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Annual Missing Children's Day ceremony held

Mark Degner, Bryan Hayes were last seen leaving Jacksonville middle school

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – More than a dozen families who had a child leave one day and never come home spent the day in the state Capitol at a ceremony at which their loss was recognized. Monday was the annual Missing Children's Day ceremony.

Tears and continuing pain were on the faces of parents and loved ones as they honored children who had disappeared.

Mark Degner and Bryan Hayes were last seen leaving a Jacksonville middle school more than decade ago.

Gov. Rick Scott calls the pain unimaginable.

"To this day, they miss their loved ones and none of us can imagine what they have gone through," Scott said.

But the somber ceremony had its bright spots. Two fifth-graders were honored, one for an essay teaching kids how to stay safe.

"Honestly, if someone tried to take me, I don't know if it would be worse for me or them," said Jaycelynn Dowdy, of Curlew Creek Elementary. "I would immediately start to fight and scream at the top of my lungs."

Another student used that advice to avoid being taken. Mia does not want to be identified because her attacker has not been caught.

"She said she found strength she never knew she had, and her instincts were to scream and just run away," said Donna Uzell, Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent in charge.

"I feel happy that I inspired some kids and adults," Dowdy said.

A poster that was drawn by a fifth-grader won a national contest.

"I feel so bad. I wanted to do art that I could remember and that other people could remember the children," said Samantha Castillo, of South Hialeah Elementary School.

A bloodhound who tracked down a missing special needs child was also honored. The dog was one of dozens donated by Don Ryce after his son vanished in 1995.

Since the beginning of the year, Florida has issued 30 missing children's alerts, seven Amber Alerts -- which indicate a child is in danger -- and more than 170 Silver Alerts for a missing senior. As the ceremony ended, a new alert went out for a missing 3-year-old in Pinellas County.