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JOY: Abducted Girl is Found Safe! What This Means for Parents

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Joy, amazement, gratitude – fantastic emotions are surging through a whole lot of us today, for Charlotte Sena, the 9-year-old abducted while riding her bike in upstate New York, has been found, alive, and returned to her family.

The alleged perpetrator has been seized. He put a ransom note in the mail, the note had his fingerprint on it, police raided his home and found Charlotte there.

Which brings the number of active Amber Alerts in America to…one: the Cleveland 15-year-old we mentioned in yesterday’s post, Keshawn Williams.

One is one too many, obviously. But it is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands that the media mentioned in the coverage of Charlotte’s disappearance.

That “460,00 Kids Reported Missing” Stat:

The Washington Post reported that “About 460,000 children in the United States are reported missing each year, according to the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.”

The reporter added that “most are found and returned to safety.” But that phrasing made it seem to me, at least, as if “most” had been taken by someone, because “returned to safety” sounds as if the cops or someone else found the child, and returned them to their parents. (And by the way, “most” seems to imply that at least a sizable chunk never made it home.)

But in fact, the number of stranger abductions every year in America is somewhere between 52 and 306 a year. Those are sad numbers. But they are more than 100 times lower than the numbers mentioned in the Post.

Yes, the 460,000 number comes from the Office of Juvenile Justice. But so does the estimate of the 52-306 stranger abductions. It would calm most parents at least a little if they didn’t worry that nearly HALF A MILLION KIDS are abducted – even if later “found and returned to safety” – EVERY YEAR.

Trying to do the numbers:

In a country with nearly 50 million kids of elementary school age, half a million abductions would mean a couple children per elementary school were snatched (and later found) each year. By the time your kid graduated fifth grade at a medium-sized school, they’d have seen about 20 kids abducted.

Thankfully, that is nowhere near the case.

Let Grow is not saying that there is no crime in America, or that no children are ever abducted. Only that this crime is so rare, that we are all thanking heavens today for the one single child our whole country has focused on and prayed for over two very troubling days.

If you are looking for more stats – are you? Do stats ever move the fear needle? —  here are some more: I just went to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website. Scroll down and you can see a graph of the number of children abducted by strangers in 2022 whose cases remained open: three. Another 98 were “resolved.” These numbers are dwarfed by the number of runaways – over 20,000 – and the family abductions (kids taken in custodial disputes of divorced parents): about 1500.

The risk of trying to avoid all risk:

Yes, abduction IS “every parent’s nightmare.” But for the sake of our own sanity – and our kids’ mental health – we must try hard not to let it dictate every parenting decision. Because avoiding any risk often creates a risk of its own.

For instance: We may fear kidnapping, but driving our kids to school does not prevent all tragedy. Far more children die in car accidents than abductions, yet we don’t second-guess every car ride. It hurts to point this out, but it’s also true that ever more children are falling into anxiety and despair and even harming themselves. And part of that despair can be traced to having so little independence to play, explore, or, yes, even ride their bikes.

It’s impossible to keep kids perfectly safe. And it’s almost impossible to be rational when we’re gripped by fear and sorrow. But if there’s any way to keep the sad and then miraculous story of Charlotte Sena from making us question every freedom we give our kids, let us try.

For their sake.


  1. DDerek Logue says:

    Something that should be pointed out, both the mass media and Internet “sleuths”, and I use this term loosely, were busy focusing on Registered Persons. Well what do you know? The suspect had NO PRIOR SEX OFFENSE RECORD. He was NOT on the registry.

    I’d love to hear a case where a child went missing and a subsequent sweep of nearby Persons Forced to Register was caught red-handed and the child rescued. Can anyone find one?

  2. LLon G says:

    Multiple people brought this incident to our attention, as we are frequent campers. Kids are always riding their bikes freely around campgrounds, which are considered safe places. (Camping could not exist if theft and misconduct were rampant in campgrounds.) I hope this story will not change campground culture.

  3. TTimothy Ellsworth says:

    Activity by free range kids such as shooting free throws, half court basketball, fishing, tossing horseshoes, etc are better than being cooper up with video games.

  4. LLorie Broedel says:

    This happened 2 hours from us. We are so glad Charlotte was found unharmed. We are still waiting for more details on the case, as they are released.

  5. CCary says:

    If the seven-year-old kid across the street is in his front yard, and I come out our door into our front yard, minding my own business, one of his parents will immediately come out and tell him to come inside. They’re so brainwashed, so terrified, that they’re afraid of everyone and anyone. The poor kid is under their continuous surveillance. I’m a nice guy who’s never harmed anyone. We live in a safe neighborhood with a crime rate as near zero as possible. Modern parental behavior is bizarre and sad.