2021 Florida Missing Children's Day Award Winners
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Missing and Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC) accepts nominations for the Florida Missing Children's Day (FMCD) Award Ceremony. FMCD features a formal awards ceremony in which we recognize citizens, law enforcement officers, and K9 trailing teams for their exemplary efforts when investigating missing persons. During the ceremony, law enforcement officers, child heroes, and others are recognized for acting to rescue missing children or prevent abductions. Below are the 2021 FMCD Award Winners!
You can watch previous Florida Missing Children's Day ceremonies via video by clicking here.
Commissioner's Award: Tallahassee Police Department Investigators Elizabeth Bascom, Paul Osborn and Mark Ray; Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Eric Eick; Assistant State Attorney Lorena Vollrath-Bueno and Assistant United States Attorney Michelle Spaven Worked Operation Stolen Innocence. A minor child was recovered and it was found that 596 individuals had communicated with minor victims. Project Stolen Innocence yielded 435 charges on 177 suspects.
Jimmy Ryce Trailing Team of the Year Award Winner: Sgt. Frederick Gimbel & K9 Holmes June 2020, they were deployed to find a child with autism. They searched through multiple brush and wooded areas before locating the child. Once the child was found, Sgt. Gimbel recognized the child was uncomfortable with the K-9 and immediately removed Holmes from the situation.
Evelyn D. Williams Memorial Award: Detective Carter investigated an adult that was extorting and threatening minors for illicit photographs and videos. The investigation located victims across eight states and included 80 victims between the ages of 10 to 14. The suspect was arrested, fined and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Law Enforcement Task Force of the Year: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Over a year and a half, the Selective Operations Section arrested 12 subjects on human trafficking charges and rescued two missing juvenile victims. They also rescued and provided services to 17 adult victims. In their investigations, they identified subjects who preyed on minors through internet applications. In total, the task force made 65 arrests for various felony charges related to solicitation of juveniles.
Combatting Human Trafficking Award Winner: Trooper John Ellerbee, Florida Highway Patrol In April 2020, a suspect fled from a vehicle into the woods. The suspect had multiple outstanding felony warrants for his arrest. It was determined that the suspect was a violent felony offender of special concern, he was in possession of firearms and drugs and involved in human trafficking and production of child sexual abuse material. A minor child was recovered.
John and Reve Walsh Award Winner: Judy Thigpin Over the last 30 years, she and her K-9s have assisted in over 300 missing person searches. She responds quickly when requested and volunteers to work in rough, sometimes dangerous conditions. She trains on her own time to keep her K-9s certified, and donates her travel time and equipment to the search.
State Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Co-Winner: Corporal David Flores, Florida Highway Patrol Corporal Flores was flagged down by a frantic mother whose 3-year-old child had wandered off while playing with other children. Corporal Flores immediately reported the incident and started to canvas the neighborhood and nearby ponds. Corporal Flores found the boy a few streets away within six minutes.
State Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Co-Winner: Trooper Darran Morgan, Florida Highway Patrol While conducting a routine traffic stop, Trooper Morgan noticed a juvenile in the passenger seat. Trooper Morgan believed this juvenile may have been in a compromised position. He obtained the juvenile’s mother’s contact information and called her; the mother did not yet know the child was missing or that she had been taken out of the state. The child was returned home safe.
Citizen of the Year: Robert Riley Mr. Riley was performing maintenance at an RV park where he noticed a toddler wandering alone near a roadway. After several minutes he approached the toddler, who was barefoot, and called 911.
School Bus Operator of the Year: Ms. Williams-Mathis was driving her usual Leon County school bus route when she spotted an unaccompanied toddler, holding a bottle in the middle of the road. Ms. Williams-Mathis stopped the bus, extended the STOP arm, and opened the bus doors. She took the child’s hand and escorted the toddler onto the bus’s front seat before she called the incident into dispatch and waited for law enforcement to arrive.
Local Law Enforcement Officer of the Year: Deputy Royce James, Volusia County Sheriff’s Office In February 2021, a 13-year-old girl was reported missing after not showing up to an afterschool event and had possibly met someone online. Deputy James found a possible suspect that had checked in to one of the hotels with a minor. The girl was recovered and the suspect arrested.