National Missing Children’s Day has been commemorated in the United States on May 25, since 1983, when it was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan.
In the several years preceding the establishment of National Missing Children’s day a series of high-profile missing-children cases made national headlines.
On May 25, 1979, Etan Patz was only six years old when he disappeared from his New York City home on his way from bus to school. The date of Etan’s disappearance was designated as National Missing Children’s Day. At the time, cases of missing children rarely garnered national media attention, but Etan’s case quickly received a lot of coverage. His father, a professional photographer, distributed black-and-white photographs of Etan in an effort to find him. The resulting massive search and media attention that followed focused the public’s attention on the problem of child abduction and the lack of plans to address it.
For almost three years media attention was focused on Atlanta, Georgia, where the bodies of young children were discovered in lakes, marshes, and ponds along roadside trails. Twenty-nine bodies were recovered before a suspect was arrested and identified in 1981.