JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – National Missing Children’s Day is Thursday, a day dedicated to finding that 1% and reuniting them with their families.
News4JAX is highlighting some of the local children who have been missing for more than a year.
HaLeigh Cummings went missing in 2009 when she was just 5 years old.
An age progression photo shows what HaLeigh would look like if she was 15. She would be 19 now.
Hailey disappeared from her home in Putnam County. She has a four-inch round birthmark on the lower left side of her back and a birthmark in front of her left ear.
LISTEN: “Into Thin Air” Episode 1: HaLeigh is gone | Episode 2: Where is HaLeigh? | Episode 3: What happened to HaLeigh? | Episode 4: The trail runs cold
Along with her case, Mark Degner and Bryan Hayes were last seen leaving Paxon Middle School in 2005.
Ariel Bowen was 14 when she was reported missing in January 2021. She’d be 17 now. She was last seen in the Jacksonville area.
Urgent Alert: Missing Florida Teenager!— National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (@MissingKids) February 2, 2021
Ariel Bowen, 14, disappeared on January 12 in Jacksonville, #Florida. She may be with an adult female. Have any info? Call 1-800-THE-LOST. @JSOPIO pic.twitter.com/7mvlGCNlpo
Meanwhile, the US Marshals announced a recent 10-week operation that has led them to find 225 missing children across the nation through “Operation We Will Find You.”
The Marshals say 86% were endangered runaways, nearly 9% were family abductions and 5% were considered otherwise missing. The youngest child recovered was six months old.
“All in human trafficking across this country is a $150 billion illegal enterprise,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “And I’m here to say that in Florida, we want to use every resource at our disposal to put human traffickers out of business and into jail.”
Gov. DeSantis signed a law to cut down on human trafficking which is among the biggest risks for missing children.
Kristin Keen is the founder and CEO of Rethreaded, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit that helps women get out of human trafficking.
“What traffickers look for is vulnerabilities,” Keen said. “So, when a child runs away from home, I mean, there are so many vulnerabilities, they have no finances, they’re usually running away from something. So the trafficker tries to give them a safe place to run to. So they exploit the need to belong and be safe.”
She says it takes the entire community, not just law enforcement, to fight trafficking and find missing children.
So what are some of the red flags?
“There’s the signs like the kid doesn’t make eye contact with you. The child is with an older adult, the child won’t respond to you. So like all the cases that the kid is withdrawn and that there’s someone else controlling them,” Keen said.
Keen said if something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to call police or 1-888-FLMISSING (1-888-356-4774).
You can also find more resources at Rethreaded.com.