Voices of Florida. Made possible through the generous support of the Gidel Family Foundation.

Sherry Friedlander is the founder and CEO of A Child is Missing, a national and community-based program to locate missing children, the disabled and elderly during the critical first hours of disappearance.

Sherry Friedlander is the founder and CEO of A Child is Missing, a national and community-based program to locate missing children, the disabled and elderly during the critical first hours of disappearance. She has received significant recognition for her work including the prestigious J. Edgar Hoover Award for Distinguished Public Service and a Women in Communications Woman of the Year Award. She and her husband George live in Fort Lauderdale. To learn more about A Child is Missing, please visit www.achildismissing.org, or you can call 954-763-1288 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

1996-97.
These were the years when my life changed.

Computers, Internet and much more began.

I see trends and get involved early; not being well capitalized has always been a big problem with me when new frontiers of business are opening up.

Tony, a friend, and I were talking about what we could do with computers when I got an idea. Just like a bolt of lightning that hit me: We would find missing children. “Wow,” I thought. “Tony, we are going to search for missing children!”

“What are you talking about?” he said.

“Tony, I just got this idea, and I will check it out! But we will probably do it. Get ready for a new adventure!” I was excited. After several days of research, I found no program anywhere like the one I envisioned.

In life I believe you are chosen for what you are to do to complete your cycle of life. For me -- after years of business, advertising, promotions and knowing a lot of people -- this was my legacy to our civilization. Little did I know that our very missing person would be Tony.

We were moving our office. It was Halloween Eve, a Friday. Tony called and asked to be picked up. One of our guys went to where he said he was waiting and he was not to be found. On Monday morning his mother called from England, “Have you heard or seen Tony since last Friday?”

“No, he never showed up to help us move.” I replied.

“He has not been home,” she said. “No one has heard from him. I need help. No one will help me find my son.” We, too, had trouble getting help. So we did the search ourselves.

“Well, what do we do?” I said to the team. “Let’s call the police in Hollywood, the morgue, the emergency rooms, the jails.” At 1 p.m. we got a call from the Hollywood Police Department, and were asked to go to Hollywood Memorial Hospital. There was a person there who fit the description. It was Tony. He had suffered a brain aneurysm and died on the way to the hospital. I have never forgotten that experience.

When you go down a new path, you do not know what challenges will face you. One way to overcome such challenges is to get the right people with the right knowledge.

As we developed the hardware, developed the programs and the software, we found a company that sent out our alert messages rapidly – 1,000 in 60 seconds. That gave us the speed to meet the need to find the missing as soon as possible. In the 15 years since we started, we have helped in 1,145 safe recoveries. I recall so many remarkable stories involving missing children – some ending with tears of joy and others with tears of sorrow. Here are just three:

  • On Jan. 27, 2009, Sarasota, Florida Police began working a case of three missing children. Eight-year-old twins were missing along with a 4 year old at 3 a.m. A Child Is Missing was contacted by local law enforcement. After securing detailed descriptions of the two girls and the boy, more than 2,000 alert calls were placed in the area surrounding the 3800 block of Greenway Drive in Sarasota. Those alert calls generated six calls to Sarasota Police with information that not only provided a recent sighting of the children, but also the direction they had traveled. With that information, police were led directly to the children who were safely recovered 2.5 miles from where they went missing.
  • Early one morning a 3-year-old girl wandered out of her house in Broward County and found her way upon I-95. As she walked along the road side not one driver stopped to help the child. Then the child moved a little into the traffic and was hit and killed. Then a driver stopped to help. The police department called A Child is Missing, and asked if we could help find the parents. Of course. We sent out alert calls. Within minutes a call came into the Police Department, and the parents responded and went to the department to receive the news about their daughter.
  • A 3-year-old child in Broward was abducted from her home one Sunday morning. Calls began at 9:05 a.m. to the area around the home. People responded and searched for the child, and she was found at 10:45 a.m. about 10 blocks from her home. We believe the abductor was made aware of the search and released her in a vacant field. A nearby person heard her cry and found her. The suspect was later captured after he abducted and raped a 10-year-old in 2000 in the same area.

Funding from the State of Florida allowed A Child is Missing to add employees and expand the program in Florida. Since 2001 we’ve moved state by state across the country -- visiting all 50 states – and enrolled more than 5,000 law enforcement agencies.

Among our success stories are people with Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome as well as missing children.

We have developed software programs to keep data -- who called, what the state did vis-a-vis children, elderly, Amber Alert, Silver Alert, sexual predator alerts, school lockdowns, and more.

We found that an educational program was essential was important for A Child is Missing. Thus, developed the Child Safety Educational Program (5-13 year-old-children), It Can’t Happen To Me! (Child molestation for adults to recognize), Express Yourself, Choices and Consequences, and The Anatomy of a Murder of a Bully.

Our is a program that gives law enforcement the tools – for free -- when a person goes missing – and to ensure that more children and elderly are safe when they are alone.