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Editorial: A reunion and a vigil

When 11-year-old Timothy Greene was returned safely to his adoptive family Tuesday in Salisbury, it was cause for celebration and tearful relief. The youngster who disappeared Friday turned up a few miles away, at the home of a relative.
Family and friends of Phylicia Barnes can only hope and pray for a similar outcome.
The 17-year-old girl from Monroe disappeared three weeks ago while visiting a half-sister in Baltimore. Despite an intensive search and publicity campaign, including segments on CNNís ěNancy Graceî and NBCís ěTodayî and ěNightly News,î city and federal investigators say theyíre baffled by her disappearance. As more time passes, the frustration and worry mount. Barnes was an honor student and volunteer tutor who had already been accepted by several colleges where she hoped to study medicine or psychiatry. She doesnít fit the profile of a wild child who might suddenly vanish of her own accord, leaving loved ones to anguish over her whereabouts.
The phenomenon of missing children has been compared to an epidemic ó and with good reason. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an average of more than 2,000 children are reported missing each day, or almost 800,000 a year. Fortunately, the majority of those are found safe. Some have simply wandered away by accident and are found within a few minutes or hours; others have run away on purpose. About 25 percent are the victims of family abductions that may traumatize the child psychologically but leave them unharmed physically. However, itís the small percentage of malicious-intent abductions that dominate media reports and make us fear the worst whenever we hear a child has gone missing. Across North Carolina those fears have risen after the disappearance and death of Zahra Baker. The disabled girl who was reported missing from the Hickory area last October, and part of her remains were found a month later in Caldwell County. Although investigators have questioned her father and stepmother and filed unrelated charges against both, no one has yet been charged in her death.
Investigators say the first few hours after a disappearance are critical, regardless of the circumstances. As hours, days and weeks go by, the trail gets colder. Even then, however, the outcome isnít a foregone conclusion. Elizabeth Smart was found nine months after the 14-year-old vanished from her Salt Lake City, Utah, home. We also have the sensational cases of Jaycee Durgan, the girl who was abducted and held in virtual enslavement for 18 years before being rescued from a backyard hovel, and Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped at age 7 and finally escaped his captor at age 14.
As those cases show, even while fearing the worst, itís important to hope for the best ó and not give up on the hunt.

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