By MORGAN MANNS

FOR THE COURIER

As of Tuesday morning, there were more than 1,250 people listed as missing on the Ohio Attorney General’s website, 537 of which are children under the age of 18.

In light of the recent missing child case involving 14-year-old Harley Dilly, who was found dead nearly one month after he went missing, and an uptick in human trafficking cases across the country, local officials are hoping they can help citizens keep themselves, their families and their children safe.

“Runaway children are often a result of frustration on the child’s part. Kids do crazy things sometimes. I can speak for myself in saying kids don’t always do what their parents want them to do or expect them to do,” Fostoria police Chief Keith Loreno said. “Knowing your children — knowing their habits, who they’re associating with, where they like to hang out — could make all the difference.”

Because a lot of parents nowadays may rely on technology to keep track of their children, Loreno suggested parents have check-in times every so often, dependent upon how old the child is.

“The expectation is, ‘If I need to check on them, I’ll just call them.’ But when they don’t come home or don’t check in, don’t wait eight hours to make that phone call. If you think about it, in eight hours you can get almost 500-600 miles away,” he said. “Parenting is tough when it comes to stuff like this. I think having those real conversations and getting to know your child’s habits are critical.”

The majority on the attorney general’s website are labeled as endangered runaways.

“The hardest thing to relay to your children is that there’s monsters out there,” Loreno said. “You don’t want to scare them and you want them to blend in with society and be friendly toward other people, but you have to have that conversation that there are people out there that really aren’t there to help them.

“Kids are naturally very friendly. They don’t have any prejudices built into them. Unfortunately, the bad guys are looking at those children as targets. They know they’re easily approachable and there won’t be any hesitation. So parents need to have that conversation to be aware of their surroundings and be cautious with strangers or even family members they don’t know very well.”

Loreno suggested adhering to the “old-fashioned” advice of traveling in groups, not traveling by oneself, avoiding cutting through alleys at night and staying in well-lit areas and situational awareness.

“Those are the conversations parents really need to have,” he said. “Not everyone out there is a monster, but not everyone out there is your friend. When you get those butterflies in your stomach, listen to them that maybe there’s something wrong.”

In addition to staying alert, Loreno said parents should have conversations with their children to try and prevent a runaway situation.

“As parents, you don’t always make the decision your child wants to hear. You should have that conversation as a family about the inherent dangers of running away,” he said. “You could run into someone who isn’t a good person, you risk getting hit by a vehicle and no one knows where you are because you ran away so there might not be anyone able to find you to help you.”

According to the Missing Children Clearinghouse Annual Report, there were a total of 19,879 missing children reports in 2018. The numbers were broken down to 10,643 females and 9,236 males, while 18,465 were ages 13-17 and less than 200 were under the age of 5.

Hancock County reported 65 missing children cases, while Seneca County accounted for 19 and Wood County had 33.

Authorities reported that 98.1 percent — a total of 19,510 children — were recovered safely by the year’s end.

If a family does find themselves in a position to report a missing person, the Attorney General’s office advises they should contact their local law enforcement agency first.

Once a person is reported missing, family members can continue to help investigators by maintaining a cooperative dialogue, sharing additional information as they become aware of it.

They are encouraged to keep contact with family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors, etc. who may have information on the missing person’s whereabouts and to relay that information to investigators.

Loreno advised neighbors and friends should also stay vigilant and keep an eye on each other.

“If you’re seeing something that just doesn’t look right, make that call to us or make that call to those parents,” he said. “If something doesn’t look right or seems out of place, it’s always best for us to go determine that there isn’t anything wrong rather than us go later and find out, God forbid, a child is missing.”

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