As part of the 39th annual commemoration of National Missing Children’s Day, the Department of Justice today honored 12 courageous individuals for their extraordinary efforts to locate missing children and bring sexual predators to justice.
“Every day, law enforcement professionals, advocates and citizens step in to protect children from harm, reunite missing children with their families and provide support following a traumatic event,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Today, the Department of Justice is proud to honor some of these heroes and recognize them for their tireless work to create a safer and better world.”
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is the national lead in observing National Missing Children’s Day. The celebration was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 in memory of six-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.
“We are at our best as a nation when we work to secure a brighter future for our children,” said Amy L. Solomon, OJP’s senior assistant deputy attorney general. “There is no better reflection of our values as a company than our concern for the well-being of our young people, and these committed professionals have made our aspirations clear.
In lieu of an in-person ceremony, the OJJDP today launched a website with information on the award winners and statements from OJP Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Solomon, OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children President and CEO Michelle DeLaune.
“We are deeply grateful to these 12 individuals for their outstanding acts of bravery, vigilance and compassion on behalf of the children of our country,” said OJJDP Administrator Ryan. “We couldn’t be more proud to honor them on this special day.”
This year’s recipients are honored with the following awards:
Special Commendation from the Attorney General: This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, affiliated agency, or individual assigned to either in making a significant contribution to the investigation or the agenda of the ICAC working group.
Recipients: Special Agent Theodore Indermuehle, Special Agent Wade Beardsley, Victim Services Specialist Leeana Liska and Senior Digital Forensics Examiner Tyrel Olsen of the Wisconsin ICAC Task Force, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman for the Western District of Wisconsin. They participated in an investigation that resulted in the arrest, prosecution and conviction of a high school teacher who was a sexual predator and who communicated directly with underage girls in numerous states to obtain sexually explicit videos .
Missing Children Law Enforcement Awards: This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of law enforcement officers who have made a significant contribution to the investigation or program for the safety of children.
Recipients: Special Agents Maria Markley, Star’Shemah Sylvester, Kelli Johnson, Lisa Carroll, and Brandy Nettles from Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Headquarters and Field Offices. They led NCIS efforts related to two significant initiatives, Operation Stolen Innocence and a cyber operation targeting Navy offenders. These included creating a complex computer program to collect and analyze data from multiple sources.
Missing Children Protection Award: This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of child protective services personnel, law enforcement officers or other professionals who have made a significant contribution to the investigation or program to protect children from abuse or victimization.
Recipients: Deputy Special Agent in Charge Shelly Smitherman and Intelligence Analyst Emily Keifer of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Nashville. In coordination with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, they led Operation Volunteer Strong, a daring effort to identify and locate missing children in the state, leading to the recovery of 150 children in Tennessee. In some cases, recovered children have been identified as victims of human trafficking, leading to further investigations.
The Department also named Sue Lee, a 5th grade student at St. James’s Episcopal School in Los Angeles, California, as the winner of the 2022 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 young people and their parents.
OJP provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance and other resources to improve the nation’s ability to prevent and reduce crime, advance racial equity in the administration of justice, assist victims and strengthen criminal and juvenile justice systems. For more information about OJP and its components, visit www.ojp.gov.