When kids go missing it can mean a world of anxiety to parents. Who do you call? Where do you look? What do you do? These are the questions frantic parents grapple with in that moment of fear and uncertainty.
Fortunately the Sheriff's Department Valley Station in Alamo has an excellent record of locating missing youngsters.
"When a child comes up missing we do a lot of very important things very quickly," said Alamo Deputy Elmer Glasser. "Imagine what 10 minutes feels like when it's your child."
Police officers get a name, physical description and photograph, and a piece of worn clothing, then bring in police K-9s to track the scent, Glasser told members of the Alamo Police Services Advisory Committee at their last meeting. In some cases, particularly when mental health issues are involved, a helicopter is brought in to search the area.
In most instances, when the dogs are brought into the picture, the child is located minutes later.
"They get a scent and run with it," he said.
Recently the police department helped locate a 4-year-old boy that went missing at Dorris-Eaton preschool in Alamo.
In this case, two 4-year-old boys planned to play together after school and, when one boy's grandfather came to the school to pick him up, they both left with him.
"The two boys had a play date planned, so they came up with a story that one boy had OK'd it with his parents," Glasser said.
Meanwhile, the boy's parents and the school were desperately trying to locate him.
"We did a full campus search, we spread out in different directions and looked to make sure he wasn't hiding in trees and bushes around the school ... It just makes you move fast," said Julie Bush, director of Dorris-Eaton.
Fortunately, a teacher overheard the boys' plan to play and immediately started a parent phone tree to locate him. The grandfather was then called on his cell phone, much to the parents' relief.
"(The boys) were very convincing with the grandfather," Bush explained.
With the help of officers and phone calls made by the teacher, the child was located in under an hour.
The police department takes a number of factors into consideration when locating a missing child, Glasser said. Officers search the home, the child's favorite places to go, neighborhood friends' houses, and then begin a large perimeter search and work inward.
Officers keep one parent with them at all times, as they are a wealth of information, Glasser said.
"Not one missing child or runaway scenario is the same .... There so many factors: Is this a parent abduction? Are the parents going through divorce? Is it a 5-year-old who's mentally challenged? Is it a 7-year-old who's been put on restriction?"
More often than not, youths are found in the house and at spots in the neighborhood, Glasser said.
Telephone Emergency Notification Systems, technology that calls homes in a grid around the area where the child was last seen, have also assisted Alamo officers in finding children and runaway teens.
When it comes to preventing missing children and runaway juveniles, the most effective prevention technique for parents is communication, Glasser said.
"The best thing you can do for your child is ask questions. They may act like they don't want you to ask but really they do," Glasser said.
Contact Natalie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org