Over the past 30 years, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has helped recover more than 232,000 children -- about 19 per day – and it’s trying to help a woman find the sister she hasn’t seen in 43 years.
Lisa Davidson, who grew up in Woodbridge, Virginia, was 7 years old when she last saw her sister Brenda in 1974. Just days before Brenda’s 14th birthday, she didn’t come home
“When I come down the hallway, my dad was on the bed, it was my bed, and he was crying,” Davidson said. “He was saying, ‘My baby's gone, my baby's gone.’ I had never seen my dad cry before.”
Her sister’s disappearance remains a mystery. Rumors say Brenda snuck out of school and took a bus to run away, but there’s never been proof she bought a ticket or boarded a bus.
Davidson said her parents felt helpless and grew frustrated with the investigation. One phone call between her mother and a detective still stings.
“He said that they ruled her as a runaway and that my mom was an unfit mother,” Davidson said.
In Virginia, where Brenda Davidson disappeared, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) records show more than 160 active missing children cases. Many of them have gone unsolved for many years or even decades.
Lisa Davidson wrote to all 50 states to see if her sister got married or got a driver’s license. She created a Facebook page, ran background checks and Social Security searches, and submitted DNA for the Jane Doe Network but found nothing.
But with the help of NCMEC and its forensics imaging lab in Alexandria, Davidson has a new picture of hope: Using family photos, science and art, imaging specialist Colin McNally created an age progression of Brenda Davidson at 57 years old. Similar photos have helped recover more than 900 missing people since NCMEC started creating them in 1989.
“I think it's the best example of hope, not only for these families out searching, but also for law enforcement out there doing these investigations daily,” McNally said.
NCMEC child advocate Callahan Walsh’s parents John and Reve Walsh started the center in 1984 after his brother Adam, a brother he never knew, was kidnapped from a Florida shopping mall and brutally murdered.
Shocked to learn there was no national crime system for missing kids, the Walsh family helped pass the Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984, which led to the creation of NCMEC.
“I always grew up with my parents telling me we need to make sure Adam didn't die in vain, and that's exactly what my parents were doing by starting this center,” Callahan Walsh said.
NCMEC Chief Operating Officer Michelle DeLaune, says their 24-hour call center, cybertipline and social media have been instrumental in finding children, but more needs to be done.
“We’ve seen tens of thousands of cases, but for the family going through it today, that’s the only one that matters,” she said.