Missing toddler found safe: How common are happy endings?

A missing 2-year-old has been found safely sleeping in the Michigan woods. While high-profile disappearances and kidnappings often make big headlines, most missing children are safely recovered.

Yfat Yossifor/The Bay City Times/AP
Michigan State Troopers walk the woods off of Laidlaw Road in search for two-year-old Brooklyn Lynn Lilly Thursday afternoon, in Tawas City, Mich. Brooklyn was found safe in a wooded area Thursday, nearly a full day after wandering away from her northern Michigan home.

Two-year-old Brooklyn Lynn Lilly has captured the hearts of Americans with her supersized grin and her comment, “I love the woods,” after spending 22 hours alone in those woods after wandering off from her home in Tawas City, Mich.

ABC News reported that she made that comment to the assistant fire chief who asked if he could take her picture, after a state trooper and his K-9 found her. She wasn’t moving at first, but then, “she had lifted her head up off the ground and looked back towards me and my dog and began smiling,” Trooper Denis McGuckin said, as quoted by ABC.

While parents often fear the worst, the majority of missing children are recovered, even in cases where they are abducted.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports 97 percent of the children reported to them are returned to their families, up from 62 percent in 1990.

Cases like Brooklyn’s “remind us we can’t give up on these children…. It’s easy to believe the worst, but our children time after time have proven us wrong,” says Robert Lowery, a vice president at NCMEC.

Small children wandering off represent only about 1 percent of missing child cases, Mr. Lowery estimates.

But other recent cases of happy endings reported in the press include:

  • A 9-year-old boy reported missing on a March Saturday morning in Herrin, Ill., was found the next day, safe at a friend’s house, which he had gone to without telling his family, KFVS12.com reported.
  • In Tacoma, Wash., an 18-month-old whose disappearance sparked an alert was found later that same day with the mother, but was to be turned over to the father, KIROTV.com reported.
  • A Memphis, Tenn., 8-month-old at the center of an Amber Alert was found safe in Illinois, and three people whom the mother knew were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, the Associated Press reported.

The most recent comprehensive national statistics on the numbers of missing were released in 2002 based on data gathered in 1999, NCMEC reports. About 800,000 children under 18 were reported missing that year – 200,000 of them abducted by family members and 58,000 by non-family members. There were only 115 cases of “stereotypical” kidnapping, in which the kidnapper killed, ransomed, traveled far away with, or attempted to keep the child long-term.

Information about missing or exploited children can be reported to the NCMEC call center by calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

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