Marc Klaas: Missing children merit media hype
Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on CNN.com providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.
(CNN) -- Earlier this week on CNN, Marc Klaas, whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered in 1993, talked to CNN anchor Paula Zahn about recent child abductions and killings. Klaas is the founder of the Klaaskids Foundation, which strives to make missing children a legislative and media priority. He discussed whether abductions are really on the rise, or if it's only a mistaken assumption brought about by more intense news coverage.
ZAHN: In recent months, [there has been a] a string of child abductions beginning with the kidnap and murder of little Danielle van Dam. Then, the still-unsolved kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, the kidnap and murder of Samantha Runnion, the kidnap and amazing escape of Erica Pratt, and then, of course, this past Friday the abduction and murder of Casey Williamson. Are we seeing a sudden outbreak of children being abducted, abused and murdered? Or is the perception the result of a greater sensitivity by the news media?
Marc Klaas, whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered nearly a decade ago, is a founder of the Klaaskids Foundation. He joins us now from San Francisco.
Welcome back, Marc.
KLAAS: Hi, Paula.
ZAHN: Let's talk about the latest case with Casey. Her abduction was reported within four hours. What's going on here?
KLAAS: Well, her abduction was reported nationally within four hours and I think that that's a great testament to the power of the media and the awareness that's been raised over the country in the course of the last, what, six months, I guess, since Danielle.
It's a tremendous thing and finally people are paying attention to an issue that's been plaguing America for decades now.
ZAHN: Are Americans getting a skewed perception of how vulnerable children are out there or is it just a matter that the media is, in fact, covering these more closely than they ever have in the past?
KLAAS: Well, this issue has been under the radar screen for an awful long time, Paula. It's been a huge problem in our country ever since the days, in fact, before the days of the Lindbergh kidnapping. If one were to look at the numbers and apply them to any other segment of our society, say, TV talk show hosts, we would have declared an epidemic years ago and we would have done many things about it.
However, we accepted a status quo since it's our children. But now we're starting to get an idea that there are 152,000 endangered children reported missing to law enforcement every year, that there are 3 million cases of child abuse reported. It extends even beyond the abduction. It extends to things like the priest scandal. It extends to things like the disappearance of little Rilya Wilson in Florida. And, you know, one can only hope that we come out of this with better understanding and better abilities to respond to the issues.
ZAHN: Obviously it's not even possible in a 24-hour news cycle to report on every single disappearance in this country.
KLAAS: Right. Right.
ZAHN: But is there a risk in focusing in on the number of cases the media has covered so far this summer?
KLAAS: I don't see that there's any risk. It might make people feel uncomfortable. I know that I heard a lot of people talking about how uncomfortable they felt listening to some of the 9/11 tapes that have been reported recently.
But this is a very uncomfortable subject. And unless we really approach it and deal with it proactively, we're going to just continue to throw away the future of this country for the rights of some pretty bad people. At least this way we get an understanding, we get an awareness and maybe we can start doing things all across society to better respond.
I've been an advocate for more media involvement for years, so I'm very happy to see it.
ZAHN: But one big change since your daughter Polly was kidnapped, of course, is the response time by police and investigators to these situations.
ZAHN: In your estimation, what else needs to be done to improve that reaction time?
KLAAS: Well, you know, when Polly was kidnapped, they responded and they didn't even want the press to know about it. I think what we have to do is we have to work on these Amber plans that are starting to pop up around the country and apply them in such a way that when children are reported missing to law enforcement, when they do fit the criteria of a predatory abduction, that we can get the word out to the public very, very quickly. [Editor's note: The Amber Alert is a media-notification plan prompted by the 1996 kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas.]
In that way, everybody can be looking. But as all of these cases have displayed and shown in recent months, it's not an issue of stranger danger. Because if you'll just look back you'll see that the possibility exists that none of the girls that you mentioned were kidnapped by strangers, that there was an awareness and a knowledge of all of these people.
However they were predatory situations and I think we just have to shift our focus a little more in that direction.
ZAHN: So once again you say you don't want to alarm parents but by the same token, you want them to understand that our children are extremely vulnerable.
KLAAS: Oh, it's unbelievable. And, you know, the lessons of Elizabeth and of Danielle are that any child is vulnerable if they can get these girls out of their bedroom. The lesson of Samantha is that it doesn't matter how well- prepared a child is, if a predator is determined to get her, that predator is going to win every time. And it is an alarming situation.
People should be alarmed to a degree, not that they panic and freak out, but that they start educating themselves so that we can better respond, so that we can better deal with these very bad people, so that we can give our children the best information and so that we can prepare a future that's going to be safe for all children.
ZAHN: What happens to you every time, you know, in your heart and in your soul you hear about another one of these kidnappings?
KLAAS: Oh, it just takes you out. It's just so awful. That's what makes a thing like the little girl in Philadelphia just such a wonderful thing to behold. You know, you have things like that and you have this fabulous story with the miners. Anything good I think lifts all of our hearts at this point.
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