New Technology Helps Prevent Child Kidnappings

Missing kids activist Marc Klaas said he has partnered with high-tech companies to prevent child abductions and help families cope when kidnappings occur.

The new child safety systems Klaas has endorsed include a smartphone app that sends alerts about missing children, a GPS locator wristwatch for kids and software that blocks online predators, said Klaas, president of the KlaasKids Foundation in Sausalito.

The products represent "21st Century solutions" for tracking youngsters and averting or shortening the duration of kidnappings, Klaas said at a news conference held at a search center for missing Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar.

"There have been technology solutions for parents for some time, but independent and in a vacuum," said Klaas, whose foundation is promoting the new products on its website. "We are offering a one-stop shopping center that can be a great aid to families," Klaas said.

Klaas, whose daughter Polly was abducted and killed in 1993, said he started learning about high-tech child safety systems about a year ago, including two panic button-type emergency systems. One is a phone app, called Polly's Guardian Angel and made by Safetygrid of Detroit, Mich., that allows parents to send an alert to other app users if their child is missing and costs $4.99 to download plus $7 per month to use, Klaas said.

The other, the LEO Wristwatch, to be released this spring by Guardian Lion Wireless of Marina Del Rey, Calif., is a large watch for kids that has a panic button to 911 emergency responders, a GPS locater and doubles as a cellular phone, for $199, Klaas said.

Another partner is CocoonKids, by Virtual World Computing based in Santa Barbara, a free software available starting Jan. 28 that tracks web sites kids visit, blocks harmful websites and prevents outside sites from tracking kids on computers, iPad tablets and iPhones.

Klaas also announced the launch of a website, Klaas Family Housing, a charity to raise funds to provide up to three months of housing expenses for families of missing kids who often are not able to meet their mortgages or rent due the cost of searching for their children, Klaas said.

Joining Klaas at the news conference were Steve LaMar, father of 15-year-old Sierra LaMar, who has been missing since March, Krystine Dinh, cousin of Michelle Le, 26, abducted and killed in 2011, Midsi Sanchez, 20, who escaped a kidnapping at age 8, and Craig and Marianne Lomax, whose 19-year-old daughter Linnea, who went missing in Placerville for 10 weeks before her body was found after she committed suicide.

Steve LaMar called Klaas' new child safety efforts "valuable tools so hopefully people don't have to go through what we are going through."

LaMar said that the search for Sierra continues every Saturday with 40 to 50 volunteers hunting within a radius of 15 to 20 miles of where Sierra is thought to have been before she vanished. "We keep going," LaMar said.

"The family is still hoping we'll find her alive." Dinh said her family moved to the Bay Area from San Diego in 2011 and faced emotional and financial hardships after the 26-year-old Le disappeared from a hospital in Hayward.

Dinh recalled that Le remained missing for 113 days until her body was found in a remote area near Pleasanton. "It's always a sense of panic," Dinh said. "You have this really strong sense of hope you will find them alive."

"It seems technology is just starting to catch up," Dinh added about the high-tech safety methods Klaas is promoting.

The gathering took place at the closed former Burnett Elementary School in Morgan Hill that currently serves as the base for local volunteers looking for Sierra LaMar. About 11,000 people have participated in the search for Sierra, Klaas said.

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