Kaiserslautern remembers missing children

Christine June
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

***image1***All Nickie Bergeman did was reach up to get something from the top shelf at a stateside commissary. By the time she came back down, her 18-month-old son was missing.

“It takes that quick,” said Mrs. Bergeman snapping her fingers, “for someone to steal your child.”

Luckily, everything turned out alright for Mrs. Bergeman and her son, now 18 years old, but the memory of that day prompted her to help organize the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern’s National Missing Children’s Day event held May 24 on Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Close to 100 children and their parents were at the two-hour event to learn how to stay safe, whether on or off base.

“As long as we teach our children how to be safe – ‘Stranger Danger,’ that’s the only thing that matters,” said Mrs. Bergeman, who has been the garrison’s Safe Neighborhood Awareness Program volunteer coordinator at LRMC for almost four years.

Since 1983, the United States has observed May 25 as National Missing Children’s Day. This date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the day in 1979 when 6-year-old Ethan Patz disappeared from a New York street corner on his way to school. He is still missing.

National Missing Children’s Day shows a nationwide commitment to help locate and recover missing children and as a reminder for parents, guardians and other trusted-adult role models to make child safety a priority, said Maj. Jeneen Johnson, the garrison’s Emergency Services director.

“What’s important once a child goes missing is to have appropriate identification that’s not common place in a family environment and that’s what we wanted parents to be aware of,” said Major Johnson on why the garrison hosted this event.

Appropriate identification includes parents maintaining a copy of their children’s Deoxyribonucleic Acid, commonly known as DNA. This is as simple as putting several strands of children’s hair from the root, in a plastic bag in a freezer, said Major Johnson.

Tips like these as well as what information will be needed by law enforcement officials were consolidated for parents in the ChildPrint ID Kit that was handed out free at the event. The kit contains an ink strip for parents to fingerprint their children and a chart for dentists to annotate any identifying dental features.  It also has a place for parents to write down any identifying characteristics their children may have, such as scars, dimples and birth marks.

Written in bold on the kit is the important fact that there is not a waiting period required to report a missing child to the police.

Fire safety was also emphasized at the event with the garrison’s fire department performing the Sesame Street Muppet Show, as well as how to put out fires using the different types of fire extinguishers.  Girl Scouts of America Troop 202 in Landstuhl sponsored a question-and-answer game regarding safety, as well as assisting with the event.