Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the Opening of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

June 13, 1984

Thank you for a very warm welcome, and especially from one young lady up here. But Attorney General Smith, distinguished Members of the Congress, and honored guests and ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and welcome to the White House.

I'm delighted to have the opportunity to help launch the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and to tell you that the safety and protection of our children is a top priority on the national agenda. All Americans, and especially our youth, should have the right and the opportunity to walk our streets, to play and to grow and to live their lives without being at risk.

Sadly, our children are at risk. Johnny Gosh, age 12, Des Moines, Iowa, vanished from his paper route in September of 1982. He's still missing. Kevin Collins, a 10-year-old lad from San Francisco, disappeared last February after basketball practice. Ann Gotlib, 12, of Louisville, Kentucky, has been gone without a trace since last summer. And then there was Adam. America knows Adam Walsh and of his tragic story -- an innocent victim of a cruel, predatory crime.

There are too many children like Adam: too many stolen each year from loved ones; too many who feel pain and suffering; too many who fall prey to exploitation and death. We don't know the exact number of victims, but it certainly numbers in the thousands.

When Adam Walsh, a bright, happy, 6-year-old boy disappeared in the summer of 1981, John and Reve Walsh found themselves alone in their crisis. They were thwarted by jurisdictional tangles and foot-dragging, and the heartbreak of the moment became a chilling nightmare of terror and unbelievable frustration.

Our commitment to criminal justice goes far deeper than a desire to punish the guilty. Our laws represent the collective moral voice of a free society. And right now that voice is crying out to protect our children and keep them safe.

I hope we can mark the opening of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by redoubling our efforts to do just that. We must and will continue cracking down on career criminals, drugpushers, and the pornographers. We must and will continue working to protect the interests of our children and their families.

But make no mistake, the strongest guardian against crime, and particularly crime against children, is we, the people. Helen Kromer wrote, ``One man awake can waken another. The second can awaken his next door brother. The three awake can rouse the town by turning the whole place upside down. And the many awake make such a fuss they finally awaken the rest of us.''

The courage of John and Reve Walsh in the face of the most difficult grief imaginable awakened our nation to the tragedy of America's missing children. Thanks to their efforts and those of Senator Paula Hawkins and many others, I was able to sign the Missing Children Act into law in October of 1982. The act established a system allowing parents, under certain circumstances, access to a central computer file to help trace missing children. The act also aids in identifying deceased children and adults and at least eases the pain of not knowing.

We've also recently signed into law child pornography legislation which will assist law enforcement agencies in their war against the exploitation of children.

And let me take this opportunity to salute a related effort aimed at helping children who become wards of the court. The Court-Appointed Special Advocate program, CASA, as it's called, is a new community-based effort of trained volunteers serving as advocates of abused and neglected children. CASA is already working in several States, giving America's discarded children the protection they need.

And now we're launching an effort to extend the program all across America. But, as you know, these efforts are only the essential first steps, and formidable challenges remain. Meeting them is what the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is all about.

Starting with a $3.3 million Justice Department grant, the Center will have three divisions. The Division on Missing Children will assist parents and citizens groups in locating and safely returning missing children. It will give technical assistance to law enforcement agencies, and it will help coordinate the efforts of community organizations all across America that are involved in the missing children activities. And later this summer, the Center will open a toll-free 800 telephone number to handle inquiries and accept information on sightings.

The Division on Exploited Children will provide valuable support and technical assistance to the professionals who deal with these difficult missing children cases every day.

The Division on Education, Prevention, and Public Awareness will collect and distribute information on the most effective ways to address and prevent the problem of the estimated 1.8 million children missing from their homes each year.

What we're doing is launching a public-private partnership. Partnerships can take advantage of every opportunity available, and they can use these opportunities in a most efficient and productive way to protect our children and keep them safe.

No single sector of our nation can solve the problem of missing and exploited children alone. But by working together, pooling our resources, and building on our strengths, we can accomplish great things.

Three weeks ago we signed a Missing Children's Day proclamation and urged the private sector to help. And America is responding. Trailways Corporation and the International Association of Chiefs of Police have established Operation Home Free, a program that provides runaway children a ride home. Television stations are broadcasting photographs of missing children. And now it's time to do even more.

Now, before I close, I want to take this opportunity to thank Bill Smith, the Walshes, Lois Herrington, Jay Howell, the executive director of the center, and the many other concerned Americans, for all that you're doing. America's future is in the hands of our children. Your dedication and hard work will give our children a chance to live well and live full, healthy, and happy lives.

And I want you to know that all of us in the administration stand behind you, eager to assist in any way we can. Together we can turn the tide on these hateful crimes, and, knowing what you have accomplished already, I'm confident we will.

I thank you, and God bless you all. And now, I'd like to ask John Walsh to say a few words.

Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.