Crimes Against Children Spotlight

Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Team

By Ashli-Jade Douglas 
Stock image of a child holding a teddy bear and staring out of a car window.

“One missing child is too many. At the FBI, saving lives, protecting the innocent, and hunting down those who prey upon them is at the heart of what we do…. Protecting our children is one priority where our commitment is stronger than ever.”

-FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III

FBI research revealed that 74 percent of children abducted and murdered were killed within the first 3 hours of their disappearance. To aid local law enforcement and FBI investigators in child abduction investigations, the FBI created the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) team in 2006. Since its inception, CARD has provided field offices with the resource of additional investigators with specialized experience in child abduction matters. As of September 2011, the CARD team has assisted in the investigation of 69 child abduction cases involving 77 children. Of the 77 children, 31 were recovered alive; 11 remain missing. CARD statistics also indicated that in 70 percent of these cases, the child was abducted by an individual with a known relationship to the child. In contrast, 10 percent of abductors were registered sex offenders.

A total of 60 CARD team members are divided into 10 separate groups, 2 within each region of the United States, representing the Northeast, Southeast, North Central, South Central, and Western parts of the country. Regionally, CARD provides rapid, on-site response, including investigative, technical, and resource assistance, during the most critical time period following a child abduction.

CARD has the unique experience of having investigated many child abduction cases, whereas a majority of seasoned investigators have not had the opportunity to do so. This institutional knowledge enables CARD team members to bring valuable insight and expertise to these time-sensitive investigations. When the life of a child is in possible danger, people want highly qualified investigators as every minute counts when a child is reported missing.

Case Examples

  • In 2011, CARD assisted in a child abduction investigation in Colorado City, Texas, by providing several investigative strategies, including the establishment of the Missing/Abducted Child Excel (MACE) application. MACE helped track the completion of the neighborhood canvass; identify suspects; run multiple timelines on the victim, witnesses, and suspects to identify discrepancies and any window of opportunity; and monitor evidence collected during the investigation.1
  • In 2010, the CARD team responded to a child abduction investigation in Greeley, Colorado. CARD employed strategies throughout the investigation, including a neighborhood canvass, interviews of registered sex offenders, and victimology.
  • In 2009, the CARD team provided assistance in a child abduction case in South Carolina. CARD helped to structure the command post, refine lead tracking, coordinate with the Behavioral Analysis Unit 3 (BAU-3) regarding possible abductors, formulate a strategy to locate the abductor, and guide the search and recovery teams. As a result, the child was recovered.
  • During an abduction in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2009, the CARD team and BAU-3 advised the execution of basic missing child techniques, such as conducting a neighborhood canvass, reviewing surveillance videos, and focusing media strategies. As a result, the
    suspect and victim were located. The victim was recovered alive, and the suspect was arrested.2
  • A child abduction case in Dickinson, Texas, involved an 8-year-old victim who was brutally abducted and raped, had her throat slit by the subject, and was left for dead. In 2008, 18 years later, an FBI agent presented this case at a CARD conference where team members recommended that agents use new technologies and reanalyze the DNA evidence. As a result, agents identified and arrested the subject.3
  • During a 2007 child abduction case in North Carolina, the CARD team advised the case agent that the victim likely was deceased and hidden somewhere in the individual’s residence. The following day, the victim—dead for several weeks—was found in the attic.

Additional Resources

The Cellular Analysis Survey Team (CAST) members also deploy with CARD team members to provide their expertise by exploiting telephone data and performing cellular tracking. They have proven invaluable to child abduction investigations.

In addition, representatives from BAU-3 deploy with CARD. These investigators specialize in victimology, offender typology, and criminal psychology.

Ms. Douglas, an intelligence analyst with the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, prepared this Crimes Against Children Spotlight.


1 Special Agent Michael Conrad, e-mail correspondence to author, September 20, 2010.

2 Based on FBI investigation.

3 Special Agent Leonard Johns, e-mail correspondence, April 27, 2011.