Despite Media Coverage, Child Abductions Down in 2002

A traumatized mother pleading for the return of her abducted child has become a common and jarring site on the airwaves this summer.

Elizabeth Smart, Samantha Runnion, Danielle van Dam, Tamara Brooks, Jacqueline Marris -- the list of girls snatched by strangers seems endless, but despite all of these high profile cases the number of kidnappings by strangers is actually on the decline.

"We think the media is profiling these cases in a much higher fashion than they have in the past, which is good because hopefully it's preventative," Mike Heimbach of the FBI Child Abduction Unit said.

The FBI reported 134 stranger abductions in 1999 and again in 2000. The total dipped to 93 cases last year. In 2002 the number of children abducted by strangers totals 66 so far.

Sixty-six kidnapped children is certainly heartbreaking but to put the figure in perspective experts point out that in the 1980s the average per year was over 300 child abductions by strangers.

President Bush announced a plan to convene a White House conference on missing, exploited and runaway children hours after prosecutors in Santa Ana, Calif., said they would seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.

On July 15, she was dragged away from a playmate by a man who asked for help in finding his puppy.

Last week, a man abducted Marris, 17, and Brooks, 16, in the Quartz Hill area of Los Angeles County and raped them. The girls were freed when sheriff deputies killed the girls' captor.

Both cases drew nationwide attention and frightened parents everywhere.

Bush announced the Sept. 24 conference in response to "a wave of horrible violence from twisted criminals in our own communities."

"The kidnapping or murder of a child is every parent's worst nightmare," he said, calling on federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and communities to "work together to do everything in our power to better protect our children."

In the case of Samantha Runnion, media coverage was credited with helping apprehend the suspect quickly.

"We know that within the first few hours it is critical to the safety of the abducted children on whether or not we get that child back home safely," Ann Scofield of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said.

While high-profile child abductions may capture the country’s heart and stir fears in parents the positive result is increased awareness and a thousand set of eyes searching for the missing and the perpetrator.

"Samantha became everybody's little girl, not only in this country, but throughout the world -- the media coverage reflected that," Jim Ammormino, Orange County sheriff spokesman said.

Fox News' Amy C. Sims and the Associated Press contributed to this report.