State Steps Up Effort To Recover Missing Children

Sharon Martinez
Sharon Martinez
Tip Gilbert
Tip Gilbert

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- It's a startling statistic. State officials say more than 3,000 children in Hawaii go missing each year.

While many of those kids do return home safely, others are still out there. Ji Zhao Li has been missing for 19 years. Therese Vanderheiden-Walsh, for 17 years.

Sharon Martinez felt paralyzed when her three children vanished 16 years ago.

"I just went crazy," she said. "You know, you just, it's awful. There's nothing you can do, and it's awful."

She says her ex-husband took the kids and left Hawaii.

"They were abducted from my home in Manoa and taken into Mexico," she said. "And at the time, we really didn't have a good system for recovery."

She says the state is now a lot better when it comes to missing children.

On this day, officials announce two new programs. Tip Gilbert, whose daughter was abducted and murdered in 1985, is on hand for the unveiling.

"In my life, we have closure to Maile's death," Gilbert said. "But the parents that don't have closure, the parents that do not have their children back, it doesn't get any better."

The first new program is on Oceanic Time Warner Cable's digital channel 110. The feature allows the public to view photos of children who have disappeared.

"I'm very grateful that Oceanic Cable is willing to do what they're doing so people have access," Martinez said. "I think it's a big step forward. And hopefully, we'll make more gains in the future."

The national missing child center says one in six kids featured in its poster program is found because someone in the public recognized the child and notified authorities.

"Time doesn't heal the wound," Gilbert said. "They need to have their children back."

The second new program is called Take 25 and focuses on prevention. It encourages parents, guardians and other role models to spend time teaching kids how to be safer.