Non-Family Child Abductions

It’s a fearsome thought: a child snatched by a stranger. Who investigates these crimes? We do. It’s our job to handle cases of child abductions, often working closely with state and local law enforcement.

In 1932, Congress gave the FBI jurisdiction under the “Lindbergh Law” to immediately investigate any reported mysterious disappearance or kidnapping involving a child of “tender age”—usually 12 or younger. And just to be clear, before we get involved, there does not have to be a ransom demand and the child does not have to cross state lines or be missing for 24 hours.

FBI agents and analysts

Introducing the CARD Teams

Child abductions by strangers are often complex and high-profile cases. And time is of the essence.

That’s why we’ve added another tool in our Violent Crimes Against Children program that helps our local field offices in these cases: our Child Abduction Rapid Deployment, or CARD, teams.

Here’s the “who, what, when, and where” of these teams:

Who makes up a CARD team? FBI agents with in-depth experience and a proven track record in violent crimes against children investigations, especially cases where a child has been abducted by someone other than a family member. Once selected, team members go through extensive training. Each team has a designated leader. The teams work closely with behavioral analysts, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime coordinators, and Child Exploitation Task Force members.

What do the CARD teams do? Relying on their expertise and experience, team members make sure the investigation moves quickly, efficiently, and thoroughly. They provide our field offices running the investigations with on-site investigative, technical, and resource assistance during the initial critical period after a child is kidnapped.

When are the teams deployed? Soon after an abduction has been reported to a local FBI field office, to FBI Headquarters, or to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, or in other cases when the FBI determines an investigation is warranted.

Where are the teams located and where have they been deployed? We’ve created five regional teams nationwide to cover the Northeast, Southeast, North Central, South Central, and West. With the whole nation covered, we can send a team anywhere in the U.S. within hours.

In addition to their unique expertise, CARD teams can quickly establish an on-site command post to centralize investigative efforts and operations. Other assets they bring to the table include a new mapping tool to identify and locate registered sex offenders in the area, national and international lead coverage, and the Child Abduction Response Plan to guide investigative efforts.

Child Abductions—No Ransom

Our field offices respond to cases involving the mysterious disappearance of a child whenever and however they come to our attention. All reports of circumstances indicating that a minor has or possibly has been abducted are afforded an immediate preliminary inquiry.

In this initial inquiry, we evaluate all evidence, circumstances, and information to determine if an investigation is warranted under federal law. (For instance, it is a federal violation for a person to travel between states to engage in any sexual act with a person under 18.) If a case is warranted, we will immediately open an investigation in partnership with state and local authorities.

During 2012 alone, law enforcement entered 797,400 children as missing into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database. Although the majority of these children were temporarily missing and not abducted, we are committed to assisting law enforcement in investigating cases where there is appropriate jurisdiction.

National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC)

Our National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), part of our Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) near Quantico, Virginia, provides free assistance—in the form of investigative/operational support, research, and training—to federal, state, local, and international law enforcement agencies.

In particular, the NCAVC has a rapid response element that:

  • Applies the most current expertise available in matters involving missing and exploited children;
  • Provides immediate operational assistance to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies involved in violent crime investigations; and
  • Provides onsite investigative support through technical and forensic resource coordination.

Upon being notified that a child has been abducted, our field offices and the NCAVC coordinate an immediate response to the abduction situation. The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 states that law enforcement agencies may not observe a waiting period before accepting a missing child report and that each missing child that is reported to law enforcement must be entered immediately into the state law enforcement system and National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Our special agents join local law enforcement in coordinating and conducting comprehensive investigations. Our Evidence Response Team personnel may conduct the forensic investigation of the abduction site, while a Rapid Start Team may immediately be deployed to coordinate and track investigative leads, which often number in the thousands.

Members of NCAVC also teach and give presentations at training courses for Child Exploitation Task Force members. In addition, more than 150 FBI agents nationwide are designated as NCAVC coordinators and provide a necessary and effective link between the NCAVC, our local field offices, and local law enforcement.

The Morgan P. Hardiman Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center (CASMIRC) was also established through legislation in 1998 under the NCAVC. According to the legislation, CASMIRC is “to provide investigative support through the coordination and provision of federal law enforcement resources, training, and application of other multidisciplinary expertise to assist federal, state, and local authorities in matters involving child abductions, mysterious disappearances of children, child homicide, and serial murder across the country.”

Public Outreach

Many FBI employees are parents, too, and we want nothing more than to keep your children safe. To that end, we make a concerted effort to help prevent child abductions in the first place through public outreach and education. See our Be Crime Smart webpage for more tips and guidance.

For more information about current kidnapping, child abduction, and missing person cases that we are investigating, visit the Kidnapping and Missing Persons webpage.