Of the 20,500 kids the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children helps look for each year, almost all are runaways or taken by someone they know.
But in a few instances, a young child vanishes without a trace. There have been at least six in Kansas since 1977.
The center says that happens rarely — about 1 percent of the time. But such cases lead law enforcement and families on what can turn into a troubling and years-long search for answers.
That’s what happened to Lucas Hernandez, the Wichita pre-kindergartener who was reported missing three weeks ago. His stepmother notified authorities that he was gone on Feb. 17. She says she left him in his bedroom at about 3 p.m. that day, took a shower and laid down for a nap.
When she awoke three hours later, she told authorities, he was nowhere to be found.
Wichita police say there’s no evidence Lucas, who is 5 years old, was abducted by family or a stranger. Neighborhood sweeps and interviews with neighbors yielded no signs that he wandered off.
A Wichita police captain has said he believed “Lucas just didn’t walk out of the house,” which is in the 600 block of South Edgemoor.
Searches of several parks in Wichita have turned up no clues that point to his whereabouts.
Bob Lowry, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Missing Children Division said the story given to law enforcement about Lucas’s disappearance is unlikely — in part because bedrooms are where children are “typically are very, very safe in their homes.”
“Little boys do not just go missing from their bedrooms, in our experience,” said Lowry, who also is a 30-year law enforcement veteran. Also, he said, “it would be extremely unlikely or rare that a stranger would enter a house and take a child. ...
“The child leaving on his own volition always has to be considered,” he added, but it would be unusual for no one to see him.
“The longer the child is missing, the less likely we are to find that child.”
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said he could not comment specifically on Lucas’s disappearance because it remains an active investigation.
But, speaking generally about missing children’s cases, Bennett said: “Young kids are not going to go too far beyond what they know. And if they do, some citizen is going to see them. In your average scenario, there is some person who knows where the child ended up.”
As of Feb. 28, 284 children were listed as missing with the KBI, the agency’s spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said. More than half — 147 — are runaways. Six are considered endangered. The rest are missing for other reasons.
Kansas has an average of 4,325 missing children reports year each — about 1 percent of reports nationwide. Last year, more than 464,000 children were reported missing across the U.S., according to the FBI. Most are only missing for a short amount of time.
Regardless of the amount of time that passes, Lowry said, the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children keeps cases open until a child is found because “we know the families need those answers.”
Melodye Faith Hathaway has been searching for the truth about what happened to her 4-year-old son, Jeremy Coots, for 41 years.
Police think he fell into the Missouri River after he vanished from his babysitter’s Atchison home in 1977.
But neither he nor his body has been found.
“You don’t get over it. You learn to live with it,” Hathaway said about having a missing child. “Not knowing (what happened) is the hardest part.”
Since 1977, at least six young Kansas kids, including Lucas, remain missing after a suspected stranger abduction or are lost for another — sometimes unknown — reason. Here is more about their disappearances.
Anyone with a tip about a missing child is asked to call 911, the national missing kids hotline at 800-843-5678 or the law enforcement agency investigating the case.
Lucas Hernandez, age 5
Missing since: Feb. 17, 2018
Age now: 5 years
It’s been three weeks since Lucas Hernandez was reported missing by his stepmother, Emily Glass, and authorities still haven’t found him.
Glass had told police she last saw Lucas in their home, in the 600 block of South Edgemoor. Immediate searches of the neighborhood turned up nothing. Officers have also combed through several parks in Wichita since he vanished. Nothing has pointed to the boy’s whereabouts.
Police say there’s no sign the Beech Elementary School pre-kindergartener was abducted.
His stepmother is the only person close to the investigation who has been arrested; she’s facing one misdemeanor count of child endangerment involving a 1-year-old for a crime that allegedly happened the day before Lucas was reported missing. Officials have not publicly commented on whether they think she has any connection to Lucas’s disappearance. But family members say the boy had accused her of abuse.
Lucas, who turned 5 in December, is white with brown hair and eyes, is about four feet tall and weighs 60 pounds. He was last seen wearing white socks, black sweatpants and a gray shirt with a bear on it. The Wichita Police Department is taking tips at 316-383-4661.
Vincent Moore, age 4 months
Missing since: July 11, 2015
Age now: 3
The last time anyone saw baby Vincent, he was leaving a house near 31st Street South and Hydraulic early on July 11, 2015, with his father, Gary Moore Jr. Moore has said he returned his son to the boy’s mother, Michelle Mendez, that day. His mother says she last saw the baby when she handed him over to Moore on June 5, 2015. She called police after Moore reportedly refused several times to let her see Vincent.
By the time police questioned Moore about his son’s whereabouts, Vincent had been missing for five weeks.
Police and prosecutors think it’s likely the boy is dead, according to a child-in-need-of-care petition a community advocate has publicly discussed in the past. To date, Vincent has not been found.
His family, meanwhile, believes he’s still alive. He is considered missing and endangered, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website. The Wichita Police Department hasn’t received any new tips in a while, but the case is still open, agency spokesman Officer Charley Davidson said.
Adam Herrman, age 11
Missing since: July 1, 1999
Age now: 30
Adam disappeared from his Towanda trailer home nine years before his adoptive parents admitted that he was gone – and they only did so after Adam’s adoptive sister called authorities in 2008 looking for information about him. His adoptive parents, Doug and Valerie Herrman, claim Adam ran away from home because he was upset over being spanked with a belt. They never called police out of fear, they have said, that Adam and their other children would be taken away by the state.
The Herrmans told family members he’d been returned to the state’s custody in 1999, but they continued to collect a $700-monthly state adoption subsidy for seven more years until Adam’s 18th birthday. Each served less than a year in prison over the fraud.
Part of the reason Adam’s disappearance went unnoticed for so long is because he was home-schooled. His adoptive parents have been accused of abuse by relatives. They deny the allegations.
Law enforcement have theories about what happened to Adam. Extensive searches of the trailer park where he lives, in wooded areas and along a river have yielded no human remains. Investigators also have no evidence Adam is still alive, Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet has said in the past. To date he’s officially considered a missing person.
Adam is white with blonde hair and blue eyes and was born on June 8, 1987. He has several scars on his stomach, one on his left thigh and a birthmark on his lower back. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office is taking tips at 316-322-4257 or 1-866-484-5924.
Four years ago, an anonymous donor put up a $50,000 reward for new information in the case. But the offer yielded no new clues.
Jaquilla Scales, age 4
Missing since: Sept. 5, 2001
Age now: 20
Jaquilla, whose family called her “Grammy Boo,” vanished in the middle of the night from her maternal grandmother’s home at 1618 N. Volutsia. She’d just started preschool the day before she disappeared. She was last seen at bedtime at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 5, 2001, wearing a flowered nightgown and tan barrettes in her hair. What happened to her next is unclear.
Some think it’s possible that someone came into the backdoor of the home and abducted her. Others think a family member might have taken her to give her a better life, that the girl had been taken by a person molesting her to keep her quiet, that she may have been sold or is dead.
Massive searches turned up nothing that brought Jaquilla home.
Wichita police developed suspects but won’t talk about them. They haven’t received any tips about her disappearance recently. The case remains open.
Jaquilla is black with black hair and brown eyes and was born on March 2, 1997. She has a scar on her upper right leg and a brown birthmark on her face. Anyone with tips can call Wichita police at 316-268-4220 or Wichita-Sedgwick County Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111.
Jackie Hay, age 5
Missing since: Sept. 12, 1981
From: Shawnee County
Age now: 42
It’s been more than 36 years since 5-year-old Jackie Hay vanished while her family gathered and prepared for an outing in Shawnee County on Sept. 12, 1981. Police think she likely was abducted from the front yard of her home in southeast Topeka, according to news reports.
Searches of the area turned up little that pointed to what exactly happened. She was never seen or heard from again.
Jackie is white with blonde hair and blue eyes and was born on Feb. 17, 1976. The Topeka Police Department is accepting tips about her disappearance at 785-368-9551.
Jeremy Coots, age 4
Missing since: Feb. 18, 1977
Age now: 45
Jeremy was at his babysitter’s home in the Potato Hill area of south Atchison the day he went missing. His babysitter had bundled him up and made sure he was wearing his hearing aid – he is deaf – and let him and her own 4-year-old son out to play in the backyard. About 15 minutes later, the babysitter’s son came running back, saying that Jeremy had “gone over the hill” into the river bluffs behind the house.
He was never seen or heard from again.
Melodye Faith Hathaway, Jeremy’s mother, says an exhaustive five-day search ended when a dog brought in to help find her son tracked his scent to the Missouri River. It’s thought that he fell or jumped in and probably froze or drowned as he was swept away.
Still, his mother hopes that he didn’t meet that fate – that instead someone abducted him and he’s still alive.
Jeremy is white with brown hair and blue eyes and was born on Oct. 30, 1972. Tips about him can be called into the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at 785-296-8200.
“A mother holds out hope just for anything,” said Hathaway, who was 22 when Jeremy disappeared. She’s 63 now.
“I know in my heart he probably did fall in the river. But maybe he is still out there,” she said. “... Before I die, I just want confirmation.”