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NEW TOOL TO HELP IDENTIFY MISSING CHILDREN

In the summer of 1995, two Medina children, aged 2 and 15, were kidnapped by a Genesee County migrant farmer and taken to Cleveland. Within 24 hours, Ohio police found them after they escaped their captor. The two girls were returned to their mother.

In the rural Orleans County village, the scene has only played out one other time, in 1993, when a 13-year-old girl was abducted from her home by someone police believe was a family acquaintance.

Police never found the girl. No arrest has been made in the case.

Nationally, according to a study compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 797,500 children reported as missing in 1999, the most recent year for which figures are available.

"Crime is terrible because there are victims, and they always feel vulnerable, but when we're dealing with crimes involving children, there's another pain that only the family can really understand," Medina Police Chief Jose Avila said.

"While kidnappings and abductions are by no means as common in our area as they may seem to be in larger urban areas, parents need to be as prepared as possible," he said.

In May, he hopes to have another tool to help identify missing children.

The program, called "Operation Childsafe," will involve barbershops and salons.

Several cards will be distributed to businesses that cut hair, and, if a parent chooses, they can have a lock of hair -- which contains mitochondria DNA -- attached to help with identification should their child go missing. The packet also can include, if parents choose, photographs and fingerprints.

While cut hair contains DNA that is only traceable through the mothers family line -- and may not be as specific as DNA from hair roots or blood that contains DNA from both parents -- experts agree anything that helps with identification is important.

According to John Braun, a safety coordinator with the National Child Safety Council, the program -- which includes fingerprinting, photographs and dental records -- is designed to make as much information available possible.

"When you're dealing with children, things change and you need to stay as updated as possible," Braun said.