A tragic end to a heartbreaking search

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It was what we feared most in the days, weeks and — ultimately — months after two girls went missing from Meyers Lake in Evansdale.

In a heartbreaking news conference last week, the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the bodies of 9-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 11-year-old Lyric Cook were found by deer hunters in a Bremer County wildlife area.

It was a tragic end to a 145-day search that brought hundreds of volunteers together to scour parks, ponds and woods; to plaster the girls’ photos wherever they might be seen.

Investigators still are piecing together the mystery of the girls’ disappearance and working to apprehend those responsible. For the rest of us, the only question more important than “what happened?” might be “how can we keep it from happening again?”

 So Gov. Terry Branstad was right to call for a review of Iowa law and procedures intended to protect our kids. If there are better ways to respond to missing child reports, quicker ways to inform the public and mobilize searches, other changes to the law that can help when kids aren’t where they should be, lawmakers should waste no time.

But at the same time, they must be careful to legislate with their heads, not just their hearts, and avoid saddling the state with well-meaning but ineffective changes to the law.

Too often in the wake of tragedy, we’re tempted to pass tough-sounding laws that do little. That would be a poor way to remember the families of Lyric and Elizabeth. It would be a disservice to Iowa communities stunned and saddened by their loss.

And it would take attention away from what we all should do to help minimize the risk of childhood abductions and kidnapping: Talk with the children in our lives about potential dangers. Know what to do if we find a child who seems to be lost or on their own.

No law can take our place in teaching kids, even older kids, to recognize and respond to iffy situations. No law will let them know it’s always OK to come to us if something scary happens, or develop a “safety net” of trusted adults. That’s on each of us.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a wealth of resources for ways to talk with children about abduction and tips to help keep them safe. Find them online at www.missingkids.com.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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