TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Each year at this time, families of missing children gather at the State Capitol, many knowing they’ll likely never see their loved ones again.
There are more than 1,000 missing children in Florida, but there are glimmers of hope for some of the lost. Last year alone more than 30 children were brought home safely thanks to Amber and missing children alerts.
"And we will continue to fight to bring every child home and we will not rest until we do so," Florida's First Lady Casey DeSantis said.
The annual ceremony serves as a memorial for families but also a chance to recognize the tireless efforts of those who work to bring missing children home.
“When a certain case leaves the spotlight, they never forget it,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said.
At Friday’s ceremony, Ponte Vedra Beach artist Ava Tamayo was honored as the Department of Justice State Poster winner along with Dawn and Anthony Butrym of Flagler County, who were honored as citizens of the year for their efforts to bring home a special-needs teen who was missing for five days in 2018. They have a message for families waiting for closure.
“There’s hope out there. I mean there’s several children out there in this day and age even after years are being found. You know, so don’t quit looking. There’s hope,” Dawn Butrym said.
For Dan Campbell, whose step-daughter Wendy Hudakoc went missing in 1998, the ceremony is a painful but necessary annual pilgrimage.
"It doesn't get any easier, but it's still equally important," Campbell said.
The event spotlights Florida’s missing children once a year, but advocates say it takes a 24-7 effort on behalf of citizens and law enforcement alike to bring them home.
The number to report a missing child or adult to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is 1-888-FL-MISSING.