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Our History

Thirty years ago, police could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns, even stolen horses into the FBI's crime database – but not stolen children. Several tragic cases began to awaken the nation to the problem that there was no coordinated national system for addressing missing children cases. In 1979, 6-year-old Etan Patz vanished from a New York street on his way to school. Over the next several years, 29 children and young adults were found murdered in Atlanta. Then in 1981, 6-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from a Florida shopping mall and later found brutally murdered.

When Adam first disappeared, his parents, John and Revé Walsh, turned to law enforcement to help find their son. To their disbelief, there was no coordinated effort among law enforcement to search for Adam on a state or national level and no organization to help them in their desperation. In 1981, and in response to their tragedy, the Walshs established the Adam Walsh Outreach Center for Missing Children in Florida to serve as a national resource for other families with missing children.

As the national movement grew, Congress enacted the Missing Children's Act in 1982 which enabled the entry of missing child information into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, known as NCIC. Former President Ronald Reagan officially opened the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® in 1984, and in 1990 the Adam Walsh Outreach Center merged with NCMEC.

Our progress

Today, with better public awareness, training, laws and technology, the recovery rate of missing children has jumped from 62 percent in 1990 to more than 97 percent today. More long-term missing children are being recovered. Elizabeth Smart of Utah was recovered after nine months; Shawn Hornbeck of Missouri after four years; Jaycee Dugard of California after 18 years; Carlina White of New York after 23 years; and Marx Barnes of Hawaii after 34 years.

NCMEC operates the CyberTipline, the 911 of the Internet, to receive reports of suspected child sexual exploitation. Since its inception in 1998, the CyberTipline has processed over 2.8 million reports concerning crimes against children, including online enticement for sexual acts, sexual molestation, child pornography and unsolicited obscene material.

Missing Children's Day

Every May 25, which is the anniversary of Etan Patz's disappearance, the nation observes Missing Children's Day. For more than three decades the search for Etan has continued. We never forget a child no matter how long they have been missing. National Missing Children's Day honors this commitment to help locate and recover missing children like Etan by reminding parents, guardians, families and communities that every child deserves a safe childhood.

Learn more about the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

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This Web site is funded, in part, through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this Web site (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).