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Bush Launches Effort To Protect Kids

President Bush is calling on the nation to work harder to protect its children from becoming "victims of despicable acts of violence."

Appearing in the White House Rose Garden to announce plans to convene a fall conference on missing, exploited and runaway youths, the president said, "Our nation grieves with every family that has suffered unbearable loss and our nation will fight the threats against our children.

In addition to the planned Sept. 24 conference, the president released a glossy 12-page guide for worried parents, partly in response to highly publicized kidnappings. The "Personal Safety for Children" booklet offers easy-to-read tips for parents and children alike.

Saying terrorism isn't the only threat to America, Mr. Bush noted that the nation faces "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. "I call on all federal and state and local law enforcement agencies, and our communities and our citizens to work together to do everything in our power to better protect our children."

Mr. 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 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.

"It's going to feature things that parents can do, ways in which we can improve our ability to both curtail the number of abductions and also to elevate the chances that children who are abducted are returned safely," Attorney General John Ashcroft said on the CBS News Early Show Tuesday.

The White House announced President 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.

Ashcroft is calling 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.

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 guidebook offers common sense advice to parents, such as "reassure your children that their safety is your No. 1 concern." It also urges parents to set boundaries about places their children can go and to tell youths it's OK to say no and trust their instincts when confronted by an adult.

Illustrated with simple cartoons, the guidebook tells children they should they should memorize their name, address, telephone number and their parents' names. It urges children to take a friend when playing outside and say no to an adult who touches them or makes them feel uncomfortable.

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