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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Bush creates forum on child safety
US President George W Bush [r] holds pamphlet as others, including FBI Director Robert Mueller, look on
Bush: Abductions have "left families in fear"
US President George W Bush is to announce a conference on missing, exploited and runaway children following a spate of widely publicised cases involving the kidnapping and murder of several young girls.

Samantha Runnion
Runnion's murder sparked widespread revulsion in the US
The meeting, to be held at George Washington University next month, will involve policy makers, experts, community leaders, teachers and police officials from across the country.

"The kidnapping or murder of a child is every parent's worst nightmare," Mr Bush said.

"This forum will bring together leading national experts to focus on ways parents and communities can help shield children from the harm that is being done to some today."

Grim statistics

The president's announcement coincides with the release of a 12-page pamphlet compiled by the FBI and various US Government and charitable organisations, entitled "Personal Safety for Children", which was created partly in response to recent attacks.

High-profile cases
Ashley Pond, missing 9 Jan from Oregon City - not found
Danielle van Dam, missing 2 Feb from San Diego - found dead 3 weeks later
Miranda Gaddis, missing 8 March from Oregon City - not found
Elizabeth Smart, missing 5 June from Salt Lake City - not found
Samantha Runnion, missing 15 July from Los Angeles - found dead one day later

The pamphlet contains information on several issues, including dealing with homeless and runaway children, internet safety and child pornography.

Mr Bush referred to its grim statistics of crimes against children, including the fact that each year in the US more than 58,000 children are abducted by a non-family member, of which around 100 cases are the most dangerous - stranger kidnapping.

Around 40% of those cases involve the murder of the kidnapped child.

High-profile cases

Mr Bush's announcement comes as prosecutors in California said they would seek the death penalty for 27-year-old factory worker Alejandro Avila, accused of the kidnap, rape and murder of five-year-old Samantha Runnion last month.

Danielle van Dam
A man is on trial for the murder of Danielle van Dam, 7

The US has been stunned by a spate of high profile cases involving the kidnapping and murder of several young girls, including that of Samantha Runnion, abducted in July from her California home and found dead one day later.

Her death caused widespread revulsion, and media interest hit new heights last week when two young teenage girls, also from California, were dramatically rescued from a man who had kidnapped and assaulted them.

The man was shot dead by police after the alarm was raised.

Other cases include an incident in February when seven-year-old Danielle van Dam went missing from her home in San Diego, California.

Her body was found three weeks later, and her neighbour, 50-year-old David Westerfield, is currently on trial for her kidnapping and murder.

And in June, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was reportedly taken from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah at gunpoint while her younger sister watched in horror.

She has still not been found.

See also:

20 Jul 02 | Americas
02 Aug 02 | Americas
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