Queens' Missing Kids
By Azi Paybarah and Angela Montefinise and Liz Goff
The last time Nashwah Saad El-Sayed was seen by her mother, the two-year-old was asleep in her Richmond Hill home. El-Sayed’s non-custodial father, Mohammed Saad El-Sayed, walked in, grabbed her, and ran away.
He later fled the country, leaving his ex-wife with no clue of where he and their daughter were going.
That was 11 years ago.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued a warrant for his arrest, but both he and the now-13-year-old Nashwah are still missing.
In Little Neck, one-year-old Melissa Erin Reiter was taken out of her home by her mother, Beth Shari Reiter, after the court gave the baby’s father custody. Despite the efforts of police, neither the child nor the mother has ever been heard from since that day in May 1992.
Fourteen-year-old Deniese Hirman walked out of her home on Aug. 7, 1999, headed for school. No one has seen her since.
These are just three examples of the 13 Queens children who have been reported missing to police over the past 15 years and still haven’t been found. Some children ran away, others were taken by family members, others were taken by strangers.
On May 25, all of the nation’s missing kids will be remembered during National Missing Children’s Day. The day was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1979 and acts as an annual reminder to renew efforts to find missing children – some of whom are now adults.
In Queens, about 650 kids were reported missing each year, according to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice, but most are found within 24 hours.
One police official explained that most reports of missing children are “miscommunications,” and that children have just forgotten to tell their parents where they were going. Still, he said, parents should immediately report a missing child to the New York City Police Department so the search can begin.
According to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice, there are 13 missing children who have open cases in Queens. Of those 13, seven are considered “endangered runaways,” five were “family abductions,” and one is considered “endangered missing.” Runaways are the most common, according to police, followed by family abductions.
Most family abductions are by the non-custodial parent, police said.
The most rare form of abduction is by a stranger who is putting the child in danger, police said.
Once a report is made, the Police Department puts detective on the case, but if a child is deemed to be in danger, the State gets involved.
One new technique in the search for missing children is the Amber Alert, which was developed by the New York State Department of Criminal Justice. A description of the person is flashed across television and radio stations and electronic highway signs – instantly turning viewers and motorists into a search party.
Named after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman who was abducted and killed in Texas, the system has been adopted in various states.
For an Amber Alert, police must determine the missing person is under 17-years-old, was abducted, is in danger of bodily harm or death, and that details of the child, vehicle and/or abductor is available.
Out Of Harm’s Reach
Learning about safety should begin “as soon as kids can understand the word ‘stranger,’” said Ryan Healy, who will present the Steal Proof Master’s anti-abduction program on Saturday, May 22.
To get safety tips into the minds of youngsters, the Steal Proof Masters movie is a cross between Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, said Healy.
According to the website for the program, www.adventuresinsafety.com, “Each of the “Evil Warriors” [in the film] represents a common abduction lure or inappropriate action used today by child predators.”
The 45-minute film is part of the nationwide program aimed at keeping children safe from stranger abductions. The movie was created by Adventures in Safety, LLC, whose “programs were created to teach children awareness through the vehicle of fantasy.”
Safe Kid Talk
Safety for young children is the focus of another nationwide program, The Escape School.
“When we’re scared, we all act predictably, and the abductor wants the child to act predictably,” said local presenter Adelle Kasdan, based in Forest Hills.
After giving a presentation to children around seven years old, Kasdan said, “[A]ll the rules change in a dangerous situation,” adding that the programs try to “discuss the subject in a nonthreatening, calm manner. We’re not dealing with fear and worry, we’re concerned with taking action.”
One action suggested by The Escape School is to “Velcro” onto someone whose help is sought. “In this day and age, an adult may not help you,” said Kasdan. “We teach a child to grab on to the leg, velcro onto someone…”
Especially for young children, safety is about being “smart, not scared,” said Kasdan. “Children as young as six understand that ‘u-oh feeling.’ Anytime you feel that u-oh feeling, trust it. It’s probably telling you the right thing,” she said.
Police at Patrol Borough Queens North offered the following tips for parents looking to keep their kids safe:
• Children should be taught their full name, address, phone number and how to dial 911.
•Parents should get to know their kids friends, and keep addresses and phone numbers on hand.
•Walking with your kids through your neighborhoods, ad who them where they can find adults who can help in an emergency.
•Teach children not to talk to or go with strangers, even if they claim to be friends of the family. If a stranger tries to pick a child up from school, the child should be taught to go back inside the school.
•Never send children out with tags or clothing that bears their names.
If you have any information on a missing child, call the National Center For Missing And Exploited Children at (800) The-Lost or the New York State Missing & Exploited Children Clearinghouse at (800) Find-Kid.