When 14 year old Cinthia Olea Garcia went missing from her school in Staten Island, it came as a shock to her mother. She never realized then that three years later, she would still know nothing about what happened to her daughter. In cases like these one questions whether a child was a runaway and left willingly, or was forced into a dire situation by abductors. Cinthia's case remains a mystery to this day, as does the case of 19 year old Stevie Bates, who was last seen on April 17th 2012. Now missing almost 2 years, the family has done everything possible to find her to no avail.
The issues are even more complicated when a child has a disability. One New Jersey family shared with us their efforts to help their son Will Culbertson with developing his independence, that's until he disappeared more than a year ago. Will is a 23 year old with Asperger Syndrome, and is on a high functioning level within the autistic spectrum. While it is clear that he left on his own accord, his ability to function on his own as an adult is of concern. The Special features a program, Project Lifesaver, at WJCS (Westchester Jewish Community Services) that has been very useful in keeping Autistic children safe as they do have a tendency to wander. For young people who find themselves homeless, their need for services cannot be overstated. The Special tells the story of 21 year old Monique Coble, who from the age of 12 was moved through 6 foster homes and a juvenile delinquent facility before ending up at Covenant House where she is taking care of her 4 year old daughter while trying to plan her future.
Finally, the Special features a Peer Mediation program at a school in Brooklyn called Leaders which is part of the NYC Outward Bound Schools network. Adolescence can be a tough time and the Special profiles an 11th grader who dealt with major health issues all her life and was bullied in middle school. Things finally came together for her thanks to this program and to hear the young students speak about their perspectives and their experience is inspiring to say the least.
This Special is the seventeenth in a series from WABC-TV's "Protect Our Children" campaign that originated in 1998 and has been developed with the collaboration of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, (NCMEC). The campaign includes informational safety messages, a web site and campaign that continues to broadcast the pictures of missing children in every Eyewitness News Program. The previous Specials have received four Emmy Awards, six "Gracie" Awards from the American Women in Radio-TV-Film (AWRT) and Awards from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, (NCMEC). All of the segments along with additional material, web-chats and links to resources and agencies that can be of help will be posted on www.7online.com/protect after the airing of the program.