The History of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Our History

Never stop searching

Thirty-two years ago, police could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns, even stolen horses into the FBI's crime database – but not stolen children. Several tragic cases began to awaken the nation to the problem that there was no coordinated national system for addressing missing children cases. In 1979, 6-year-old Etan Patz vanished from a New York street on his way to school. Over the next several years, 29 children and young adults were found murdered in Atlanta. Then in 1981, 6-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from a Florida shopping mall and later found brutally murdered.When Adam first disappeared, his parents, John and Revé Walsh, turned to law enforcement to help find their son. To their disbelief, there was no coordinated effort among law enforcement to search for Adam on a state or national level and no organization to help the family in their desperation. In January 1984, the Walshes and other child advocates incorporated The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® (“NCMEC”) in the District of Columbia as a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation to help find missing children and prevent child victimization. Former President Ronald Reagan was our honored guest when we officially opened our doors.

Our progress

Today, with better public awareness, training, laws and technology, we are able to help bring more and more missing children home every day, including long-term missing children. Elizabeth Smart of Utah was recovered after nine months; Shawn Hornbeck of Missouri after four years; Jaycee Dugard of California after 18 years; Carlina White of New York after 23 years; and Marx Barnes of Hawaii after 34 years.

In 1998, NCMEC created the CyberTipline, which serves as the national mechanism for the public and electronic service providers to report of suspected child sexual exploitation. Since its inception in 1998, the CyberTipline has processed millions of reports concerning crimes against children, including online enticement for sexual acts, sexual molestation, child pornography and unsolicited obscene material.

Missing Children's Day

Every May 25, which is the anniversary of Etan Patz's disappearance, the nation observes Missing Children's Day. For over three decades, NCMEC has continued to help search for children like Etan. We never forget a child and never give up hope no matter how long a child has been missing. National Missing Children's Day honors this commitment to help locate and recover missing children like Etan by reminding parents, guardians, families and communities that every child deserves a safe childhood.

Child ID