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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 4, 2007

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Announcement of the Texas Regional Office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
San Jacinto Room
The Four Seasons Hotel

photos  Photos

1:51 P.M. CDT

MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Rae Leigh, thank you very, very much for that very kind introduction.

I'm so happy to be here today in this room with so many good friends. I want to thank everybody for coming. I want to especially thank Diane Allbaugh for being the one who is really responsible for this, for putting this event together, as well as for doing all the hard work that you've done to make sure a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is here in Austin. Thank you very, very much, Diane. (Applause.)

Mrs. Laura Bush hugs Rae Leigh Bradbury Wednesday, April 4, 2007, in Austin, after the 9-year-old introduced Mrs. Bush during the announcement of the future opening of the Texas Regional Office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Rae Leigh was the first child in the United States to be recovered as a result of an AMBER Alert when she was 8 weeks old in November 1998. So far AMBER Alerts have saved more than 300 young lives in the United States.  White House photo by Shealah Craighead Joining us also today is Ernie Allen, who is the president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He's one of my favorite people. I love to have the chance to talk to him whenever I can, to hear stories, all the different stories -- and many, many stories with very happy endings from the center. Thank you, Ernie, for joining us today. (Applause.)

Jan Bullock, my partner -- my partner when George was governor and Bob Bullock was lieutenant governor -- is also an event chair. Thank you very, very much, Jan. Thank you for your great work. (Applause.)

Anita Perry, I want to recognize you. Thank you for joining us today. Nadine Craddick, the speaker's wife, thank you very much for joining us. And I especially want to thank Nelda and Pete Laney for being with us here as well.

We're going to hear in a minute from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Thank you, Senator, for joining us. And Attorney General Greg Abbott. Thank you so much, Greg.

Mayor Will Wynn is with us, and Austin, of course, will be the site of this regional center for Missing and Exploited Children. And, Mayor, thank you for being a part of this, as well.

In the room are a lot of state officials. Many of you I have known forever and I want to thank you all for joining us today, for working on each one of the issues that surround the whole idea of the exploitation of children -- from the judges who are here with us to the state representatives and the state senators. Thank you all so much for being here.

In 1981, as you heard on the video, a six-year-old boy named Adam Walsh was kidnapped from a Florida department store. Soon after Adam disappeared, he was found murdered. Adam's mother and dad, Rev and John Walsh, were devastated -- and they were determined to build a nationwide network that would help other families recover missing sons or daughters. John and Rev 's advocacy helped establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And just in case you couldn't tell from the video, this is John Walsh that you know now from TV's "America's Most Wanted."

Mrs. Laura Bush delivers remarks Wednesday, April 4, 2007, in Austin, during the announcement of the future opening of the Texas Regional Office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The center will serve as a regional hub to manage cases throughout the Southwest. White House photo by Shealah Craighead Today, federal, state and local law enforcement cooperate to pursue kidnappers across state lines. National registries alert parents about convicted sexual predators living in their neighborhoods. And across the United States, there is one hotline number to call immediately to report a missing child. In 1990, 62 percent of children reported missing to the National Center were recovered. Today, that number has climbed to 94 percent. That's really terrific. (Applause.)

I'm proudest of the National Center's heroic response to Hurricane Katrina. With help from the government, from the American Red Cross, and from many individual volunteers -- including a very large number of retired law enforcement from around the United State -- the National Center worked day and night to reunite families that were separated by the hurricanes. Of the more than 5,000 children who were initially reported missing, every single case was resolved. (Applause.)

And congratulations to Ernie Allen and to everyone at the National Center. I visited the National Center while this search was going on for the children who needed to be reunited with their families after the hurricane and met people -- law enforcement, FBI, police chief, Secret Service, retired Secret Service who were all working, manning the computers there, and then a number of these retired law enforcement also went straight to the shelters along the Gulf Coast to work to make sure every family was reunited with their children.

Recently, this January, Madam Chirac in Paris hosted an International Conference on Missing and Exploited Children, which I attended. And I was so proud to be there with Ernie Allen. Our National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has worked with other countries to make sure there is now an International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

At Madam Chirac's conference we talked about what each of our countries can do to improve cooperation between all countries, since all the new technology -- like the Internet -- have made child exploitation an international crisis. Ernie Allen was there and the National Center was working with Interpol and Europol and a number of other groups to make sure the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children can continue to work across borders to make sure children are reunited with their families.

The center's success shows how important a network of individual citizens is to keeping children safe. In fact, the public is the best resource to help recover missing children. Just last month in Lubbock, an anonymous tip from one woman helped return three-day-old Mychael Darthard-Dawodu -- who was kidnapped from the hospital by a woman posing as a nurse -- to her mother.

And through the AMBER Alerts, all Americans who watch TV, or listen to the radio, or see the special highway signs, AMBER Alert highway signs, can help locate missing children. So far, AMBER Alerts have saved more than 300 young lives in the United States -- including Rae Leigh Bradbury's. (Applause.)

When I was in Paris, the French government had just instituted AMBER Alerts and actually called them AMBER Alerts, like ours are. And just in the two weeks -- or the one-and-a-half weeks the AMBER Alerts had been in effect, they had already found two children with the help of an AMBER Alert.

Every year, 850,000 children are reported missing in our country -- 60,000 of these cases are right here in Texas. Yet because of the hard work of law enforcement, concerned Americans, and the National Center, most of these cases are resolved. And today, I'm so happy to announce that Austin will soon be home to a new regional center for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (Applause.)

This center will serve as a regional hub to manage cases throughout the southwest, and they can help resolve the increasing number of cross-border abductions. It'll help U.S. Marshals track non-compliant sex offenders, and coordinate the local efforts of Team Adam: Team Adams are the rapid-response teams, made up of retired law enforcement experts, who go to the scene of a breaking cases to assist local and state investigators.

The center will be the first place for children and families to turn to in time of emergency. After the hurricanes, Congress designated the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as the lead agency for child relocation. Now, the center can use this Texas office to coordinate regional efforts to reunite families in the aftermath of a disaster.

The National Center will also partner with local non-profits, government, and youth-service organizations to help prevent child exploitation and abduction -- especially online. Because of the Internet, predators can now make contact easily with children. Child pornography has become a national and global crisis.

Posting or downloading pornographic images of children is not an exercise in free speech. It's a criminal act of child abuse. Our government is working to end this abuse through the Justice Department's Internet Crimes Against Children task force. With the help of task force members, federal prosecution of child pornography and abuse has increased from 350 cases in 1999 to more than 1,400 cases in 2005.

The new regional center will build on this success by educating parents and children about safe use of the Internet. And it will encourage Texans to use the National Center's CyberTipline, , which has handled over 465,000 reports of suspicious online encounters since 1998.

This new regional office shows the National Center's commitment to the families of Texas, and it shows Texans' commitment to all of our children. I'm proud that it'll be located here in Austin -- and that so many of our friends, led by Diane Allbaugh, are responsible for getting the center here. This group of people are the ones who made the phone calls, who went door-to-door. They collected donations of money and time from people across the state. They encouraged companies to offer in-kind contributions -- and these companies responded with building materials, and printing services, and audiovisual equipment. This group even got the American Bank of Commerce to provide 2,500 square feet of office space in one of its bank building.

According to Diane, citizens throughout our state -- and I quote -- "also gave tremendous emotional support. I just can't say enough about the people of Texas -- about how generous, how caring, and how motivated they are to do the right thing." Because of Diane's efforts, this new center will help law enforcement, private citizens, and the National Center do the right thing for our children --children like Kevin Brown.

On a Thursday evening last September, two-year-old Kevin Brown was playing outside of his home in Alvarado with his four-year-old brother. When Kevin's brother was attacked by fire ants, he ran into the house, where his dad began treating the bites. In all the confusion, Kevin disappeared. When Kevin's dad discovered his little boy was gone, he called the Johnson County Sheriff's Office to report his missing son. Throughout the evening, the sheriff's office, the FBI, and volunteers searched the area. They used horses, ATVs, K-9 units, and divers -- but they still couldn't find Kevin.

Two National Center Team Adam consultants arrived on the scene to assist the sheriff's office. The next day, they searched county roads and highways, fanning out to cover a three-mile area. The sheriff led the search on horseback; authorities dragged and drained 15-foot-deep ponds. Law enforcement began to fear that Kevin had been abducted.

Three days later, during an air search by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Kevin was found. DPS officers had spent all day Friday flying the area by helicopter. They'd taken over from an Austin DPS crew, who had flown the same area Thursday evening with a thermal-imaging device.

On Sunday morning, even though it was the officers' scheduled day off, they made one more pass over some water tanks near the spot where Kevin had disappeared. And it was a good thing they did: The officers spotted something yellow -- and they soon realized that it was Kevin's tank top. They found Kevin lying face down near one of the tanks.

As the officers rushed toward Kevin, calling his name, the two-year-old lifted his head. This little boy endured three days of severe storms and Texas heat topping 100 degrees. But because of determined efforts of more than 20 agencies -- including U.S. Marshals, local law enforcement, the Salvation Army, a nearby church, and the National Center -- Kevin's life was saved.

Now, with the resources offered by Austin's regional center, the National Center will be able to coordinate more successful rescues -- and protect other vulnerable children like Kevin. Thanks to each of you for your hard work to make this center a reality. And thank you for your commitment to the children of Texas, and to the children of our country.

Thank all you very, very much. (Applause.)

END 2:06 P.M. CDT

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