But for the parents of runaways who do not return, the wait is not just heartwrenching. It also is frustrating.
It has been more than two weeks since 15-year-old Callie Jones left home. She still has not returned.
"It's been extremely difficult," said her stepmother, Rebecca Jones. "You don't know if she's O.K., out in the cold."
The high-school freshman was supposed to board a school bus but never did. Instead, she was last seen getting on a Durham city bus along Dearborne Avenue.
Police believe she ran away.
When police suspect a child has been abducted or is in danger, they immediately call the media to get the word out. But it is different with runaways.
With hundreds of children leaving on their own everyday, the press cannot accommodate the many parents in anguish over their missing child. So, as investigators work the case, families like the Jones' are left trying to tell their story.
Callie's parents have posted flyers, alerted friends and looked at local hotels. And in an unusual approach, her father's employer placed an ad in local papers.
The North Carolina Center for Missing Persons called it a savvy move. That's because their most effective resources for finding missing children aren't available for runaways.
Valuable tools like the Amber Alert are not activated.
"You negate the power of it if you overuse it, so it is reserved for the most critical cases and in cases where law enforcement thinks there is an immediate threat," said Perry Stewart, of the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons.
Callie's parents pray the ad works.
"We just hope any way we can get the word out that somebody will come forward and let us know how she is, that she's all right," Warren Jones said. "We want her back."