George W. Bush photo

Remarks Announcing the White House Conference on Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children

August 06, 2002

Good morning. We're gathered here today because we share a profound concern for the safety of the most precious and important people in our own lives and the life of our country, our children.

After the terror of September the 11th, many parents throughout America found themselves holding their children more closely. Unfortunately, as we work to help our children feel safer by fighting terror, America's children and parents are also facing a wave of horrible violence from twisted criminals in our own communities. During recent months, we have prayed and worried with parents as their children have been kidnaped and, in some cases, murdered. The kidnaping or murder of a child is every parent's worst nightmare.

Today I call on all Federal and State and local law enforcement agencies and our communities and our citizens to work together to do everything in our power to better protect our children.

I appreciate so very much the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, for his work on this issue. I appreciate Secretary Rod Paige at the Department of Education, who is working with us on this issue. The FBI has provided investigators, agents to the scenes of these horrible crimes as quickly as humanly possible, so I appreciate Director Mueller and his agents.

I want to thank Ernie Allen, who is the president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As well I want to thank Carolyn Atwell-Davis, who is the government relations liaison for the Center. These are two fine human beings who care deeply about our children and are making a positive difference in the lives for a lot of families and a lot of communities around America.

The most recent statistics available tell a terrible story. More than 58,000 children are abducted by non-family-members annually. Many of these children are returned home quickly, but some are not. Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies work every day to find these missing children and to punish severely those who have committed crimes against them.

Today we're taking steps to focus on preventing crimes against children before they happen. The Department of Justice will release a handbook of simple and practical steps that parents can take to make their children safer.

One of the most important things that a mom or dad can do is talk to your children very specifically and rehearse what they can say and do if they ever feel threatened. You should teach your children how to say no and how to trust their instincts. For example, children should know that unfamiliar adults usually would not ask them for directions or help. Such a request might be a trick to get their attention and, of course, to lure them away from safety.

The handbook also has practical advice to help families and communities make their homes and their schools and their neighborhoods safer. Children should know a safe place to seek help if they are approached by a stranger on their way to school or if they're standing at a bus stop.

We developed these guidelines with the help of Federal agencies and, of course, with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And they're available at the Center's web site, If a mom or a dad wants to learn more today about how to protect his or her child, go to the web site,, and learn some practical advice and some useful tips. The Department of Education will distribute the handbook to every public and private school in the country, and that's why our Secretary of Education is here. I urge the families to get these recommendations and to discuss the important safety tips with their children.

Next month we will convene a White House Conference on Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children. This forum will bring together leading national experts to focus on ways parents and communities can help shield children from the harm that is being done to some today. Recent child abductions have understandably left many of our families in fear, and the most productive response is to improve the safety of your child's environment, on the best information and the best advice. Through this conference, we'll provide that advice.

Our Nation has come to know the names and faces of too many wonderful children because they've been the victims of despicable acts of violence, children like Danielle van Dam and Samantha Runnion. But in our sorrow, we are reminded of the incredible ability of all Americans to support one another in times of need and in times of crisis. Danielle's mother, Brenda, recently exchanged words of comfort with Samantha's mother, Erin, and here's what she said: "We had a conversation, mother to mother, about our daughters, our pain, and also our hope that Danielle and Samantha are dancing together in heaven."

No family should ever have to endure the terrible pain of losing a child. Our Nation grieves with every family that has suffered unbearable loss, and our Nation will fight the threats against our children. We can take hopeful and practical steps to improve our children's safety, and we will take those steps together.

Thank you all very much. May God continue to protect America's children. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 7:35 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

George W. Bush, Remarks Announcing the White House Conference on Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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