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Ohio rescue renews hope for finding missing people

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 12:02 a.m. MDT

A A "Welcome Home Gina " sign hangs on a fence outside the home of Gina DeJesus Tuesday, May 7, 2013, in Cleveland. DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, who went missing separately about a decade ago, were found in a home just south of downtown Cleveland and likely had been tied up during years of captivity, said police, who arrested three brothers. (Tony Dejak, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — MISSING ENDANGERED: Elizabeth was last seen wearing a black tank top and black jeans. She has a tattoo of a heart with a ribbon on her right shoulder. She may have changed her hair color.

Elizabeth Clancy is among a dozen young women listed on the Utah Department of Public Safety's missing persons website who went missing at age 25 or younger. Whether the 16-year-old St. George girl ran away or was taken against her will last July, she isn't where family and friends expect her to be.

"A child who is missing is a child in danger," said Paul Murphy, Utah's Amber Alert coordinator.

The rescue Monday of three Ohio women who disappeared a decade ago when they were in their teens or early 20s refocuses attention on the scores of missing people locally and nationally.

Four years ago, it was Jaycee Dugard whose escape from 18 years of captivity in an Antioch, Calif., backyard renewed hope for those presumed gone forever. She was kidnapped at age 11 while walking to her school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe.

These undated handout photos provided by the FBI show Amanda Berry, left, and Georgina These undated handout photos provided by the FBI show Amanda Berry, left, and Georgina "Gina" Dejesus. Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said he thinks Berry, DeJesus and Michelle Knight were tied up at the house and held there since they were in their teens or early 20s. Berry and the two other women who went missing a decade ago were found on Monday, May 6, 2013 elating family members and friends who'd longed to see them again. (Associated Press)

And a decade ago, 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart was found alive after Brian David Mitchell held her hostage for nine months. Mitchell kidnapped Smart from the bedroom of her Federal Heights home in the middle of the night.

"The case out of Cleveland shows that you never give up hope," Murphy said, adding the state's first Amber Alert was for Smart.

"I think a lot of people had given up hope, except for her father. The fact that she was found nine months later shows that missing and abducted people can be found safe even after a long period of time."

Smart said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that she was overjoyed to hear another happy ending.

"We need to have constant vigilance, constantly keep our eyes open and ears open because miracles do happen," said Smart, who created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to bring awareness to predatory child crimes.

Amanda Berry, right, hugs her sister Beth Serrano after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital Monday May 6, 2013. Berry and two other women were found in a house near downtown Cleveland Monday after being missing for about a decade. (Associated Press) Amanda Berry, right, hugs her sister Beth Serrano after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital Monday May 6, 2013. Berry and two other women were found in a house near downtown Cleveland Monday after being missing for about a decade. (Associated Press)

She also is writing a memoir about her experiences and how she turned them into a way to advocate for children.

Gina McNeil has overseen Utah's missing persons clearinghouse since 1999. She said she has witnessed "the good, the bad and the ugly" during that time.

"I try to concentrate on the ones that are still missing," she said.

The website currently lists 87 missing men, women and children dating as far back as 1979, though that's not everyone reported missing in the state. The site includes information and photos only for those whom families or law enforcement have authorized for posting.

McNeil said there could be more names on the list, but many people don't know the website exists.

Police agencies in the state have issued 34 Amber Alerts totaling 39 children since the program started 11 years ago. Of those, 31 were recovered, three died and five remain unaccounted for.

In this July 1, 2011 photo released by ABC, ABC News' Diane Sawyer, left, speaks with Jaycee Dugard in Ojai, Calif., during her first interview since being kidnapped near her California home in 1991, when she was 11.  Dugard wrote a memoir, titled In this July 1, 2011 photo released by ABC, ABC News' Diane Sawyer, left, speaks with Jaycee Dugard in Ojai, Calif., during her first interview since being kidnapped near her California home in 1991, when she was 11. Dugard wrote a memoir, titled "A Stolen Life," which recounts her ordeal in detail. (Jill Belsley/ABC News, Associated Press)

"When an Amber Alert goes out, it goes to 2 million people. But really we're looking for one person who's in the right place to notice a missing person," Murphy said.

Police also send out endangered persons advisories, which are cases that don't meet the Amber Alert criteria. Many of them involve older or mentally challenged people.

To date, Utah law enforcement officials have issued 104 advisories for 112 people since 2005. Of those, 92 were found safe, five died from suicide, three were murdered, eight were found dead and six remain missing. Among them, 18 were found as a result of the advisory.

The three women in Cleveland were rescued when a neighbor heard screaming from the home where they were held.

Murphy said people have become more aware of missing or abducted persons the past 10 years and are better about reporting suspicious circumstances.

"I think the great thing we've learned form the Amber Alert is the public really can make a huge difference in bringing a child home safely," he said. "In this case, it wasn't good police work. It was a member of the public who reacted to a cry for help."

Elizabeth Smart looks on during an interview Tuesday, May 7, 2013, in Park City, Utah. Smart said she's elated to hear about three Cleveland women who escaped Monday after they disappeared a decade ago. Elizabeth Smart looks on during an interview Tuesday, May 7, 2013, in Park City, Utah. Smart said she's elated to hear about three Cleveland women who escaped Monday after they disappeared a decade ago."I am so overjoyed —so happy to hear another happy ending," Smart said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America", adding that the escape is proof families and victims should not give up hope. Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City when she was 14. She was freed nine months later when she was found walking with her captor on a suburban street in March 2003. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

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