Lauderdale-Based Nonprofit Blankets the Country to Find Missing People

A 7-year-old autistic boy was reported missing in Springfield, Georgia, in April 2005. So who did the sheriff's office contact? A service that you most likely have never heard of but that is based in Fort Lauderdale and alerts thousands of people in minutes that a child is missing.

The name of this service? A Child Is Missing. In the case of the Georgia autistic child, A Child Is Missing placed 1,077 calls with a recording about the boy's disappearance to people and businesses in the area where the boy was last seen. Then, according to the service's website, "Approximately 300 people responded to the calls coming out of their houses and assisting in the search, including one who looked into her backyard pool and discovered him there." The boy was recovered unharmed. It was also used to help find a missing 3-year-old in New York, among hundreds of other cases.

A Child Is Missing, which, despite its name, encompasses missing people of all ages, takes several factors into consideration when determining an area in which to place calls. For example, children and elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer's usually wander toward water, according to the 14-year-old service's founder, Sherry Friedlander, who says her nonprofit service is used by 5,000 out of 16,000 police departments in the U.S. and uses computer programs help to deliver a recorded message to 1,000 people per minute in an area selected on a satellite map.

Friedlander has never had a missing child of her own but says the idea came to her organically. "Nobody else was doing it in the country," she says, "and they still aren't... We're just one spoke in the wheel to help find missing [people]. We supply [law enforcement personnel] with the program that helps them do their job." Friedlander notes that her service is particularly useful now, at a time when tight budgets make for understaffed police forces.

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Leslie Minora