When is a runaway in danger? Girl found after weekend missing is just one of dozens in Utah
Police departments, including South Salt Lake, have recently evaluated the missing endangered protocol and set their own standards for when it should be used, Keller said.
Like many departments, South Salt Lake authorizes alerts on a case-by-case basis, factoring in considerations like a missing person's age, medical conditions, physical or mental disabilities, information about other risks and weather conditions at the time.
Brink said she believes heightened awareness about runaway teens — perhaps through brief, daily televised announcements — could make a difference in Utah.
She and her son both saw the alert about Stevie over the weekend and together breathed a deep sigh of relief when they learned she had been found.
As a family, they've had a breakthrough. Johnny, now 15, hasn't run away since December, when he got frostbite on his feet spending the night in a cold, abandoned house.
"At times I felt kind of free, no worries or anything like that. But after I started thinking about it, I thought, 'What am I doing?'" he said. "Now I just really can't imagine that I did that."
Johnny and Brink began speaking regularly with separate parent and teen advocates from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who call to ask how they are doing. They are active participants in Facebook groups for local and national missing children, and can't leave the house without looking around for any faces they might recognize.
Two months ago, they came full circle.
Brink said she and her son were driving near a local park together when Johnny cried out suddenly, "Mom, stop! That's that kid from Facebook!"
Out the window, Johnny had spotted a teen from school who had been reported missing online. He and a cousin got out of the car and approached the boy while Brink circled around and called police. The boy was reunited with his family that day.
"It meant so much to me that John, knowing what we went through, did that for those parents as well, to find that child," Brink said. "It's a complete transformation from where he was six months ago."
Now, Johnny gives a simple, firsthand message to any teens he meets who are thinking of running away.
"I tell them to not do it. It's a stupid idea," he said. "It's not worth it."
For everyone else, Johnny asks people to check online information about what teens are missing in case they encounter them.
"If everyone paid attention, those kids wouldn't be gone for days. They'd only be gone for hours," he said.
Teens who are thinking about running away, who have left home and want to go back, or who have friends who are looking for help can call the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY.
In Salt Lake County, youths or families can contact the Juvenile Receiving Center at 385-468-4500 or online at youth.slco.org.
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