The Most Terrifying Child Abductions (and How They Can Be Prevented)

Here’s a scary thought: Over 2,100 children are reported missing every day in the U.S., the Child Rescue Network reports. The good news is many of these are just due to miscommunication, but unfortunately, that’s not the case for most. Many kids are actually taken by family members to exact revenge on a parent — and of course, strangers also pose a significant danger.

You shouldn’t panic yet, though — there’s actually a lot you can do to help prevent an abduction. Here, we take a look at some cases of child abduction and how you can help prevent a similar event from occurring.

1. The abduction and murder of Marion Parker

A black and white photo of Marion Parker

Marion Parker | LA Weekly

This famous murder from 1927 is seriously deranged, and it shocked the entire U.S. when it happened. LA Weekly reports Edward Hickman, the then 19-year-old murderer, walked into then 12-year-old Marion Parker’s junior high school. He said he needed to take her out of class and deliver her to her sick father’s bedside.

This seems suspicious already — and it only gets worse. He took her back to his apartment, murdered her, and arranged a ransom with her father as if she was still alive. Only when they met up to exchange the cash did her father realize what occurred.

What could have been done?

Father walking little daughter with backpack.

You might find it inconvenient that you have to show your ID to get into your child’s school, but these precautions are necessary. | Nadezhda1906/iStock/Getty Images

You may think all children are abducted kicking and screaming at their assailant, but as you see here, that’s not always the case. Marion Parker believed Hickman had good intentions at first, as did Mrs. Mary Holt, the teacher who spoke to Hickman about picking up the child. Holt didn’t ask Hickman any questions, even though there were glaring problems with his story (Marion Parker was a twin, and he said he needed to pick up the “youngest daughter” from school).

The lesson here is to ask questions if you notice suspicious activity. And always warn children never to walk away with adults they don’t know, no matter what their story is. 

2. The abduction of Jaycee Dugard

Jaycee Dugard speaking into a microphone.

Jaycee Dugard | Biography

You probably remember this crazy story — and thankfully, it has a happy ending. ABC News reports Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped at the age of 11 by Phillip and Nancy Garrido back in 1991. She lived in the family’s backyard compound until 2009, when her luck finally shifted. Police officer Lisa Campbell grew suspicious of Phillip Garrido and called his parole officer, who discovered Jaycee, People reports. Her two children, both fathered by Phillip, were also found and rescued, and both Phillip and Nancy are now in prison.

What could have been done?

Cheerful School Children smiling together.

Talk to your children about boundaries. | Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images

It’s hard to fathom that Jaycee Dugard didn’t reach out for help over 18 years. After all, she assisted with the Garrido business and was in public multiple times, even though she was given a new name by the family and never attempted to draw attention to herself.

The Child Rescue Network teaches us that abductors generally want complacent, obedient children — it’s easier to get away with the crime if the child doesn’t act defiantly. Warn the children in your life that when boundaries are crossed, they can freely tell their captor “NO” and draw attention to themselves publicly.

3. The abduction of Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart wearing a red shirt and standing in front of a horse.

Elizabeth Smart | CBS News

Elizabeth Smart’s harrowing nine-month kidnapping shook America to its core. Back in 2002, then 14-year-old Elizabeth was taken from her bedroom by her abductor, Brian Mitchell, NBC News reports. She was then taken to a campsite up a mountainside for weeks, until eventually Mitchell and his wife moved her to California for the winter. Thanks to Smart’s quick thinking, she was able to manipulate the two into going back to her home state of Utah, where she was eventually sighted and found.

What could have been done?

Grandparents posing with her grandchildren in a field.

Although it may be hard, talk to your children about what to do in case of an emergency. | Omgimages/iStock/Getty Images

Before the kidnapping, Elizabeth Smart’s mother actually offered Brian Mitchell a job in their household, the Guardian notes. He was someone the family knew of — which is common in child abduction cases. Know the people you associate with, and if they seem suspicious at all, take this as an early warning.

HuffPost also suggests teaching children the “Velcro” technique. If someone is trying to grab them, they should hold onto anything available near them — a tree, another person, etc. — and start screaming for help to attract attention.

Safety tips to remember

Little girls traveling by an airplane.

It’s time to bring your children into your safety plans. | Maximkabb/iStock/Getty Images

Kidnapping is every parent’s nightmare, so there are a few safety tips you should keep in mind. First, teach children to yell, “this is not my mom/dad!” instead of just screaming, as this sends a clearer message to those around them. And always have a family code word they can use to know if someone’s safe. If you ever have to send a friend to pick them up, they can ask that person the code word when they arrive so they know it’s OK to go with them.

Remember — it doesn’t matter how nice your neighborhood or part of town is. Anyone can be vulnerable, so do your part to ensure a child’s safety.