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Sikeston Masons sponsor child ID program May 5

Thursday, April 26, 2007

SIKESTON -- It's every parent's worst nightmare -- their child being abducted.

To help local parents assist authorities in recovering a missing or abducted child, the Sikeston Masonic Lodge will sponsor the Missouri Child Identification Program, or MoCHIP, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 5 at the Sikeston Junior High School.

The free program, which is available through the Masonic Children's Foundation of the Masons of Missouri, uses a computer disk to provide information to the parent. It's available for those ages birth to 21 years. "This is our first time doing this, and we're hoping it goes well," said Don Hart Jr., master of Sikeston Masonic Lodge. "It's something the Masons (of Missouri) just started doing."

Deemed "one of the most comprehensive child recovery and identification programs in the nation," by the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, the program consists of five major components: digital photographs, digital fingerprints, child information and emergency contacts, dental bite impression and two laminated ID cards.

"It's very simple and takes about 15-20 minutes to process a child," said Nick Cichielo, MoCHIP state coordinator and public relations.

Parents are first required to fill out a permission slip. Then they will provide information about their child's medical background, such as their height, weight, and if they take any medications, Cichielo said.

"Everything is entered into the computer, and we take digital photos. The next stage is digital fingerprints," Cichielo said.

At the next station, all the information is printed onto a sheet and is copied onto a disk for the parents.

"The disk is encrypted so if anybody found the disk, they couldn't copy it. It's the same encryption used by the FBI," Cichielo said.

The information on the disk is compatible with the format required by the AMBER Alert program.

The dental impression collects enough saliva to provide a DNA sample and a source for a scent for trained canine search and recovery teams. For infants, the mouths are just swabbed, Cichielo noted.

"We retain no information. At the end of the day, everything is wiped clean from our system," Cichielo said, adding only the signed permission form is retained by the Foundation.

Coloring books and videos will be available to keep children occupied should there be a waiting period, Hart said.

Hart said he thinks the program is a good opportunity for parents and their children.

"If anything ever happened to their children, they'd already have the information and law enforcement could put it out on the AMBER Alert. They'd have anything they needed," Hart said.

DNA doesn't change but a child's physical appearance does so it's recommended identity kits be updated every two to three years, Cichielo advised.

Masons of Missouri has been conducting the program for three years, Cichielo said.

"Last last year we processed 12,000 children, and this year we will process 25,000 children," Cichielo said.

According to the latest government statistic, over 100,000 children are reported missing each year, Cichielo said. The highest group at risk for abductions are girls ages 15-21.

"We feel if we can save one child, then it's worth it," Cichielo said.