Child abductions from homes 'exceptionally' rare, expert says
Jen Pilgreen, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Elizabeth Smart, Rosie Tapia and Sierra Newbold were all snatched from the safety of their own homes in the middle of the night.
And while such brazen abductions are a parent's worst fear, they don't happen often, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"We do see them from time to time, but they are exceptionally rare," said Bob Lowery, executive director of the Virginia-based center's missing child division.
"We have the expectation that when we are at home, we are safe," he said. "This is a different kind of predator that will engage in something that high-risk because of the motivation for what he wants to do with that child."
Terry Lee Black entered the Newbold home through a sliding glass door about 3 a.m. on June 26 and took 6-year-old Sierra, authorities said. He was charged Tuesday with capital murder, child kidnapping and rape of a child.
Black, 41, lives in the girl's West Jordan neighborhood and occasionally attended the same church as the Newbold family.
Lowery said more often than not perpetrators know or are acquainted with the families of their victims.
Current statistics on the prevalence what the U.S. Department of Justice calls "stereotypical kidnappings" are difficult to find. It defines such abductions as being perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance and involving a child who was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.
About 58,200 children were abducted by someone other than a family member, including an estimated 115 victims of stereotypical kidnappings, according to a 1999 DOJ study. The study also found that in 40 percent of those cases, the child was killed, and in another 4 percent, the child was not found.
Lowery said the national center finds that more assertive children get away from their abductors by kicking and screaming. But if a sleeping child were taken in the middle of the night, he said, it's hard to predict what the reaction would be. A child, for good reason, might think it's a father or another family member coming to get him or her, he said.
In 1995, 7-year-old Rosie Tapia was kidnapped through a window in her parents' apartment while she was sleeping with her sister. A man walking his dog saw her body floating in a canal near 1900 South and 1600 West. An autopsy showed she had been sexually assaulted. Her killer has not been found.
Elizabeth Smart's story is well-known. During the early morning hours of June 5, 2002, Brian David Mitchell cut the kitchen window screen of her Federal Heights home, entered the house, went to an upstairs bedroom and abducted the then-14-year-old girl.
In the weeks that followed the kidnapping, both police and the public participated in massive search efforts for Elizabeth. It wasn't until nine months later when she and her kidnappers, Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, were spotted walking down State Street in Sandy dressed in robes and wigs. Mitchell was convicted in December 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.
Lowery said that because child abductions from inside homes are so rare, parents should talk to their children about "what the real dangers are out there."
"Kids are easily lured. Unfortunately, the lost puppy story that some of these predators use still works with some children," he said.
Of all non family child abductions, only 23 percent occurred in home or yards, according to the DOJ study, still cited though it is more than a decade old. Children, the study said, are more typically kidnapped from generally accessible places such as streets, parks and other public areas.
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