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THE tragic outcome of two abductions in Florida this week has prompted authorities to warn parents the profile of a child predator no longer just includes images of an old man "with an enticing bag of lollies".
After huge searches which attempted to turn every stone in two separate communities, five-year-old Quatisha Maycock and eight-year-old Maddie Clifton appear to have been killed by males they trusted.
Tiny Quatisha was bashed and left to drown in a swamp by the spurned man who bad been dating her mother, Miami police suspect. Her pyjama-clad body was found floating in waist-deep water by two fisherman who at first thought she was a discarded dolL
"It's a hurtin' feelin' to see a baby in the water like that. We initially thought it was a baby doll because she was so cute." says C.W, Cox, a fisherman who found the body in a section of the Everglades known as Alligator Alley.
The body of fun-loving Maddie was found hidden under the waterbed of a 14-year-old boy, Joshua Phillips, who lived across the road from her home in Jacksonville.
She was found three days after she disappeared. Yesterday, the boy was charged with murder.
The gruesome discovery followed a weekend of tears in which Maddie's parents made an emotional plea for her safe return and offered a $50,000 reward.
When police finally searched the room of Maddie's suspected killer, they found the girl's feet protruding from under a water- filled mattress. The boy is believed to have had a fixation with his younger playmate.
Recent statistics show a child is abducted every six minutes in the United States. While the majority relate to custody battles and no harm is intended, about 100 a year are abduction murders
In most cases, the child is raped before being killed, according to the Florida-based Jimmy Ryce Centre for Victims of Predatory Abduction.
Police are yet to release autopsy details about whether the latest victims were sexually molested, but the killing of the two litile girls has sparked a new campaign to make parents more aware of when and where their children may be in danger.
A detailed study of more than 600 child abduction cases across the US in recent years confirmed the majority of victims knew or trusted their attacker.
The study found most abductions occur within less than 1km from the child's home and the targeted victim is usually dead within three hours of disappearing.
The targets tend to be pre-pubescent and from stable middle-class homes.
"The public thinks the typical victim is five or six years old who is snatched by some old man skulking around a park saying 'You want some candy?'. That's just not the case," says Washington homicide detective Ken Hanfland, who helped write a report for the US Department of Justice after studying hundreds of abduction cases.
Detective Hanfland's study found the typical child abductor was in his late-2Os, unmarried and with a record of sexual assault or child violence (a separate study found 20 per cent of child abductors were repeat offenders).
The abductor often lives or works in the area and is usually known to the victim. The attacker is unlikely to be a loner, with 83 per cent of offenders found to be occupying a residence with someone else.
After the slaying, 21 per cent of child attackers left town. Ten per cent stayed around and Injected themselves into the hunt for the missing child.
Girls aged 12 and older are common targets, experts say, because parents sometimes assume they are old enough to take care of themselves or want to give them their own space".
Julia Cartwright, from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, believes parents still must offer the age-old advice not to speak to strangers.
But, she says, they also should make their children aware of how to recognise any dangerous situation and what to do when it arises. CHILDREN should be encouraged to stay in groups or in the company of several adults. They should avoid situations where they are alone with an adult other than one of their parents," she says.
Concerned groups in the US have started two programs to help parents in the fight against child abductors and paedophiles.
More than a dozen web sites have been established which list the names of known sex offenders and the districts in which they live - a public advisory made legal by the so-called Megan's law, which resulted from a campaign sparked by the kidnap, rape and murder of seven-year-old New Jersey girl Megan Kanka. A neighbor was convicted for the crime and sentenced to death.
In Florida, nearly 600 convenience stores have signed up to a program in which pictures of missing children and composite pictures of suspects are displayed on TV monitors inside the shops.
Police estimate the images will be viewed by more than 1000 people a day in each store.
The program was launched by Claudine Ryce, whose 9yr old son, Jimmy, was abducted in September, 1995. His mutilated and raped body was found three months later.
A 31yr old cuban immigrant was convicted last month of the murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair.

By Geoff Stead

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