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Florida Missing Children’s Day promotes child safety, celebrates unsung heroes

 
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – First Lady Casey DeSantis, along with Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, joined hundreds of law enforcement personnel, public officials and citizens today for the 2019 Florida Missing Children’s Day ceremony in Tallahassee. The annual event is held to remember Florida’s missing children, recognize the state’s efforts in child protection and educate Floridians on child safety and abduction prevention.
 
In 2018, more than 27,611 incidents of missing children were reported to Florida law enforcement agencies, while 59 Missing Child Alerts and nine AMBER Alerts were issued statewide.  Since its inception, 231 AMBER Alerts have been issued, including 11 so far this year. Florida AMBER Alerts have directly aided in the rescue of 68 children.
 
Governor Ron DeSantis said, “The children of our state are our greatest resource, but they are also our most vulnerable members of society. By commemorating Missing Children’s Day, we honor the families who have suffered this unthinkable pain and raise awareness for children who are currently missing. Today and every day, we stand with the many child advocates across Florida who are constantly working to shed light on this issue, as well as our brave law enforcement officers who place their lives on the line every day to ensure these children are returned safely.”
 
First Lady Casey DeSantis said, “As a mother, I cannot fathom the unimaginable pain that families of these missing children have been through and continue to endure. I am eternally grateful to the many brave men and women committed to pursuing every lead, to holding accountable those who put our children in harm’s way, and to keeping us moving toward better protections. By standing together, working together and praying together, we are a powerful and unstoppable force, and we will continue to bring more children home.”

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said, “Today is a solemn day to remember children who are still missing, support parents still searching for them and recognize the efforts of Florida’s law enforcement officers working hard to reunite families. I urge everyone to do what they can in helping to locate missing children by checking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse database and reporting any information that could help locate a missing child.”

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said, “As a father of two children, I know how terrifying the words ‘missing child’ and seeing an ‘AMBER Alert’ flash across your phone can be. I’m proud of the work that our law enforcement community has done to empower our children and educate Florida families. This is critical to ensuring children are kept safe and that any child that goes missing is brought home.”
 
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried said, “There’s no anguish for a parent like losing a child. As we remember those children still missing, we also recognize the efforts of our law enforcement officers who work to rescue children and reunite families. Together, we must continue to raise awareness and educate communities about child safety, because we all have a role to play in keeping Florida’s children out of harm’s way and ensuring they return home safe every day.”
 
FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said, “Informed citizens are the front line as they share and bring awareness of a child who has gone missing. We encourage everyone to please sign up to be notified when there is an AMBER or Missing Child Alert in Florida and to keep the active cases alive in your heart and mind in the hopes of recovering all children safely.”
 
During a formal ceremony, Commissioner Swearingen recognized citizens, canine trailing teams and law enforcement officers for their exemplary efforts in missing children investigations.
 
The following individuals are recipients of the 2019 Florida Missing Children’s Day Awards:

Legacy Award
Winner: Don Ryce, the first-ever recipient of this award.
In 1995, 10-year-old Jimmy Ryce was abducted and murdered. Despite their tremendous loss, Jimmy’s parents channeled their experience as parents of a missing child and became truly tireless advocates and change makers for the safety of all children.  In the twenty-four years since Jimmy’s death, they have made his name synonymous with a number of remarkable state and national programs that have saved countless lives. 
 
Citizen of the Year
Winner: Anthony and Dawn Butrym, Flagler County
In September of 2018, a teenager with muscular dystrophy and limited verbal skills was reported missing by his mother. A search ensued and the teenager wasn’t found for several days. On the fourth day, the Sheriff’s Office began signing up volunteers to search local areas. Anthony and Dawn Butrym—the first volunteers to sign up—were assigned to search a wooded area. After searching for several hours, Anthony and Dawn found several articles of the child’s clothing in the woods. They gave them to the deputies, and, within a short period of time, the child was found—dehydrated, but safe—in a deep ditch. Without Anthony and Dawn Burtrym’s assistance, the teen may never have been found.

Combatting Human Trafficking Award
Winner: Detective Christin Kenney, St. Petersburg Police Department
In May 2018, Detective Kenney was called to work a case involving a missing Louisiana juvenile located in St. Petersburg. The teenager from Louisiana befriended someone through an online gaming application and was convinced to run away to St. Petersburg. Two adults went to get him and relocate him to St. Petersburg. When the teen was recovered, Detective Kenney got a sense there was something else they had not uncovered; she interviewed the juvenile and discovered there was a second juvenile staying at the location. Detective Kenney went back to the home and was told by one of the three adult males at the residence that the second juvenile was his son. Detective Kenney persisted in questioning him and determined he could not present any paperwork stating that the juvenile was his son, nor could he explain the circumstances of his custodial relationship. The child was immediately removed from the home and an intense investigation began. The investigation is still ongoing, but it has been determined so far that a female subject in Ocala had been trafficking children and putting them in contact with groups of men who wanted them in their homes. At this time, Detective Kenney’s investigation has led to the arrest of seven subjects charged with conspiracy to commit human trafficking.
 
Local Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award
Winner: Detective Scott Hanley, Boca Raton Police Department
In August of 2017, Detective Scott Hanley began working a case involving the sexual battery of a female juvenile victim. The victim was three months pregnant at the time, with the child of who Detective Hanley believed to be the 35-year-old suspect. The suspect admitted to engaging in sexual acts with the victim and charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor. While out on bond, the suspect was given a no-contact order. In March of 2019, Detective Hanley received a call reporting the victim missing after she left her group home. The victim was discovered, locked in the suspect’s house. Detective Hanley and patrol units entered the suspect’s home and found the victim locked in a bedroom behind a door dead-bolted with a keypad lock. The suspect was arrested again and additionally charged with violation of no contact order, false imprisonment, tampering with a witness/victim, and unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
 
State/Federal Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award
Winner: Trooper Joseph Angelicchi, Florida Highway Patrol
On January 1, 2018, Trooper Joseph Angelicchi was dispatched to an active child abduction BOLO. An active ping on a cell phone was showing the suspect approaching the Skyway Bridge in Tampa. Trooper Angelicchi began patrolling the Skyway Bridge and spotted the suspect vehicle. Dispatch advised Trooper Angelicchi that it was guaranteed the child was in the car and the suspect was armed (with a knife, at least). Trooper Angelicchi followed the vehicle and waited until backup units arrived and conducted the felony stop on the suspect vehicle. The suspect vehicle was eventually stopped on I-75, and the suspect was arrested without incident. The missing child was located in the backseat of the vehicle. The investigation uncovered that the suspect arrived at the victim’s home, battered the child’s custodian and took the child. The suspect was charged with kidnapping a child under 13 with aggravated circumstances and interference with custody.  Because of Trooper Angelicchi’s quick-thinking and diligent work, the two-year-old child was reunited with family.
 
Jimmy Ryce K9 Trailing Team of the Year
Winner: Master Deputy Michael Guerra and K9 Jolene, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office
On December 4, 2018, Deputy Mike Guerra and K9 Jolene responded to a call to assist units with locating a missing/endangered six-year-old. After obtaining a scent article, Deputy Guerra deployed K9 Jolene and began to search for the child. K9 Jolene immediately located a track. K9 Jolene tracked the child for approximately 45 minutes through a thick wooded and swampy area. Deputy Guerra and Jolene located the six-year-old standing by a tree. The child was safely returned to his caretaker.
 
Law Enforcement Task Force of the Year:
Winner: Orlando Cybercrime Task Force, Florida Department of Law Enforcement
  • Special Agent Jason Cook
  • Special Agent Tina Marsian
  • Special Agent Todd Jones
  • Special Agent Skip Heinzmann
  • Special Agent Tim Doucette
  • Task Force Agent Bill Nuzzi
  • Task Force Agent Georgie Torres
  • Task Force Agent Melissa France
  • Task Force Agent Fawn Yoho
  • Crime Intelligence Analyst II Sarah Kutchko
The mission of the FDLE Orlando Cybercrime Task Force is to investigate complex computer crimes and provide investigative support to regional law enforcement agencies by proactively working major cases that include child exploitation, internet-related crimes and digital evidence recovery. During the reporting period, the FDLE Orlando Cybercrime Task Force opened 74 major cases, executed or provided expertise on 92 search warrants and assisted in three regional online exploitation operations, all resulting in 119 arrests. The task force processed technical support on 689 devices and conducted cyber examinations on another 964 evidence items. Additionally the task force closed 41 cases that resulted in prosecution and adjudication for child exploitation. These cases resulted in 165 years of incarceration and 260 years of offender supervision, plus two cases that received lifetime supervision sentences.
 
Commissioner’s Award
Winner: Mike Spadafora
Agent Spadafora became an agent with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office in 1998 and in 2007 joined the Brevard Child Exploitation Task Force sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. Agent Spadafora has been recognized on numerous occasions for his work in child exploitation cases involving the internet, including two previous Missing Children’s Day awards. Agent Spadafora was recognized by the State Attorney’s Office in 2004 as the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. And in 2008, 2011, and 2014 the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida also recognized Agent Spadafora as Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. He has been awarded the Medal of Merit and the Balor Awards from the East Central Florida Chamber of Commerce and was recognized in 2013 and 2018 as the Brevard County Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year.
 
Evelyn D. Williams Memorial Award
Winner: Michelle Johnson, Tallahassee
Ms. Johnson is a Victim Advocate with the Office of the Attorney General. As a Victim Advocate, Michelle provides support for families in need – be it accompanying families to court hearings or navigating the complex criminal justice system.  Her passion includes working with domestic violence victims and educating teens on healthy dating practices. For the past 14 years, Michelle has served as Volunteer Coordinator for FDLE, pairing advocates with families attending the annual Missing Children’s Day.
 
Bus Operator of the Year
Winner: Joann Donovan, Port Charlotte
A developmentally challenged teenager—who had been previously removed from biological parents by DCF—ran away from home in Port Charlotte. She was originally reported missing by Joann Donovan, her special needs bus driver. Ms. Donovan, who had developed a special relationship with the child, noticed she was missing and reported it. In addition, Ms. Donovan gave detectives information on the child’s biological parents and that the child had been in contact with them recently. Using Ms. Donovan’s information, the police found the child with the biological mother in another state.
 
To see a current list of unsolved AMBER Alert cases, please visit: http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/MCICSearch/CurrentAlerts.asp.
 
A current list of unsolved Missing Child Alert cases can be found here: http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/MCICSearch/CurrentMCAlerts.asp.

FDLE invites the public to follow FDLE on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up to receive Missing Child and AMBER Alerts via email or text message by visiting http://www.missingchildrenalert.com/. For more information about the Florida Missing Children’s Day Foundation, visit www.fmcdf.org.
 
For Further Information Contact:
Gretl Plessinger, Jessica Cary, or Jeremy Burns
FDLE Office of Public Information
(850) 410-7001