Las Vegas Sun

October 27, 2021

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15 missing children found in Las Vegas rescue event

The Big Search 2021

Steve Marcus

Margarita Edwards, Nevada Child Seekers executive director, hands an informational packet to a volunteer at a drive-thru dispatch center during “The Big Search 2021” at the Orleans parking lot Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. The fifth annual, three-day Big Search is a collaboration between Nevada Child Seekers and F.R.E.E. International.

The Big Search 2021

Volunteer Tamia Dow displays missing child flyers at a drive-thru dispatch center during Launch slideshow »

Calley Crowley’s teenage daughter was missing for six days before Metro Police found her on the Strip with sex traffickers.

Crowley said the girl hitchhiked to Las Vegas with a friend after they ran away from home in Montana. A hotel security guard recognized their faces from a missing child report and notified the authorities. The girls were ages 17 and 15.

After helping her daughter recover from that traumatic event six years ago, Crowley began volunteering with FREE International, an organization that helps victims of child sex trafficking.

“We can’t just be OK and be grateful that our child is home. There are other children missing,” Crowley said.

Crowley was in Las Vegas last weekend for the Big Search, a three-day search focused on finding children who have vanished. Officials said Tuesday that the effort — where nearly 100 volunteers distributed flyers at motels, gas stations and shelters — led to locating 15 missing children.

“We call them critical cases because there’s something abnormal with the case, the child’s just fallen off the map,” said Margarita Edwards, executive director of Nevada Child Seekers, a local advocacy group for missing children and their families.

Many runaways return home after seeing their picture on a missing person flyer because they were unaware that someone cared for them, said Michael Bartel, co-founder and executive director of FREE International, which helped coordinate the Big Search event.

He said the event found 37 children in a previous year.

“That process of searching made them realize they were valuable,” Bartel said.

Most runaways leave with no plan and end up broke, hungry and vulnerable to predators, officials said. In 2020, one in six of the 26,500 runaways reported missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely victims of child sex trafficking, it said.

The center says some signs of child sex trafficking include avoiding eye contact, appearing destitute, lacking physical and dental health, bruises and other signs of abuse, fear of police, scripted responses and possessing belongings they wouldn’t theoretically be able to afford. 

Nevada Child Seekers reports 8,000 children are reported missing annually in Nevada. 

Crowley hopes that finding her daughter in a city of 2.5 million inspires parents with missing children to keep searching.

“No one can be found if you aren’t looking for them,” she said.

To report a child missing, or if you’ve seen a missing child, contact Nevada Child Seekers at (702) 458-7009. Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5678 to report child sex trafficking.