NORTON — A 13-year-old girl was reported abducted while riding her bicycle on Power Street Wednesday, sending scores of police into neighborhoods in Chartley and Barrowsville.
Thankfully, it was all a drill.
Over two dozen law enforcement agencies teamed with the FBI to polish up on tactics to employ when a child goes missing or is reported abducted.
Norton Police Chief Brian Clark said the exercise was an annual practice drill since the town was certified by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013.
“This year we decided to train more officers,” Clark said.
The police chief said 60 officers from 26 law enforcement agencies participated in the search exercise Wednesday and 140 attended training at Gillette Stadium earlier this week. Among those participating were officers from Attleboro, Norton, Plainville, Wrentham, Mansfield, Walpole and Easton.
The training was conducted at no cost to the towns by the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team. The team is similar to the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council’s Child Abduction Response Team, which has members from many area police departments.
“It can happen anytime, anywhere,” Clark said.
Two decades ago, the town mourned the loss of 9-year-old Corey Anderson, who ran outside after the family dog during a heavy snowstorm and perished.
While police attend many kinds of training classes regarding various types of investigations, Clark said, there are few classes about investigating missing or abducted children.
In a room at the parish center of St. Mary’s Church on Route 123, officers combed over maps and other information on laptops. Others broke off in teams to conduct a search for the “missing” 13-year-old while Wrentham Detective Sgt. James Barrett served as incident commander.
“When a child is missing,” Clark said, “time is of the essence. The most important thing to do is find the child and certainly alive.”
FBI statistics show there were over 420,000 missing children reports filed in 2018. However, that number is inflated because it includes runaway children who repeatedly leave their homes.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private, nonprofit corporation dedicated to finding missing children, assisted law enforcement with 25,000 cases.
While over 90 percent were considered endangered runaways, less than 1 percent were abductions by a stranger, 4 percent were abductions by a family member and 1 percent were missing or injured children.
The police chief said the FBI was on hand this year because of their resources and expertise in child abductions and missing children.
Robert King, an FBI special agent from New Orleans who is a member of the CARD team, said the agency has 161 teams deployed nationally that also investigate cold cases and are available to local and state police departments for phone consultations.
“We have a team of experts that have been doing a lot of this,” King said of the training exercise.
In the scenario Wednesday, a town water department employee called 911 to report the girl was abducted. The girl was found safe and unharmed and the suspect was captured behind a public works facility off John Scott Boulevard with the help of surveillance cameras.
Clark said it is not a scenario he ever wants to see happen, but the drill was important.
“We did an after-action review. Certainly, it’s chaotic. It’s stressful. But you realize soon that you need a large number of police officers because it involved a large area,” Clark said.