When a child or teen goes missing, each minute could mean the difference between heartbreak and a happy reunion.
The FBI’s CARD team, or Child Abduction Rapid Deployment, was created so these cases could be solved more quickly and with a positive outcome. It’s comprised of agents and analysts who’ve worked a lot of child abductions nationwide.
Since time is of the essence, FBI New Orleans Division Special Agent Robert King, a CARD team member created Joint CARD, or J-CARD, consisting of teams in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. The J-CARD teams are made up of individuals in local agencies, like the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, trained by the FBI’s experts.
“We found that state and local agencies don’t always have the opportunity, for lack of a better word, to work a missing child, so when one actually happens, no one in that department or surrounding department may have ever worked one. These things are totally different investigations than anything they’re ever worked,” said Special Agent King.
The Acadiana J-CARD team has about 60 members from 25 agencies. When local authorities start working a missing child’s case in the area, a J-CARD team member is typically notified to put the team on standby.
“Obviously, the faster we can get out to a certain area and start searching for something like that, the better,” said Sgt. Casey Barfield, who works in the Criminal Investigation Division at the Lafayette Sheriff’s office and is a J-CARD team leader.
He says they’ve been deployed three times since it was implemented in 2016. Thankfully, none of those turned out to be child abductions, but they were able to provide resources to bring the child to safety.
“If it is a child under the age of 12, we will certainly go out because we have resources to coordinate searches and things like that, especially [with] smaller agencies that don’t have the man power or resources,” said Sgt. Barfield.
The first time the Lafayette J-CARD team was deployed was also the most personal for him. It was in 2017 when Sheriff Mark Garber’s daughter went missing.
“There was a lot of things going on with that one. There was a lot of moving parts, which is why I was more of a consultant and other members came in and were more lead on it,” he said.
Many times, like in that case, law enforcement can’t always immediately tell what led the child to go missing, whether they left voluntarily or were abducted.
“We factor everything in, and no matter what, we always give the child the benefit of the doubt,” said Special Agent King. “If we’re not sure, we deploy the team. Sometimes, the child might run away, and you think, ‘Okay; they’ll come home.’ But, bad things happen to runaways sometimes, especially the younger they get; we think we need to go find them.”