WASHINGTON – Responding to a rash of kidnappings that has stirred fear in parents across the nation, President Bush on Tuesday announced his plan to convene a White House conference on missing, exploited and runaway youths.
"Our nation grieves with every family that has suffered unbearable loss and our nation will fight the threats against our children," Bush said. The nation must work harder to keep its young from being "victims of despicable acts of violence."
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."
Also Tuesday, the president released Personal Safety for Children, a glossy 12-page booklet offering easy-to-read tips for parents and kids alike.
"One of the most important things that a mom or a dad can do is talk to their children, very specifically, and rehearse what they can say or do if they ever feel threatened," the president said. "You should teach your children how to say no and how to trust their instincts."
Bush also urged parents to go online to learn more about how to protect their children.
"Go to the 'www.missingkids.com' and learn some practical advice and some useful tips," he said. "The Department of Education will distribute the handbook. I urge the families to get these recommendations and to discuss these important safety tips with their children."
The daylong conference, to be held at George Washington University in Washington, will gather policy makers, experts, community leaders, teachers and police officials to share ideas about how to prevent the victimization of children.
The White House announced Bush's plans 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 two girls in 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.
Attorney General John Ashcroft called Tuesday for expansion of a special alert system that permitted the public to help police in locating two teen-age girls who were abducted near Lancaster, Calif.
"It's a commendable program. About 14 states have it. We'd obviously like to see it more widespread," Ashcroft said in a television interview.
The California Child Safety Amber Network is based on a program developed by Dallas-area broadcasters after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington in 1996. Today, there are 41 programs across the country, credited with recovering at least 17 children since 1997.
White House officials said the administration has been working on the conference since early in the year. Some said plans for announcing the conference and releasing the booklet were hastened after the high-profile kidnappings.
In 1999, about 203,900 children in the United States were abducted by family members seeking to interfere with a parent's custodial rights, according to the guidebook produced by the Justice Department and several other federal agencies.
At least 98 percent of those children were returned home; none of them were killed, the guidebook said.
In the same year, about 58,200 children in America were abducted by non-family members, often in connection with another crime. According to the guidebook, 115 of those were the most dangerous types of abductions -- those perpetrated by strangers where the child was kept overnight, held for ransom or killed.
Forty percent of those children were killed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.