Portraits of hope. Scott Barrows draws missing children with age progression process
SCOTT BARROWS sits at his drawing board. Slowly, the face of a Texas teen takes shape on his paper: Eyes. Nose. Mouth. Chin.Skip to next paragraph
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The artist is precise, measuring and remeasuring with his metric ruler. Each feature must be exact. And that's not easy, because there's no model posing for this portrait.
The would-be model is a missing person.
That Texas teen hasn't been seen since 1984 when he disappeared near his parents' Colorado vacation home - a ``stranger abduction'' statistic in FBI files. He was 14 back then.
Now it's Mr. Barrows's job to ferret out what the youth might look like four years later. All the artist has to go on is an old photo. And everybody knows, kids change. But Barrows is better than pretty good at this new technique of age progression.
Three years ago, Barrows and his colleague, Lewis Sadler, devised a way to add age to the photographed faces of children and adolescents, handing hope to parents whose youngsters have been missing a long time.
The Barrows/Sadler system is based on plastic surgeons' measurements, dental data, anthropological information, and their own extrapolations. They boiled this bundle of complexities down to a 45-page text that charts the average growth rates of 60 facial features for young people - thousands of statistics in all. That's what Barrows works from.
So far, he's done 65 drawings. Of the 40 already circulated as handbills, posters, and on TV spots, 16 youngsters have been found alive. And Barrows's portraits played the major role in six of the recoveries.
Take the case of the two-year-old Mexican-American child who disappeared from the Chicago area. Seven years passed, and optimism stood at zero.
Then the mother, a resident of Addison, Ill., received word that her daughter might be in nearby Elgin. Tips and anonymous phone calls are all part of the scenario when children are missing. Sadly, false leads abound.
``We really had no idea if she was out there - a slim possibility,'' says Timothy Hayden of the Addison police. The first challenge, though, belonged to Barrows: Transform the small and grainy snapshot of a two year old into a girl of nine. That, he managed.
Armed with the picture, Officer Hayden dogged the Elgin district, school to school, principal to principal, teacher to teacher for more than a month.
Nothing. No one looking the least like Barrows's drawing was enrolled in Elgin schools.
Then a break - a little girl peeked at the picture while her teacher talked with Hayden. ``That's Maria,'' she announced matter-of-factly, telling that Maria (name changed by request) sometimes stayed in Elgin on weekends. From that clue, Hayden tracked the missing Maria to a Chicago school.
``Without Scott [Barrows], we wouldn't have found that girl. The age progression - that's the only thing she was identified from,'' explains Hayden.
It's not uncommon for children to be abducted by the parent who lost custody. ``But that doesn't mean they're safe,'' says Barrows, citing various cases where parent abductors have been linked to drugs, crime, or child abuse.