The Power of Identification

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

It's a new season but based on some recent events, a very old and frightening problem is on my mind: child abductions. It's a nightmare scenario that can happen at any time of the year but as we celebrate spring and the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, I really wanted to share with you some great information I discovered and recently reported on 10TV News, in a special "Family Safety" series.

My colleagues and I calculated and estimate that we get reports of at least two child enticements each month to the newsroom. The information comes across the police scanners, via phone call or even emails. We were horrified upon hearing the news of the death of 10-year-old Hailey Owens in Missouri. You'll recall she was abducted as she walked home from a friend's house.

No parent or guardian ever wants to face the situation of a missing child. Law enforcers say child abductions are very time-sensitive - often with a three-hour window to get the child back safely. Interestingly enough, authorities - both local and federal - say all too often, parents might not remember details like a child's height or weight. They may also not have a current photo available.

Child ID kits can be helpful at such a time. Police departments and sheriff's offices in many central Ohio jurisdictions make them available at no cost to residents. Genoa Township police offer what looks like a credit card but is instead an identification system where a child's name, date of birth, address, height and weight are compiled, listed on an ID card which includes a photo and fingerprint. They suggest parents keep it with credit cards in a wallet or purse. In the event you're at an amusement park, the fair or among a large crowd and get separated from your child, you can easily access the ID and give it to law enforcement.

There is another option for creating a Child ID kit complete with DNA. Former FBI Special Agent Harry Trombitas, who now heads security operations for OhioHealth, walked me through the process. You start with an index card or piece of notepaper and write down your child's vital information: name, age, height, weight, hair color and eye color. Also note any scars or birthmarks. Collecting the DNA is simple, too. Gently use a sterile cotton swab to rub between your child's gum and cheek line. Be sure to allow the swab to dry completely (about two hours) on plain white paper. Once it is dry, seal it in a clean white envelope, using tape (not saliva because it could contaminate the collected DNA).

Also snap a current photo of your child and load it onto a flash drive. Because children change quickly, Trombitas suggests updating the packet every six months, or immediately if your child experiences a drastic change in appearance. Finally, label the envelope with the child's name and the date you created the kit.

This process can be frightening for children but it also provides an opportunity to talk about safety. I found a really great resource from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children called "Take 25." The experts suggest we seize opportunities such as family dinner time to start the talk. You can find the complete list of their suggestions at Of course, we all hope it's a just-in-case conversation with information and strategies our children will never have to use.

-Tracy Townsend is a news reporter and anchor with 10TV News HD.