A day to mourn lost children, too

Published September 12, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Hugs and tears marked the state's eighth annual Missing Children's Day ceremony Monday in the state Capitol courtyard, where Gov. Jeb Bush and first lady Columba Bush joined hundreds of children, parents, educators and public officials.

The event is held on the second Monday of each September and this year fell on Sept. 11, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Sept. 11 also is the date when three of Florida's missing children disappeared: Jimmy Ryce of Miami-Dade County in 1995, Amanda Brown of Seffner in 1998 and Zachary Bernhardt of Clearwater in 2000. Jimmy and Amanda were murdered, and their killers are on death row. Zachary remains missing, his fate unknown.

"We feel sorrow for the children we have lost and we also feel sorrow for the Americans and others, frankly, that lost their lives five years ago in the cowardly attacks on our country," Bush said.

"I'm not sure why God decided to bring these two acts together, but it is the way it is and so today we pay tribute to the families and their lost ones and also we pay tribute to those that lost their lives in Washington and Pennsylvania and in New York City," he added.

Last year 49,913 children were reported missing in Florida but fewer than 1 percent were considered victims of predatory abductions, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials said. Runaways accounted for 91 percent of the juveniles reported missing. Many of the others were taken in custody disputes.

The governor said children in Florida are safer because of new laws such as the Jessica Lunsford Act, which includes tough penalties for sexual predators and fingerprinting requirements for contractors and others who frequently visit school grounds.

Nine-year-old Jessica was abducted and murdered last year in Citrus County.

"Florida today has a set of laws that are the toughest in the country as it relates to sexual predators," Bush said.