Technology has a way of advancing to meet special needs and that extends to finding missing children and protecting them from predators. In the case of Sierra LaMar, investigators and searchers had hoped her cell phone might provide a trail, bread crumbs, if you will, to help find her. When it was discovered two days later, the cell phone didn't help. "That then is the Achilles heel of all of the child locator GPS technologies that exist in the marketplace today," said Klaas Kids Foundation founder Marc Klaas.
Still, it inspired engineers to come up with better tools to protect and to locate missing kids. Klaas and his foundation put the stamp of approval on a suite of high-tech ideas. The "Leo Wristwatch" is a combination GPS tracker and cell phone on a titanium bracelet, locked to a child's wrist to prevent loss or removal. Calls are restricted to parents or a caretaker. It sells for $149.95.
Another innovation is a smartphone app called "Polly's Guardiangel." It enables parents to have photos, physical data, and other details assembled and ready to blast out to friends, family, and neighbors the moment their child is missing. It enables a search to get under way while stressed-out parents might still be in shock. "Plain facts that you'd be able to recall at any time, or you're going to be stumbling," Safety Grid President Jim Hankins explained. "Quick access to the photos, right there, and distribute them. So, it's very powerful."
A new browser called "Cocoon" restricts web access to parental-approved sites. It also keeps predators at bay. "We block their identity so they don't know who the name is. We block the IP address. We block the location. We keep them inside of a cocoon," Virtual World Computing CEO Vernon Irvin explained.
Of all the new tools, the Leo watch appealed most to Midsi Sanchez. She was abducted in 2000 at age 9. "I didn't know if anyone was looking for me. If I had this watch, I would have been able to immediately contact my family members, then I would have known that they were getting in touch with the Vallejo Police Department to help find me," she said.
All the tech tools are clearly aimed at youngsters, but they may have to broaden their scope in the near future because many kidnap victims and missing people tend to be high school or college age, and sometimes young adults.