By Larry Gordon
For decades, prior to the ten o’clock news broadcast on Channel 5 in New York, the announcer would intone: “It is 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”
I recall thinking to myself on occasion: Who doesn’t know where their children are at 10 p.m.? It’s been a long time since I contemplated that, but then two things happened over the last week or so that brought the topic to the forefront.
The first is the media’s wide coverage of the authorities’ search for Brian Laundrie, who is considered, at minimum, a person of interest in the murder of Gabby Petito. As a result of this frequently reported story we have become familiar with the matter of missing persons here in the U.S. As an outgrowth of this story, it was reported last week that in the U.S. there are 89,000 individuals, at present, who have been reported by family as missing. The difference between Brian Laundrie and the other missing people is that the others are just not making it into the news.
Then last Sunday, Shulem Klein, the director of the Rockaway Nassau Security Patrol (RNSP), called to say that he wanted to talk about missing people in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway. I sat there stunned for a moment before asking Shulem what he means—are there people actually missing from our area?
The answer is that while there aren’t really outstanding or notorious cases of this nature, he wants the public to know and understand the RNSP’s expert ability and mechanisms for locating missing people, in cooperation with police rescue units.
I asked Shulem Klein what prompted him to call me at this particular time. He said that just over the last week, three children had gone missing on the Lawrence-Far Rockaway border and an elderly man needed to be located in North Woodmere. Everyone was found—in some cases within a half-hour, though in one case it was hours later and after dark.
The purpose of our conversation, according to Shulem, was so that people will be aware that a well-trained and expert search-and-rescue service is right here in our own community and responds to situations like this immediately.
The RNSP sprang into action on three separate cases last week. One took place erev Shabbos, when a two-year-old child walked out of his home while his mother was busy preparing for Shabbos. As you can imagine, once his absence was discovered, it was a frightening half-hour before the child was discovered walking alone near Route 878 on the Far Rockaway-Lawrence border.
Of course, the right thing to do is to call the police, but here in this community the RNSP works in tandem with the police and has the ability to deploy search volunteers before police have the opportunity to respond to the call.
Also this past Shabbos, during the day, a 6- and 7-year-old were supposed to go to a playdate from shul after davening, but instead they went to a nearby playground. They left shul at about noon, and when the father went to pick them up from the friend’s house, he discovered that they had never gotten there.
The family immediately alerted the police and the RNSP. Klein explains that the patrol and security directors have a pre-planned grid, with various volunteers assigned to different areas. Another team speaks with family and friends to cull information about whether anything was mentioned about what the child’s plan might have been. This information is essential and often offers direction about what the children (in this case) may have been thinking.
“Missing children” is a seriously ominous phrase, often implying devious activity. And that is one of the factors that the search team has to determine preliminarily. A search for a missing adult requires a different type of plan and search.
Over yom tov, an 80-year-old man from Lakewood lost his way in North Woodmere. He was visiting family and was trying to return to their home when he got lost, which is not uncommon if one is not familiar with his surroundings. In this case, the man was missing for three hours on yom tov afternoon. As in all of these cases, the police were called and were involved, but, as mentioned previously, it takes a little time for them to deploy depending on the situation. RNSP volunteers respond with alacrity, and the beginning of any search is the most crucial.
After talking with Shulem Klein for a short time, one gains an increased appreciation for the broad scope of matters that require his team’s attention on a regular basis. RNSP works closely with police in Far Rockaway at the 101st Precinct as well as with the 4th Precinct that covers the Five Towns in Nassau County. “The police appreciate the contribution we are able to make and that we are able to serve, in a way, as the eyes and ears of the community,” he says.
The RNSP portfolio runs the gamut of just about anything you can possibly imagine. Their volunteers routinely patrol our streets and are an important deterrent of annoying common crimes, like theft from unlocked cars, or, increasingly popular with criminals, stealing packages from the front of homes.
Many of these situations are reported to police; however, the growing demand on police resources and the increase in crime due to criminals being released from custody (very often on the same day that they are arrested) means that police are busier than ever.
Another great dimension is the fashion in which the different volunteer associations like Shomrim, Hatzalah, and RNSP work together by assisting one another in local emergencies. Back in August when a 7-year-old boy wandered off from his group in Brooklyn and did not make it back onto his bus at the end of a day camp trip, RNSP was one of the groups whose volunteers fanned out in the Canarsie Bay area before the young boy was found at about 8 p.m. that evening.
On another level, Shulem says, a more sensitive one, there is the matter of runaways, most often teenagers who, for a variety of reasons, leave their homes, either alone or with friends, to get away from any number of situations.
The idea of why kids decide to leave is complicated. But the RNSP is tracking down these young people with success. One of the teams interviews parents, siblings, and friends to find out what the subject may have indicated about his or her plan. “We are aware of the likely places teens may gravitate to, and more often than not we are on the mark,” He adds that when kids go on the run they rarely leave without their phones, and that is one of the easier ways to discover their whereabouts.
The bottom line is that the RNSP is out there, ready, willing, and able to serve our communities. And it is important to note that whether its 10 p.m. or any other time of day, it is vital to know where your children are.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.