Texas currently has 4,400 active missing-children cases, and 147 of them are in El Paso County, Robert R. Almonte, U.S. marshal for the Western District of Texas, said Thursday.
Almonte provided other statistics during a news conference on missing children at the federal courthouse in Downtown El Paso.
"Each year, about 800,000 children are abducted nationally, and some 97 percent of them are recovered," he said. "About 56,000 of the abductions are non-family abductions. And in Texas about 46,000 children are abducted each year."
At the news conference, Almonte and other law enforcement officials and advocates highlighted "Take 25," a new national campaign designed to prevent child abductions.
David Boatright, executive Texas regional director of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, stressed the importance of child safety measures and awareness of how predators are using online media to target youths.
He said "Take 25" encourages families to take 25 minutes to talk to their children about safety and abduction prevention. It was launched to commemorate National Missing Children's Day on May 25.
"Teaching kids about safety online and in the real world plays a critical role in helping them to make safer choices," Boatright said. "In view of the recent recovery of three young women in Cleveland, who were kidnapped as children over a decade ago, providing simple yet effective child safety education becomes all the more important."
Authorities said the three young women who were rescued in Ohio allegedly were abducted by a man in their neighborhood who held them captive for 10 years.
Almonte said he still vividly remembers the 2001 disappearance and slaying of 5-year-old Alexandra Flores. The girl was abducted by a stranger in a Wal-Mart in the Lower Valley. Though security cameras helped to identify the abductor, and despite a huge mobilization of law enforcement, Alexandra's body was found the next day in an alley in West El Paso, her head covered with a plastic bag.
The killer was arrested, prosecuted and convicted.
The regional National Center for Missing & Exploited Children partnered Thursday with the El Paso Independent School District to provide child safety training to 10,200 students from 15 middle schools. Advocates said they would like the training to reach the rest of the schools.
Almonte, Boatright and nearly 20 law enforcement officers and advocates stood at the news conference to demonstrate their support for the campaign. The presentation took place against a backdrop of oversize pictures of El Paso's missing children.
Experts at the news conference, including El Paso's FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Morgan, said families can use resources such as child identification kits and the FBI's child ID phone app.
"The worst criminal offenders are those who prey on our children," Morgan said.
Texas Department of Public Safety officials said new training has helped DPS officers who conduct traffic stops to detect potential child abductions, adding it has resulted in more than 20 arrests and the recovery of 78 missing children, including in El Paso.
Experts said parents should have a current photo of their child available, along with basic information about the child so authorities can launch a timely and effective search.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Texas DPS and National Missing and Unidentified Persons System run websites devoted to finding missing people.
Find child safety resources at ncmec.org and fbi.gov/stats- services/parents
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6140