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Missing children cases surge in New Mexico, rise in other Mountain West states

A digital highway sign displays an Amber Alert message to travelers.
Darwin Brandis
More than 1,000 children have been successfully recovered as a direct result of the AMBER Alert program, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

May 25 was National Missing Children’s Day, and advocates are calling attention to the rising number of missing children around the country, including in parts of the Mountain West.

In 2021, there were nearly 28,000 reports of missing children in the U.S., and nearly 3,000 were still missing at the end of the year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

New Mexico saw the biggest increase in missing children among Mountain West states. It counted 74 active cases at the end of last year – more than four times the number at the end of 2020. Nevada, Utah and Montana also saw active case numbers increase compared to the year prior.

Of all Mountain West states, Arizona has seen the highest number of missing children since the pandemic started, with more than 1,500 reports. There were 142 active cases at the end of last year.

Leemie Kahng-Sofer, NCMEC’s director of case management, says some reports of missing children have been a direct result of the pandemic.

“They maybe ran away from home, and it was in frustration to some of the stay-at-home restrictions,” Kahng-Sofer said. “And then there were also on the family front … certainly, visitation rights and children not being returned due to concerns of COVID.”

The pandemic has also led to a rise in online predators trying to lure children. In fact, in 2020, NCMEC tracked a 97% year-over-year increase in such reports.

Kahng-Sofer said the center is working to raise awareness around missing children and spread a message of prevention and hope. She added that the simple act of sharing posters of missing children on social media can make a big difference.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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