed her by the wrist and led her away. These were the last images of her alive.

Joseph P. Smith, a man with a long criminal history for drug offense, was convicted and sentenced to death for Brucia's kidnapping, rape and murder.

"Two thousand children go missing every day" in the United States, Wayne Sheppard told the Exchange Club of Chambersburg on Wednesday. "Some come home. Some do not."

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There are 636,910 registered sex offenders in the United States, about 9,400 in Pennsylvania and 49 in the Chambersburg area, said Sheppard, a retired Pennsylvania State Police corporal and now the associate Director of Training and Outreach for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

"I didn't come here to scare you. I came here to empower you," said Sheppard, who spent a decade of his career stationed at the state police barracks in Chambersburg. He is the former supervisor of the state police Criminal Investigation Assessment Unit, investigating psychosexual homicides, serial rapes and other behavioral-based crimes.

The statistics for the first four months of 2008 are sobering, however, with 451 nonfamily abductions of children this year, Sheppard said. On the other hand, 393 children have been returned home because of Amber Alerts issued this year, he said.

Sheppard, who said he has interviewed and studied child and serial killers such as Jeremy Rifkin, who killed 17 women in New York, helped create the Amber Alert system in Pennsylvania and served as a member of the National Amber Advisory Work Group that assists Amber Alert programs across the country.

The NCMEC, co-founded by John (host of "America's Most Wanted") and Revé Walsh, offers a wide range of programs to assist parents and organizations like the Exchange Club in protecting children from abduction, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse, Sheppard said. That includes NetSmartz, a program to teach children of all ages about the dangers of the Internet.

When it comes to home computers, parents need to be aware of what their children are doing online, regardless of qualms they feel about invading their children's privacy, Sheppard said. Child predators hide behind the anonymity of the computer screen, lying about their age, telling the child what they want to hear and establishing a rapport before setting up a meeting.

"There's more of it happening, of course, than anyone supposes," Lauren Sulcove, an assistant district attorney for Franklin County, said of child sexual abuse here. There are several cases pending now, including one scheduled to go to trial in May in which there are several victims.

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