FBI’s National Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Team has been traveling the country doing child abduction trainings. Washington was the 11th state for the in-class and field-training designed to help local law enforcement respond to kidnappings or child disappearances.
Why rapid deployment? It’s all in the statistics. FBI Special Agent in Charge Carlos Mojica said nationally they respond to about 110 child abductions each year – and in the cases where the child was murdered, 75% of the time the death occurred within the first three hours.
FBI Director Comey believes not only does it take a village to raise kids, it also take a village to protect them. So although child abductions are statistically uncommon, time is of the essence when they do occur.
Mojica said the FBI’s goal is to have 76 law enforcement personnel on scene within one hour. As many police departments don’t have the staffing to respond with these types of numbers (Snoqualmie has 22 officers serving North Bend and Snoqualmie), trainings and a large joint response are key. This enhanced training prepares departments to assist neighboring jurisdictions with surge resources during an investigation.
Snoqualmie Police Chief said the FBI contacted his department a couple of months ago, after deciding the city would be a good place for its Washington training. Numerous citizens volunteered to help simulate the disappearance of a 13-year old girl. 16 law enforcement agencies from around the area sent officers to participate in three days of classroom training and field exercise.
On the fourth day of training, investigators were then sent into the field to apply specialized skills and techniques toward solving a mock child abduction as a cohesive team.
The field training started at ‘the big rock’ at Stellar Park, with an abandoned bike and helmet – a girl gone. Thanks to her friend, a good description of the missing girl was provided, as well as a description of a vehicle she may have left in. But it was unknown if she got in willingly or was pulled in.
Teams of law enforcement, accompanied by FBI case workers responded with a mass canvas of the area. Doors were knocked on across from the park…. had the volunteers seen anything at all? Nearby trails were combed. Volunteers knew their roles and the information they were to provide. Clues were left throughout the area.
It was up to the participating investigators to weed the bad tips from the good tips, find clues that would lead them closer to the victim. The whole field training was carefully planned by FBI agents who specialize in child abductions, with the goal to simulate real and past field experience.
Local businesses were canvassed, their surveillance video poured over. Friends of the victims were interviewed at school.
In the end it led teams to a home on Vaughn Street near Timber Ridge Elementary, when someone spotted the suspect vehicle. The victim was safely recovered from a nearby home.
Special Agent in Charge Carlos Mojica said the FBI and local agencies will examine what went right, what they could have done better, with goal being always to improve.
Mojica said the FBI was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the city, with the Snoqualmie Fire Department allowing the station to become an emergency command center, SPD for hosting the entire training and the willingness of residents to volunteer. [In fact, they had more people volunteer to help than they could even use.]
SPD Chief Perry Phipps said although Snoqualmie is a pretty safe place and they’ve never had a child abduction, they still want to be prepared. He described the training was an invaluable tool. Three Snoqualmie officers participated.
FBI Public Affairs Specialist Ayn Dietrich-Williams said child abductions cut across all demographics, with no specific geographic area more prone than another. She said the uptick they’ve seen most recently is abductions that begin with online contact. Dietrich-Williams said as parents can’t monitor their kids online usage at all times, it’s important that kids feel safe to tell parents anything… even if they were on an app they shouldn’t be using or talking to someone who ended up being someone different than they claimed to be.
Agencies participating in the Snoqualmie training included:
- FBI Seattle Field Office
- Snoqualmie Police Department
- Arlington Police Department
- Bellevue Police Department
- Clark County Sheriff’s Office
- King County Sheriff’s Office
- Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office
- Lacey Police Department
- Normandy Park Police Department
- Pacific Police Department
- Portland Police Bureau
- Redmond Police Department
- Renton Police Department
- Seattle Police Department
- Skagit County Sheriff’s Office
- Tukwila Police Department