Weeks ago, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home in Utah.
"We just plead for him to let her come home and let her be part of our family again," said Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father.
Smart is still missing, but last week, police found Samantha Runnion dead after she was abducted from her yard in California.
Michael Teague, a psychological profiler with the Raleigh Police Department, said parents should know certain people and things in their kids' lives.
"Has the child been communicating with somebody, has the child been enticed away from the home," he said. "The odd thing about the sadistic type of offender is that they appear to be the most typical or normal, so they're very difficult to identify. They're usually very intelligent."
Michelle Whitfield knows the pain of losing a child. In May, Michelle's 5-year-old daughter,
, vanished from her grandmother's neighborhood in Wayne County. Two days later, fishermen found her body in a creek.
"She didn't even live long enough to see anything," Whitfield said. "It's very hard to go day-by-day knowing that you're used to your child opening the door when you get off early and like 'Hi Mommy, how are you doing,' run up to you, give you a hug."
Investigators charged 30-year-old Eric Lane with kidnapping, raping and killing Precious. He lived just four doors away.
"I was devastated because it was only a couple of houses down. I was really devastated," Whitfield said.
Whitfield said Lane did not associate with adult neighbors, but she said he befriended children.
"They are unable to have same-age relationships, so they are trying to relate to the child because they are more on that emotional level," Teague said.
Investigators said that men who prey on children are usually loners in their late 20s to early 30s. The crimes are generally not planned, but they are crimes of opportunity. Officials said most abductors are pedophiles who fall into one of several categories.
"We have another person who is a general criminal and likes to be with kids," Teague said. "We have another person who looks like a regular citizen, but has the sexual problem of pedophilia, and then we have the person who likes to inflict pain, and they like to inflict pain on children."
Across the United States, officials say strangers kidnap about 100 children a year. They also said 74 percent of children who are abducted by strangers are murdered within three hours.
"The actual cases of a stranger abducting a child out of the home or in the mall they are pretty small," Teague said. "When you have in America a population of 200 million people, you're going to have a small group of people that will do this type of crime."
"It's something that you really can't prevent because you can't watch your kids 24/7," Whitfield said.
In October 2000, 4-year-old
walked out of his aunt's house where he lived in Sampson County and was never seen again.
"He's on my mind day-in and day-out, wondering where and why did somebody do this to our family," said Donna Myers, Buddy's aunt.
A recent age-enhanced picture of what Buddy would look like today is being distributed statewide.
In honor of Buddy's sixth birthday, the
Community United Effort
(CUE) sponsored an event to help police identify kids if they are abducted. Volunteers photographed, fingerprinted and took dental impressions. CUE also helps educate children.
"As long as we don't have a body, we're going to continue to believe that he's out there somewhere," said Monica Caison, CUE spokeswoman. "Kids think a stranger is a big, ugly person. We try to stress to school-age kids [that] a stranger is someone you don't know, period."
Caison's advice comes too late for Precious. Whitfield wears a locket with her daughter's picture in it to keep her close to her heart.
"Right now, I'm trying to cope with it day-by-day. It's not something I'll ever get over because all I do is see her every day. I see her in my dreams. I don't think I can ever get over it," she said.
On average, officials say families wait two hours to report a child missing to police, which gives them just a slim window to save a child's life. Police say parents should report a child missing immediately and make sure they have a good photograph to aid them in the search.
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