Entering and Breaking: Searching for Lost and Found Children

How missing children can be simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.

| Spring 2016

  • Amber Alert
    The Amber alert was active. It was now nearing two o’clock. The boys had been missing for two hours.
    Photo by Flickr/Technowannabe

  • Amber Alert

I  had just walked through my office door and sat down at my desk, hours later than I’d hoped, and was clearing away the weekend’s accumulation of hassling emails, when the phone rang, breaking my concentration. It was Karina, in a tizzy; the boys were missing. She’d been in the bathroom only a few minutes, and when she came out, the back door was ajar, Marcos and James nowhere to be found.

Understanding my role in situations such as this, and having lost and found children numerous times before, and worrying that I’d made the half-hour commute only a few minutes ago, and staring down at the pile of petty tasks I’d wanted to finish, and wishing for some quality writing time before an on-time departure, and realizing that on this Halloween night I’d get no work done at home, I spoke calmly, reassuring Karina that the boys were certainly nearby, maybe in the head-high weeds in the empty lot just across the backyard, maybe in the garage, maybe at the Andersons’—had she checked the playroom upstairs?

“Of course I checked the playroom!”

Ditto on the other places. She wanted me home right away. I wanted to avoid driving halfway there only to get the relieved phone call. I wanted peace and systematic thinking, a plan, but I also wanted to not get worked up, to solve the problem by paying it no heed. The statistics on such disappearances were overwhelmingly in our favor.

Most kids were found after a few minutes, innocently playing, unaware that they were causing their parents consternation. Marcos and James, barely three and not yet two, were overwhelmingly more likely to have wandered off than to have been taken, more likely to be safely ensconced than in any sort of danger. The fact that I was making up these statistics based on guesses and wishes did not dissuade me from believing them. I offered to call friends and neighbors to enlist their help, which I did, and then went back to work dispatching emails.

When Karina called again a few minutes later, I expected good news, but she was growing more distraught. I explained that the neighbors were already searching, which she knew, and suggested that she stay close to home so the boys would find her there when they returned. She had called the police, and she wanted me home now. So I quickly packed up and began the drive.

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