Washington, DC - As part of the 38th annual commemoration of National Missing Children’s Day, the Department of Justice today honored nine courageous individuals for their extraordinary efforts to recover missing children and bring sexual predators to justice. This year’s award recipients include four detectives and a sergeant from Fresno, California; two coordinators in the Missing Child Center-Hawaii in Honolulu; a sergeant from Addison, Illinois; and a U.S. Postal Service employee from Columbia, Maryland.
“These brave and resourceful professionals have earned our greatest respect and deserve our deepest gratitude,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Department of Justice is proud to stand with these heroes, and we are grateful to the thousands of law enforcement officers and missing children’s advocates throughout the nation who work so hard to protect our children.”
The Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and OJP’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) lead the nation in observing National Missing Children’s Day. The observance was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 in memory of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared while walking to his bus stop in lower Manhattan on May 25, 1979. National Missing Children’s Day honors his memory and those children still missing. Etan’s killer was convicted in February 2017, but the case remains active because his body was never found.
“There is no clearer expression of our priorities as a society than the safety and welfare of our young people,” said OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon. “These outstanding law enforcement professionals, committed advocates and compassionate citizens show us at our collective best – as a nation dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable and determined to secure a bright future for its youngest members.”
In lieu of an in-person ceremony, OJJDP has launched a website today featuring information about the awardees and statements from Attorney General Garland, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Solomon, OJJDP Acting Administrator Chyrl Jones, and President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children John F. Clark.
“These nine individuals have displayed exceptional bravery and dedication in reuniting missing children with their families,” said OJJDP Acting Administrator Jones. “We are thrilled to honor them on this special day.”
This year’s recipients are honored with the following awards:
Attorney General’s Special Commendation: This commendation recognizes the extraordinary efforts of an Internet Crimes Against Children task force, an affiliate agency or an individual assigned to either for making a significant investigative or program contribution to the ICAC task force program.
Recipients: Sergeant Chad Stokes, Detective Cassandra Stevens, Detective Scott Schwamb, Detective Randall Heckman and Detective Steven Souphasith from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office’s Central California ICAC Task Force in Fresno, California. They led an investigation that resulted in the arrest of 34 sexual predators who sought to take advantage of children’s increased presence online during the pandemic.
Missing Children’s Citizen Award: This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of private citizens for their unselfish acts to safely recover missing or abducted children.
Recipient: Keith Rollins, from the United States Postal Service in Columbia, Maryland. Mr. Rollins helped locate a 2-year-old boy who had been reported missing after he followed an adult out of the house and wandered away.
Missing Children’s Law Enforcement Award: This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of law enforcement officers who have made a significant investigative or program contribution to the safety of children.
Recipient: Sergeant Stefan Bjes from the Addison, Illinois, Police Department. Sergeant Bjes has developed several programs that have enhanced the safety of children with special needs. He has also trained officers at 15 police departments across the Midwest and frequently presents at police conferences nationwide.
Missing Children’s Child Protection Award: This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of child protective service agency personnel, law enforcement officers or other professionals who have made a significant investigative or program contribution to protecting children from abuse or victimization.
Recipients: Amanda Leonard and Kaleilani Grant from the Department of the Attorney General’s Missing Child Center-Hawaii in Honolulu. Ms. Leonard and Ms. Grant were instrumental in implementing Operation Shine the Light, a cooperative effort between Missing Child Center-Hawaii; federal, state and local law enforcement agencies; and four nonprofit organizations, which recovered 180 missing children in Hawaii between November 2019 and November 2020.
The Department also named Heidy Jimena Perez Veleta from Sunnyside Elementary School in Dodge City, Kansas, winner of the 2021 National Missing Children’s Day poster contest. The contest creates an opportunity for schools, law enforcement and child advocates to discuss the issue of child safety with youth and their parents.
The FBI received more than 365,000 reports of missing children last year. Additional information about National Missing Children’s Day is available on OJJDP’s website.