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Johnny Gosch became one of the first children to appear on a milk carton after he went missing. A local Iowa dairy is believed to have come up with the idea to put missing children's faces on milk cartons, one of the first being Johnny's.

Johnny Gosch became one of the first children to appear on a milk carton after he went missing. A local Iowa dairy is believed to have come up with the idea to put missing children’s faces on milk cartons, one of the first being Johnny’s.

Johnny Gosch

The First ‘Milk Carton Child’

The Unsolved Cold Case of Johnny Gosch, a 12-year-old Paperboy who Vanished in 1982, and a Mother’s Enduring Obsession

If you were around in the 1980s, you may undoubtedly remember them: black-and-white photos of missing children printed on the sides of cardboard milk cartons in America.

In 1984, Johnny Gosch’s photograph appeared alongside that of Juanita Rafaela Estavez on milk cartons across America; they were the second and third abducted children to have their plights publicized in this way. The first was Etan Patz.

Here’s the story of how it all started.

In the early morning of Sept. 5, 1982, Johnny Gosch, a 12-year-old paperboy, left home before dawn, for his morning delivery route and never returned.

Though it was customary for Johnny to awaken his father to help with the route, the boy took only the family’s dachshund, Gretchen, with him that morning. Other paper carriers for The Des Moines Register would later report having seen Gosch at the paper drop, picking up his newspapers. It was the last sighting of Gosch that can be corroborated by multiple witnesses.

The Gosches immediately contacted the West Des Moines police department, and reported Johnny’s disappearance. Noreen, in her public statements has been critical of what she perceives as a slow reaction time from authorities, and of the then-current policy that Gosch could not be classified as a missing person until 72 hours had passed. By her estimation, the police did not arrive to take her report for a full 45 minutes.

He had been pulling a red wagon because the paper was particularly heavy that day, with his dachshund, Gretchen, at his side. The wagon was later discovered abandoned in the grass flanking a street in his West Des Moines, Iowa, neighbourhood, and his dog found its way home alone.

His father often went with him on Sundays, but this time the boy did his route alone. By 6:00 a.m. the Gosch home was getting phone calls from neighbours:

Where were their newspapers?

John Gosch, Johnny’s father, got out of bed and went to look for his son. Two blocks from their home he found Johnny’s wagon, full of papers.

He had been pulling a red wagon because the paper was particularly heavy that day. The wagon was discovered abandoned in the grass flanking a street in his West Des Moines, Iowa, neighbourhood, and his dog found its way home alone.

Johnny Gosch was nowhere to be found.

If you have ever been separated from your child for just a few moments and remember the profound panic that sets in, you can maybe then begin to understand what Noreen Gosch has felt over the last 34 years since her son Johnny disappeared.

Johnny was 13 when he disappeared. He had blue eyes and dirty blond hair with a small gap between his front teeth. And his would be the first face of a missing child ever printed on a milk carton.

Johnny’s face wouldn’t find its way onto a milk carton right away though. In September of 1982, when he disappeared, the milk carton program didn’t exist yet, and in fact, Johnny’s parents struggled to get the authorities to take their son’s case seriously. Police were skeptical that he had really been abducted. This sort of thing was just not supposed to happen in wholesome towns in Middle America.

People would be quite shocked at what the real situation was like in 1982. At the time of Johnny’s disappearance there was no legal distinction between a missing child and a missing adult. As such, Johnny’s parents had to wait three days before authorities would consider him a “missing person.”

The FBI would track your stolen car across State lines, but it would not track your stolen or missing child across State lines. There was absolutely no national infrastructure to support the hunt for missing children.

Noreen and John Gosch at a meeting of the Johnny Gosch Foundation. IMAGE: DES MOINES REGISTER

Noreen and John Gosch at a meeting of the Johnny Gosch Foundation.
IMAGE: DES MOINES REGISTER

These days we think of milk cartons as the sole product that displayed missing children, but dairies were far from alone in their advocacy. Missing children appeared on pizza boxes, grocery bags, and junk mail envelopes alongside the question, “Have you seen me?” Though a few informants told police they recognized a child from a gallon of milk, there is no data on how many children were saved by the milk cartons. Hundreds of national, regional, and local businesses, too numerous to mention individually, joined the program by donating space on packaging or printing informational flyers, posters, and other handouts to help our missing children efforts. Photo National Child Safety Council.

These days we think of milk cartons as the sole product that displayed missing children, but dairies were far from alone in their advocacy. Missing children appeared on pizza boxes, grocery bags, and junk mail envelopes alongside the question, “Have you seen me?” Though a few informants told police they recognized a child from a gallon of milk, there is no data on how many children were saved by the milk cartons. Hundreds of national, regional, and local businesses, too numerous to mention individually, joined the program by donating space on packaging or printing informational flyers, posters, and other handouts to help our missing children efforts. Photo National Child Safety Council.

Almost exactly two years later, on Sunday, August 12, 1984, an eerily similar tragedy struck the city: 12-year-old Eugene Wade Martin left his home before dawn to deliver the Register. His older brother normally went with him, but not that day. At 7:30 a.m. the route manager called the family to say that Eugene’s newspapers were found at a corner on his route. Eugene Martin had been abducted, and he hasn’t been seen since.

The story of a second boy being kidnapped shook the small Iowa City, and people there did what they could to find them: The Register ran full-page ads with the boys’ pictures and information, and a local trucking company put poster-size images of the boys’ faces on the sides of their trucks. Then, in September 1984, a month after the second abduction, an employee of Anderson-Erickson Dairy asked company president Jim Erickson if there was some way they could help, too. Erickson said yes and, influenced by what both the newspapers and the trucking company had done, he decided to run photos and short bios of the missing boys on the sides of the dairy’s half-gallon milk cartons. That, he figured, would get the boys’ faces onto kitchen tables in thousands of homes in the area every morning. A week later, Prairie Farms Dairy, also in Des Moines, decided to do the same. Tragically, Johnny and Eugene were never found, but Jim Erickson’s idea gave the issue of missing and abducted children a big publicity boost in Des Moines—and it wasn’t long before it became a national phenomenon, spreading to 700 independent dairies coordinated in part by the National Child Safety Council.

On larger cartons destined for home refrigerators, two children were put side by side. On smaller ones, such as those found in school lunches, a single child would be featured. The children depicted were generally selected from a pool of those presumed to have been abducted by strangers.

The milk cartons were successful, at sparking social and political change. They raised awareness and contributed to legislative efforts including the Missing Children Assistance Act.

But as big as the Missing Children Milk Carton Campaign was (and as big a piece of American culture as it remains), it was actually pretty short-lived. A combination of factors, including the fact that many parents complained that seeing the pictures of missing kids everyday was scaring their own children, led to the end of the program after just a few years.

Milk cartons eventually stopped featuring missing children in the late 1980s, after prominent paediatricians like Benjamin Spock and T. Berry Brazelton worried that they frightened children unnecessarily.

“The milk-cartons program ran its course,” said Gaylord Walker, NCSC vice president. “They had a tremendous impact and they did a great job of creating public awareness.” But how successful was the program in helping with the return of abducted kids? Nobody knows for sure—because nobody kept any hard, verifiable numbers on the program as a whole. What we do know is that many runaways and at least some abducted children were returned to their families as a result of the milk cartons—and that, most would argue, made it all worthwhile.

Even as they waned, however, portraits on cartons remained a potent symbol. In 1988, presidential candidate Bruce Babbitt took heat for suggesting that fellow candidate Al Gore be featured on a milk carton after he skipped the Iowa caucuses.

IMAGE: TARO YAMASAKI/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

IMAGE: TARO YAMASAKI/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

A desperate mother like Noreen Gosch was left with two choices: sit back helplessly and wait for her kid to magically return, or take matters into her own hands.

“It was difficult to get up and put one foot in front of the other,” Gosch says “But I knew I had to do it. I knew no one else was looking for him, and I knew that if I didn’t keep moving forward that no one would remember him today.”

During her 34-year search for her son, Gosch has been called confrontational, emotional and delusional, all harsh words for a woman living through every parent’s nightmare – the disappearance and possible abduction of a child.

Gosch has deflected it, singularly focused on bringing her boy home.

“Your child is the true victim,” Gosch has said, “You have been left with a terrible heartache, but if you always think of the child, you can’t allow yourself to be the victim.”

Thirty four years after Johnny’s disappearance – on Sept. 5, 1982 – nobody knows for certain what happened to the mop-haired boy who started his day delivering the Des Moines Sunday Register and then, suddenly, was nowhere to be found.

But this much is certain: When Johnny Gosch vanished, Iowa’s innocence was abducted.

It changed everything.

It isn’t a huge leap to believe that missing Iowa paperboy Johnny Gosch was kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, says an Iowa police detective overseeing the case.

Johnny’s disappearance is classified as a missing persons case, and there’s “a strong likelihood” Johnny was abducted.

 Jim Rothstein, a retired New York City police detective who has spent decades investigating missing children, human trafficking and pedophilia, says children are easy prey in rural America, where an illusion of safety still exists.

Children have been reported missing from every corner of the state, with no town, big or small, immune from the danger.

The circumstances are especially chilling in light of a report issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an organization Noreen Gosch helped establish. Its analysis of more than 7,000 attempted abductions over seven years found that children are especially vulnerable at back-to-school time.

Among the findings from children who successfully escaped would-be abductors was that the suspect in a car tried to lure the child inside 72 percent of the time, and about one-third of the attempts occurred between 2 and 7 p.m., when children were least likely to be supervised and were walking to and from school or school-related activities.

A West Des Moines police detective overseeing the Gosch case said among the worst fears is human trafficking, which is “happening closer to home than people want to believe.”

“I think it probably is nationwide and worldwide, and likely more prevalent in other countries, where it’s almost part of the culture,” Detective Tom Boyd said. “But people look at it and can’t believe it could happen here.”

Noreen Gosch said the Waukee incident was a wake-up call to parents everywhere that her nightmare could be theirs.

“This is a message and it means something,” she said. “Iowa has a kidnapping problem.”

Johnny Gosch on his paper route. IMAGE: NOREEN GOSCH

Johnny Gosch on his paper route.
IMAGE: NOREEN GOSCH

The Morning Johnny Gosch Vanished

The ominous phone calls started about 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 5, 1982. Neighbours were calling the home Noreen and then husband John Gosch made with their son, Johnny, and her two children from a previous marriage, to report late papers.

In Johnny’s 13 months as a Register carrier, he’d earned a perfect service record for delivering papers on time, every time. Something had to be wrong.

And then Gretchen, the miniature dachshund that accompanied Johnny on his paper route, came home alone. “The dog sat there and was shaking,” Gosch said. “She shook for weeks after the kidnapping.”

When West Des Moines police arrived 45 minutes later, Gosch said she had already talked to newspaper circulation supervisors and paper carriers in the vicinity that morning and some of their parents.

A nugget of information came from retired attorney John Rossi, who had seen Johnny talking to a man in a car early that morning at 42nd Street and University Avenue in West Des Moines, a drop-off spot where carriers loaded their Red Flyer wagons with papers and set off on their routes.

Rivaled only by a few days during the Korean War, Rossi counts that day as one of the most traumatic of his life.

He’s spent three decades second-guessing himself, wishing he’d been more observant. What he saw may have meant something, he said, or it might have meant nothing at all.

He and his family were eager to leave town for the Labour Day weekend, so Rossi helped his son, Joe, bundle and distribute newspapers.

“I wasn’t observant enough,” he said, his voice hushed to the tone people use when they speak of tragedies. “I saw a car parked on 42nd Street and Johnny having a conversation with the man. Somewhere along the way, Johnny asked me, ‘Can you help? He wants to know where 86th Street is.’ ”

Rossi provided directions; the driver made a U-turn and took off.

Police “interrogated the daylights out of me,” Rossi said. “They tried to hypnotize me to see if I could remember anything. … The police worked their tails off on this case.”

But Gosch said that and other information – a suspicious looking van in the area, a report of someone taking photos of Johnny in the days before he disappeared, which in retrospect didn’t quite add up – was never properly pursued by police.

Instead, she said, police insisted her son was likely a runaway, a response that still unleashes a sharp tongue that underlies Gosch’s acrimonious relationship with law enforcement for the past three decades.

Gosch admits that she poked at police. At one point, she threw hot coffee in the direction of a police officer and ordered him to leave.

“If you’re not going to help me find my son, then get out,” Gosch recalled saying after a few days had passed and FBI agents reportedly said they lacked sufficient evidence to enter the case. “Get out of my house.”

Rossi understands that.

“If that had been my boy, I could not have done more than Noreen did,” he said. “Until then, missing children were more or less ignored.”

Sept. 5, 1982, was the last day Rossi’s son worked as a paper carrier.

It was also the day that Noreen Gosch says she knew that if anyone was going to find out what happened to Johnny on that street corner that morning, it would have to be her. “I didn’t know finding my son would be a do-it-yourself project,” she said.

So, Gosch waded into the dark underworld of human trafficking, where children are shuttled around the globe like cargo and traded to supply the seemingly insatiable appetite of pedophiles.

When Iowa’s Johnny Gosch vanished, while delivering the Sunday newspaper in his quiet West Des Moines neighborhood, everything changed – for law enforcement, for the newspaper business and certainly for his mother, Noreen Gosch.

That Norman Rockwellian image of a boy delivering the newspaper has been replaced with that of Johnny’s face on milk cartons, the low-technology equivalent of today’s Amber Alert system.

Though Johnny is still listed as missing on the registry of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids, the cold case is for all practical purposes closed.

Abductions like the one Gosch says took her son away occur infrequently among the scores of children reported missing in Iowa every year and the 2,185 kids nationwide who are reported missing each day.

But when they do, ubiquitous media coverage can amplify the threat to children in the minds of the public, law enforcement officials say.

“These are the kinds of cases that startle a community and, really, thank goodness they do,” said Gene Meyer, who was special agent in charge of the Gosch investigation 34 years ago for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. “I’ve often said that I’m glad that missing children are still front page news in Iowa.”

Detective Tom Boyd, a 25-year veteran of the West Des Moines Police Department, won’t say for sure that Johnny was sold as a sex slave, as Noreen Gosch contends, but adds “that is always a possibility.”

Noreen Gosch has harshly criticized the police department over the decades for failing to follow up leads.

“Being able to prove certain theories, that’s the difficult part,” Boyd said.

Investigators with the DCI gathered file cabinets full of information regarding the Gosch case, Meyer said, “but what we know as fact as to how he disappeared, how he left that corner, is a very thin file folder.”

Gosch’s private investigator, Jim Rothstein, a retired New York City police detective and noted human trafficking expert, says Johnny’s fate is no mystery.

Rothstein asserts the boy was almost certainly stalked and kidnapped by a nationwide ring of pedophiles trafficking children. The theory is described by former Nebraska state legislator John DeCamp in his book, The Franklin CoverUpChild AbuseSatanism and Murder in Nebraska.

In it, DeCamp, now a practicing attorney in Lincoln, NE, claims that what looked like a financial swindle when federal agents shut down Omaha’s Franklin Community Federal Credit Union actually financed an elaborate $40 million operation that, among other illegal activities, stole children to supply rich and powerful public figures.

Variations of the story are laid out in astonishing and sometimes unbelievable detail on the Johnny GoschFoundation website and in Noreen Gosch’s 2002 book, Why Johnny Can’t Come Home.

Those are types of findings weighing down the Iowa DCI’s file cabinets, Meyer said.

Even Rothstein, who steadfastly maintains all the lurid detail is true, says “solving a case and being able to prosecute it are not the same.”

Noreen Gosch in Johnny's room. IMAGE: TARO YAMASAKI/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

Noreen Gosch in Johnny’s room.
IMAGE: TARO YAMASAKI/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

Gosch went on the talk-show circuit, where she hammered on what she thought police did wrong and what she thinks happened to her son, raising eyebrows with each media appearance.

A strikingly beautiful woman with electric eyes, Gosch often dashed away from her downtown Des Moines office for national TV interviews. She was so frequently jabbed in those days for always arriving so well-coiffed and stylishly tailored that it became a well-known, but bad joke around town.

“I was known as ‘the Ice Woman,’” said Gosch, who has made more than 50 network television appearances and granted interviews about how the case was handled for more than two dozen prominent newspapers and magazines.

Wearing sack cloth and playing the tear-stained victim might have garnered her more sympathy, Gosch argued, but it wouldn’t get her any closer to finding Johnny. Five minutes of national air time before the age of the Internet was golden.

She was articulate, she was attractive and she was composed,” said Cathy Rossi, whose husband, John, was one of the last people to see Johnny Gosch the morning he disappeared.

Rossi said she doesn’t judge Gosch. Her son was also bundling newspapers on that street corner the morning Johnny vanished, and Rossi doesn’t know how she might have responded if her son had been taken.

“People immediately started criticizing her, asking how she could do that without falling apart,” Rossi said. “But people are different and they respond differently.”

Rossi said Gosch has “done a lot of good.”

That, the ability to carve something beautiful out of something so ugly was Gosch’s salvation. Her advocacy created a groundswell of support for changes in how missing children cases are investigated in Iowa and across the country, giving hope to other mother and fathers, people like the parents of whose children have vanished like a wisp of smoke.

Gosch was criticized, even vilified for it, and in the end, her son is still missing and her heart is still breaking.

But it was worth it, she said. Johnny’s kidnapping “wasn’t for naught.”

Thirty four years of studying the sinister world of human trafficking and child pornography have made Noreen Gosch a person of dark corners and shuttered windows, places she can sit in semi-seclusion and see what’s going on before anyone sees her.

That’s what can happen to a mother whose son has been missing for so long, 34 years of wonder and fear about what may have happened to her 12-year-old son.

Gosch said she’s still amazed that she found the strength to survive in the days after Johnny vanished.

“I hit a void where it was very hard to manage day-to-day living and combine it with any kind of optimism,” she said. “Each day I would get up thinking ‘maybe today will be the day …’ and at the end of the day, if nothing new had been discovered, it could be very, very discouraging.

“I’d go to bed at night and pray that I would be given some inspiration to find the answers, something that would give me hope.”

Hope came by standing up and fighting back.

She’s spent half her life trying to shake people out of complacency so they won’t have to take the horrific journey she’s taken.

“Families need to be aware of how strong the paedophile and human trafficking networks are,” she said. “Just because you do not want to believe something, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”

Thanks to her efforts, police both locally and nationally respond differently than they did 34 years ago.

The Johnny Gosch Bill, as the Iowa legislation she championed is known, struck down the provision that let authorities wait 72 hours before declaring a child missing, as Gosch claims police did when her son disappeared. Now, they’re required to issue a report immediately, even if it seems likely the child will return home before dinner.

The law, cloned by at least eight other states as national awareness grew about dangers predators pose to children, took effect July 1, 1984. It was used for the first time 43 days later, 24 days shy of the second anniversary of Johnny’s disappearance, in an eerily similar case.

Eugene Wade Martin, another Des Moines Register paperboy, vanished early in the morning on Aug. 12, 1984. That, and the 1986 disappearance of Marc David Allen, made Gosch more determined than ever to get answers to the questions that stole her sleep and transformed her life.

Because of her efforts, Johnny’s and Eugene’s pictures were among the first to be printed on milk cartons, yesterday’s low-tech version of today’s Amber Alerts.

johnny-cake

Innocence Abducted: An Open Letter to Missing Johnny Gosch, from His Mother. IMAGE: NOREEN GOSCH

30th ANNIVERSARY

September 5, 2012

Dear Johnny,

It has been 30 long years since you were ripped away from your family and everything you knew in life to be good. On the day you were kidnapped, it was so difficult to believe such a thing could happen in a quiet neighborhood. Nothing like this had happened in our community before.

I could only imagine what was happening to you, the terror, fear and pain you endured. In the first days, thousands of people volunteered to help us search for you. Each time a search party would come back and had found nothing, I breathed a sigh of relief because perhaps it was a sign you were still alive.

My prayers for you were that you would be found safe but until that time God would be watching over you. Each night I prayed that some new idea would come to me to try that would bring you back home. Every morning there was something new to try, someone to reach who might help but in my heart I knew each minute, hour of every day was time out of your life.

Within a short time TV shows wanted to hear your story, as the shows would air, new leads were coming in to be worked. We hired a private investigator to work full time, it was at that point we began to get real answers. What we learned, no parent would want to know but we had to face the truth of why children are kidnapped. At that time, I not only missed you but the pain of now “knowing” what was happening was a walking nightmare. What you have suffered, no child should ever have to go through.

At times, I would remember you as a little boy and some of the things you said and did. One time, you told me at 5 yrs. old that you wanted a “blue castle cake for your birthday”. I had no idea where you had seen that type of cake. But eventually, I found it in a cookbook the exact cake you described. Building the cake was a family project, you were so happy when it was finished that you didn’t want to eat it. You told me you just wanted keep it forever…..

Every parent wants the best for their children and it breaks my heart to know that your innocence and childhood were robbed from you … I wish you could be as happy as you were in this photo.

A short time after you were kidnapped, a neighbor lady called me and said “I would like to tell you what a fine boy you raised. Johnny helped my six year old son. One night after school some bullies were beating up my son and smashed his lunchbox, Johnny ran to help, he jumped in tossing each of the bullies onto the ground, telling them to get lost… they ran like the wind. Johnny then walked my little boy home. I just thought you should know what a kind boy you raised. ” Johnny, you came back home and never mentioned the “good deed ” you had done that day by helping the other little boy. It was very touching to hear, somehow it made me feel as though you were not so far away.

As years passed, we received valuable information that you were possibly still alive. Other victims contacted us, we had more pieces to place in this giant puzzle. Then came a real break, information that you were definitely still alive and had escaped reached us. You are grown now and do not look like the little boy who was kidnapped, so you can “hide in plain sight” and live. Even though that means it isn’t possible for a normal family life, you are safe. That information surfaced a number of years ago, my hope is that you are still alive today.

It has been a very long 30 years and no one knows that better than you. I am proud of you, Johnny and hope you are able to see this message.

I love you,

Mom

(Noreen Gosch)

Noreen and John Gosch hold sketches of the abduction suspect. IMAGE: DES MOINES REGISTER

Noreen and John Gosch hold sketches of the abduction suspect.
IMAGE: DES MOINES REGISTER

Johnny’s case remains unsolved, but the prevailing theory, which his mother believes, is that he was sold into a paedophilic prostitution ring based out of Omaha. In 2006, she received an email with several photos depicting a young boy resembling Johnny bound and gagged on a bed. She remains convinced that it’s her son, but the FBI and her ex-husband believe otherwise. This kind of organized child sex trafficking was relatively unheard of at the time but has since become a mounting national crisis.

The good news is that more missing children are being returned to their homes than ever before, thanks to the efforts of Noreen and the parents of other children who were never found. Since its inception in 1984 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has assisted law enforcement in the rescue of nearly 200,000 minors, and increased their recovery rate to 97 percent, up from 62 percent in 1990. That was the year Noreen was able to pass the Johnny Gosch Bill in Iowa, common sense legislation she wrote at her kitchen table that requires law enforcement to begin their investigations immediately, instead of 72 hours after children are reported missing. Eight other states have since adopted the law.

She also speaks around the country through her work with the Johnny Gosch Foundation, discussing the issues families typically avoid at the dinner table, like what to look for in a garden-variety paedophile. And though she has surrendered herself to the fact that her own child may never live under her roof again (she insists that he is still alive), she has no plans to end her crusade. “I continue to work on this issue, and I will as long as I am able because there are always new victims,” Noreen says.

Acting as a sort of godmother, she will continue to council the families of the missing and abducted. She advises them as to the best plan of action (who to call, who to trust, what questions to ask), but she also teaches them how to survive as the days pass and their children’s bedrooms remain hauntingly empty.

“I tell them that I never considered myself to be a victim. My son was the victim,” she says. “Many parents I’ve met over the years fall into being a victim. And yes, you have a terrible heartache to bear, but now, more than ever, you need to remain strong. You need to be capable of doing as much as you can to find your child.”

In a personal note to her son on a website she created in his honour, Noreen wrote, “My hope is that the latest report saying you are still alive is true and that one day we will be able to see each other again.”

She also posted a list of things she knows about her son’s kidnapping and notes how it all feels “like it was yesterday.”

Police, however, doubt he’s alive and believe the only real break in the case will come when Johnny’s remains are found.

“In the ideal world he is alive and he comes home and everybody’s happy,” Lt. Miller of the West Des Moines Police Department has said. “But in the real world more than likely our best lead will come when his body is found. And at that point it becomes a crime scene.”

As the carton campaign wound down, it also gave way to a series of related campaigns on pizza boxes, utility bills and grocery bags. Still, none of these quite struck a nerve like the faces of missing children featured on milk cartons, an inevitable source of conversation for families sitting down at the table together to share a meal.

As the carton campaign wound down, it also gave way to a series of related campaigns on pizza boxes, utility bills and grocery bags. Still, none of these quite struck a nerve like the faces of missing children featured on milk cartons, an inevitable source of conversation for families sitting down at the table together to share a meal.

The idea behind the Missing-Milk Carton programs has not gone away: The NCSC, along with organizations such as the government-funded National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), has continued using a variety of programs to teach parents and children how to avoid trouble in the first place.

One of the best-known programs is an electronic version of the milk carton program: the NCMEC’s “Amber Alert” system implemented nationally in 2002 and named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted and killed in Arlington, Texas, in 1996. It allows for extremely rapid public outreach on abduction cases via TV and radio stations, email, electronic traffic-and-road condition signs, electronic billboards, and more. So although pictures of missing children no longer appear on milk cartons, the spirit of the program lives on.

Missing Children Milk Carton Program – National Child Safety Council

Milk Carton Kids – 99% Invisible

The first child to appear on a milk carton is still missing (Retronaut)

How the Missing-Children Milk Carton Program Started

The Original Missing Boy on the Milk Carton – Vocativ

 “Johnny Gosch Iowa Cold Cases”.

“Noreen Gosch: I saw Johnny”.

Johnny GoschFoundation

30 Years after Johnny Gosch Vanished, Iowa’s Innocence Abducted: Part 1 in a Series

Johnny Gosch – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Innocence Abducted: Noreen Gosch Blinded by Ugly World of Child Sex Trade: Part 2 in a Series

Johnny Gosch’s Mom a ‘Pioneer’ in Protecting Children: Part 3 in a Series

Missing Children Assistance Act

Why Did Missing Children Appear on Milk Cartons? – Slate

Who started the milk carton campaign to find missing children? – The …

The Johnny Gosch Tragedy: A Story of Kidnapping, Mind Control …

The Charley Project: John David Gosch


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