U.S. News

Kidnapped children make headlines, but abduction is rare in U.S.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) missing person poster shows Jayme Closs, a 13-year-old Wisconsin girl, missing since her parents were discovered fatally shot three months ago, has been located in Gordon, Wisconsin, U.S. as seen in this poster provided January 11, 2019. FBI/Handout via Reuters

(Reuters) - A 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who escaped her captor this week nearly three months after her parents were killed and she was kidnapped has drawn international headlines, but abductions of children by strangers remain rare, according to U.S. data.

On average, fewer than 350 people under the age of 21 have been abducted by strangers in the United States per year since 2010, the FBI says. From 2010 through 2017, the most recent data available, the number has ranged from a low of 303 in 2016 to a high of 384 in 2011 with no clear directional trend.

That makes cases like that of Jayme Closs, who was discovered by a woman walking her dog after she escaped captivity on Thursday, highly uncommon. A 21-year-old man was arrested later on Thursday and charged with kidnapping Closs and shooting her parents.

Hundreds of thousands of juveniles are reported missing to the Federal Bureau of Investigation each year. The circumstances of the disappearance is only recorded about half the time, but in cases where they are, only 0.1 percent are reported as having been abducted by a stranger. The vast majority, typically more than 95 percent, ran away.

The FBI data does not record how many reported abductions are confirmed as actual kidnappings.

“It doesn’t happen very often, but they’re certainly the cases that capture our attention because they strike at our worst fears,” Robert Lowery, a vice president at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), said in a telephone interview.

In cases where children are abducted, it is far more common for a non-custodial parent to be the kidnapper: This was reported 2,359 times in 2017, the FBI data showed.

A U.S. Justice Department study in 2002 reported that 99.8 percent of children reported missing were found alive.

The NCMEC says that abductions by strangers are the rarest type of cases of missing children. Strangers are most likely to attempt to abduct a child as they head to or from school, the center said.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis