Why is this missing kid garnering so much attention?

Anyone in the Pacific Northwest is most likely quite familiar with this story by now. I live in Portland, and it has been all over the news since Friday.

The first thing I want to make clear is that this is horrible, and I sincerely hope the kid is found, and returned home safe and sound.

The thing I don’t quite get is why such a huge deal is being made out of this story. It’s been taking up at least half of the local news broadcasts. Yesterday I turned on NWCN - a cable news station serving the entire PNW area - for a few minutes while I ate my lunch, and they were carrying a live press conference about this kid.

Kids go missing all the time, and unfortunately nary a peep is heard about most of them in the media. But the way the local stations are carrying on about this kid, you’d think it was one of the president’s daughters that’s missing.

So why is this kid getting the spotlight? Are his parents rich and powerful?

Again, I don’t mean to come across as callous about this. I’m genuinely curious as to why this kid deserves so much media attention over others.

Good question. This story was on every channel this morning. I would really like to know how to get this kind of attention, just in case I need it one day.

This is the first I’ve heard of this story (but I’m in the midwest). I’d guess that one reason it has gotten attention is because the child just disappeared from school. You expect your kid to be safe at school and it is a horrible nightmare to imagine that your kid just doesn’t come home from school one day. That aspect of the case is unusual and probably more likely to get people’s attention than kids disappearing because an estranged parent ran off with them or other such more common situations.

Kids DON’T go missing all the time. Like lavenderviolet alluded to, most child disappearances are parental snatchings. This kid had no reason to disappear, and the trail is still fresh. That said, it still could be a parent, and it’s probably a slow news day.

I bet you’d be shocked at just how many do go missing.

Every year more than 100,000 children go missing in the UK - that is one child who disappears every five minutes.

That number seems insanely high, even considering the fact that they admit in the article that the number includes deliberate runaways (who, according to the people who gave the numbers out, are 70% of the total).

And yes, the hook in this particular story is that the child disappeared from school grounds with no trace. That is really unusual and, I’m sure, very frightening to a lot of people.

I haven’t heard of it before (I live in the Midwest), but I have a few ideas:

  1. As already mentioned, he disappeared from school. He had apparently shown up at school then vanished during the day. School is supposed to be all hardcore-secure about watching little kids these days.

  2. The family hasn’t said anything to the media. These days that seems like something a guilty person would do. The expectation seems to be that you should see shots of the grief-stricken family saying stuff like, “Please come home, or if someone’s taken you, then please, I hope that person lets our baby come home; we love him so much and just want him back.”

  3. A step-parent is involved. The father and stepmother have custody. Immediately that spurs thoughts of non-custodial parental/grand-parental kidnapping.

  4. The stepmother posted a ‘the media is inaccurate; we’ll update you soon’ message on Facebook over the weekend. Awesome way to drive the frenzy.

Even after reading that article the number strikes me as being way too high. Certainly if we’re dealing with stranger abductions. If we’re including parental abductions then maybe it is correct, but still very high.

Consider: There are a little under 11 million children in the UK. So it that figure is correct, about 1% of all children are abducted every year. That doesn’t seem plausible to me.

And now I see that runaways, not abductions are the majority of this figure anyway.

That Sky News article is BS (big surprise, huh?). My wife tygre wrote an undergrad thesis on missing children and is considering doing doctoral work on the subject, and her opinion is that non-family abductions where the child is actually missing and not just reported as such–i.e., the kid is somewhere safe but a parent freaks out and calls the cops, meaning that the case becomes a “missing child” case–are probably in the hundreds of cases per year in America. In the UK, with a fifth of the US’s population, the real figure is probably something more like 200 a year. The vast majority of the Sky News figure is composed of runaway kids, almost all of whom return home safely, and misunderstanding. On top of that, a lot of these cases are actually instances of multiple counting–if both Mom and Dad forget Jimmy is at Billy’s house, and they alert the authorities separately, suddenly there are two cases of a missing Jimmy, who was never missing in the first place.

Besides, the number is obviously a scare figure. suranyi is right: 1% of kids in the UK are abducted every year? Does that even make sense?

And so we’re back to why this case is so much in the news. tygre and I disagree about this, but IMHO some cases get more media attention than others for at least one legitimate reason: the police are stumped. This case seems to fit this: there seem to be no leads, no witnesses, no nothing. The police don’t even know where the kid disappeared from, who saw him last, whether he was abducted or wandered away or even is hiding somewhere out of childlike fear of getting in trouble. They need an eyewitness, and badly, for this case to have even the slightest chance of turning out positively. I don’t know if it’s a case of “deserves attention”, but media focus on this case is going to have more of a potential effect than, say, a 16-year-old runaway case.

But tygre and I would agree on this: part of the reason this case is in the news is because it is rare. The media does not report on “Dog Bites Man.”

Because he’s a cute kid and a 2nd grader and it hurts your heart to imagine that he’s been taken and/or hurt and/or dead.

A case like this, where a kid is abducted by a stranger from a place where they should be safe, is really rare, and it scares the shit out of people.

I grew up in a smallish (pop. ~50,000) middle/upper-middle class city in Northern California that has an average annual murder rate of zero. A lot of families, like my own, have moved there from more urban areas so they can send their kids to good schools and have white picket fences, etc., etc. When I was in high school, there was a violent kidnapping there, wherein a child was abducted from her house during a sleepover. It garnered national headlines. (My family went on vacation to Mexico when she was still missing, before her body was discovered, and it was easy to follow the case on CNN in the hotel.) Everyone knows that bad things happen in poor neighborhoods, but when something really terrible happens to a middle-class person in a middle-class neighborhood, it is extremely unsettling to all of us ordinary middle-class folk. It tears down any illusions we might have about our safety.

I don’t know, writing this out is kind of upsetting to me. I want to say that this was a really traumatic event for people in my hometown, and I guess to some extent, it still is. I always follow stranger abduction stories with an interest I might not otherwise have.

It’s not fair to people in impoverished areas that their tragedies don’t attract the media’s attention the way this kind of thing does, though. But I don’t think I need to explain the way the media works.

The case is very odd in that the boy disappeared after he was already at school. He had his picture taken that morning at school in front of his science project, proving he was at school, but he never made it to class.

Stranger abducting him from inside the school seems highly unlikely, though possible.

One of the reasons for the media overload is to put everybody on the alert to look out for the kid. If you don’t know what he looks like, if you do happen to see him you won’t know to report it.

I’m not a cop, but from what I’ve heard, time is of the essence in cases like this. The more people know, and the faster they know it, the better chance the kid will be found.

I see Duke called me out already but yeah – the overwhelming majority of missing child reports are cleared within 24-48 hours and/or the authorities know where the child is (parental abductions, runaways). If you count every.single.case of a kid who doesn’t come home on the regular bus and a parent panics and calls the police to make a report, then it’s discovered that the kid stayed late for band or went home with a friend, and every case of a kid stomping off in a huff to spend the night somewhere else…you get to 100K cases.

A classic stranger abduction, where the child is taken by someone s/he does not know, kept overnight, taken more than 50 miles away, where there is intent to kill/harm or keep the child permanently – THOSE are vanishingly rare, about 115 cases in the US every year. That’s why they make the news – because they are so rare.

Something is a bit hinky about this case, to me. Why didn’t the school call to see where the kid was? Every school my kids have attended calls home by 10 a.m. if the child has not been reported absent and is not in school that day. I wonder if any of the stepmom’s stops that day remember her stopping by.

I think just from reading that article it would be obvious why this has gotten a lot of attention…child walks down the hallway from what ever room the science fair was held in, to his classroom, and is never heard from again? In the school? And no word from the teacher whether he was in his classroom at all that day? yeah, I want to hear more about this…

I can see how a kid being absent from school on a day like that might get overlooked. It seems like having a science fair held right at the beginning of the school day might result in a lot of kids being late to class or attendance being skipped in the confusion. Since we don’t know how the day was structured…did everyone show up for school, go to their homerooms,and then move down to the auditorium in lines, meeting their parents there? Or did they all just mass into the cafeteria first thing and parents were helping set up displays, and then the kids were expected to get to their room by a certain time?..it is a mystery that intrigues people until, more details come out.

And probably a slow news day, and a break from oil spills and Israelis.

Saw an interview with two of the investigators on a morning show. No real updates. Matt Laurer brought up the fact that the family is being very quiet. The detectives responded that the family is leaning on each other right now and that he suspects in time, if the boy is not found, the family may make a statement or appeal.

Which did work with that little girl whose kidnapper had gruesomely murdered her family, remember - there was a waitress who thought she recognized her and called the cops.

But yeah, this sort of thing is very rare and rare and scary sells papers. So people get scared for no good reason whatsoever.

Right, she was from Idaho and no one had hope that she would ever be found alive…

The little girls name was Shasta, as I recall.

I was gonna say that too until I saw his picture. He’s Ernest Borgnine cute.

White kid. Upper middle-class. Dad works at Intel (geek companies LOVE to help out - refer to the search for Jim Gray). Stepdad is law enforcement.

Went missing from school, where we think kids are most safe.

Oregon is small enough that this is a huge story.

I’ve been following this case from the start on the big sleuthing forum (we’re not allowed to name other forums here, right? Or is it just if we were to refer to them derogatorily?)