It is every parent's worst nightmare.
Your child is standing beside you in a store, at a restaurant, at a ball game. You drop your purse or a friend calls your name.
You are distracted, only for a few seconds, but when you look down, your child is gone.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 1 million children are reported missing each year in the United States.
That's an average of a child every 43 seconds. And according to the U.S. Department of Justice, a child that is not found within the initial six hours faces a 77 percent lesser chance of surviving the abduction.
Members of Masonic lodges across the state of Georgia have committed themselves to giving parents the tools to help law enforcement find missing children. They have developed a program called GACHIP (Georgia Child Identification Program) that can both speed up the search process and make it more productive.
A missing child will rattle the most even-keeled parent. The GACHIP pack takes the thinking out of the nightmare, keeping parents from searching for photos, dental records and fingerprints, and allows police to get started searching for the child.
At GACHIP events, Masons provide the equipment, volunteers and materials necessary to generate identifying packs for parents to take home.
In the event a child goes missing, parents then provide the GACHIP pack to law enforcement as an aid in recovery and identification. GACHIP is a part of MASONICHIP, which is recognized by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as one of the most comprehensive child ID services available.
Each parent or guardian will receive a computer disk that includes full-color digital photographs showing the child in various poses. These photographs can be circulated by the police to both the media and the nationwide Amber Alert program. Because the photos are digitals, they also allow for changes in the child's appearance and can be digitally enhanced or aged by law enforcement officials.
The GACHIP pack also includes a complete set of digital fingerprints and toothprints, which include dental impressions, saliva for DNA analysis and scent for dog tracking.
A recorded interview is also on the DVD, with children answering questions about favorite hideouts and friends, answers that could give police valuable information in finding a missing child. The recorded interview also captures the speech, mannerisms and other characteristics that could aid in finding a missing child.
Each child will progress through stations to obtain the information. The entire process takes about 15 minutes.
All items are generated and given to parents or guardians at no cost.
No information or data is retained by anyone involved with GACHIP. Only the permission slip is retained to document the number of children served. No copies of any ID materials are kept on file by any of the organizers; the parents receive all ID materials and health information produced.
In fact, law enforcement officers from both state and federal agencies tried to upload the information after it had been deleted from the computer and failed.
Tyrian Lodge No. 111 Warner Robins, the state's largest Masonic lodge with approximately 500 members, will be hosting a GACHIP event at the Museum of Aviation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 16.
"This project just started this year," Tracy Lemasters, the Tyrian Lodge's Worshipful Master, said. "Each lodge has been challenged to take on this project."
Lemasters noted the event is open to the public. The identification packet that parents receive is also ideal for helping police identify and trace adults with any form of mental impairment.
While Lemasters emphasized that the GACHIP event is free, organizations or individuals that are interested in offering support to the event are welcome. Pledges can be given to the Tyrian Lodge to sponsor a specific number of GACHIP packets, which will cost the lodge $2 for each child.
"If a child goes missing," Lemasters said, "the disc will have everything on it that the police need. Within 30 minutes, police can have the information out on the national Amber Alert.
"Masons work to better the community," Lemasters said. "This program will help protect children."
Along with giving parents the tools to help find a missing child, GACHIP events help to increase abduction awareness for parents.
The Tyrian Lodge welcomes those interested in helping with the Aug. 16 event. To find out about more about the event or to financially sponsor GACHIP discs, contact Tyrian Lodge members at either 714-9193 or 929-8960.
Act immediately if a child goes missing
If your child is missing from home, search the house, checking closets, piles of laundry, in and under beds, inside large appliances, vehicles, including trunks - wherever a child may crawl or hide.
If you still cannot find your child, immediately call your local law enforcement agency.
If your child disappears in a store, notify the store manager or security office, then call your local law enforcement agency. Many stores have a Code Adam plan of action - if a child is missing in the store, employees mobilize to look for the missing child.
Request that your child's name and identifying information be immediately entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File.
After you have reported your child missing to law enforcement, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children on its toll-free telephone number: (800) THE-LOST ( 843-5678), or use the Live Hotline Web site: http://www.ncmec.org/missingkids/