USA Today, February 10, 2004
Abduction of one girl chills all parents
By Bruce Kluger
"It's going to be hard to forget this one," Nancy McBride says.
As the prevention education director for the National Center for Missing & Exploited
Children, McBride had seen her share of abduction footage. In the case of 11-year-
old Carlie Brucia, however, she was experiencing a sickening, heartbreaking first.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, and this was the first time I'd seen an abduction
of a child from beginning to end," she told me by phone from her Florida office.
"Carlie is alone and distracted. The assailant approaches her. She drops her eyes
and tries to get past. He blocks her way and grabs her wrist. I felt like running at the
screen. I wanted to scream at her, 'Run! Run!' "
When McBride first watched those awful moments captured by a surveillance
camera, Carlie had been missing for only a few days. But she knew something in
her heart she didn't want to admit: that this bubbly, well-liked sixth-grader probably
was already dead.
"Studies show that the average victim of a child-abduction murder is an 11-year-old
female," said McBride, who has been fielding calls almost non-stop since Carlie's
body was found Friday behind a church. "In virtually all of those cases, the child is
abducted one-quarter mile from home, then killed within three hours. Carlie fit that
I'd called McBride the day after Brucia was found. Like all who'd followed the story
on TV—and as the parent of two little girls myself—I was paralyzed with horror by
the news. Stealing the life of a bright-eyed child is incomprehensible; I wanted an
explanation. I also wanted someone to blame.
"Blame?" McBride responded. "We could throw rocks at everyone. The assailant.
The probation process. The criminal justice system. Society at large. But ultimately,
it all comes back to what we can do in the private sector—as parents and
Even in an era in which parents seem driven to enrich their kids' lives—getting them
into the right schools, enrolling them in soccer leagues—our attention to child
safety still can become secondary. The Justice Department estimates nearly
800,000 kids are reported missing annually.
"The topic is just too scary for most moms and dads, so they don't address safety in
a consistent and detailed way," McBride said.
And even the most pro-active parents often are blind to how much—or little—their
children really understand about protecting themselves.
"I once participated in a study in which 9- to 11-year-olds were left home alone,"
she recalled. "We took a camera crew and the kids' mothers with us, sent a
stranger to their door and began filming from a hidden location. The moms said,
'My child will absolutely, positively not open that door'—then watched in
astonishment when three out of three kids opened the door for a complete
stranger. What do you do about that?"
As parents and caregivers, we need to prioritize the issue of child safety—not by
reinventing the wheel, but simply by taking advantage of the countless but
overlooked resources that already exist in our communities: By working with our
neighbors. By walking our kids to school. And most importantly, by staying focused.
"When a Carlie dies," McBride said, "there's always this huge media push, and
everyone talks about child safety for a few weeks. But as time passes, we go back
to being complacent. The same 10 people show up at PTA meetings, and we're just
preaching to the converted. This must change."
I hung up the phone and began to write, but not before taping a small picture of
Carlie that I'd found on the Internet onto my computer monitor, directly below a shot
of my 4-year-old, Audrey. I stared at the faces of the two little girls for a moment.
Then, through sudden and unexpected tears, I was struck by a startling similarity in
the two children, despite their age difference.
It was all in the eyes. Both looked into the camera with the kind of boundless hope
and unchecked joy that only a child can project. Both radiated life.
Carlie's light has been extinguished. It's now up to us to do something about it.