Thousands want to create “Gannon’s Law,” but experts see problems

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Authorities searching for missing 11-year-old Gannon Stauch returned to the family’s home in Colorado Springs on Wednesday as thousands of people signed a petition suggesting a new state law to be named after the boy.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children via AP

Gannon Stauch

The Metro Crime Lab went back to the home where Gannon lived with his father and stepmother on Wednesday as they have multiple times before, El Paso County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby said. She declined to say what the crime lab was doing in the house, citing the ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, as the search for Gannon entered its fourth week, more than 11,000 people signed an online petition that called for the creation of a new state law that would require that children under the age of 13 whose whereabouts are unknown for several hours be automatically classified as missing or endangered, rather than classifying the youths as runaways.

Gannon’s disappearance was considered to be a runaway child case for three days after his stepmother, Letecia Stauch, said she’d last seen him walking to a friend’s house on Jan. 27. The case was then upgraded to a missing and endangered child case because of the length of time Gannon had been missing, his medications and his age, Kirby said.

Mother-of-two Taran Witt, who lives in Virginia and has no personal connection to Gannon’s case, started the petition Tuesday because she felt she “needed to do something,” she said.

“Police do not respond the same way to a runaway as they would to a missing child,” she said. “When you tell someone your child has run away, and if there is some evidence of that, then the hope is the child will turn up on their own accord.”

While the petition on Change.org gained rapid widespread support online — and was shared on Facebook by Gannon’s mother, Landen Hiott — it’s not an effort the Stauch family is ready to publicly champion, said Cynthia Coffman, the former Colorado attorney general who is speaking on behalf of Gannon’s parents in the wake of his disappearance.

“Right now they’re focused on Gannon and finding Gannon,” she said. “I do think there will come a time down the road where the family will probably be active on some of these issues, based on what their own experience has been and their desire to prevent bad things happening to other people, but it’s premature to have those conversations at this point.”

She added that the notion of some sort of law that could make it possible to have children listed as endangered more quickly is something that the family has “talked a little bit about.”

“The devil would be in the details,” Coffman said.

Some experts on Wednesday caution that the effort detailed in the petition — to create a broad automatic requirement for how children’s cases are handled  — may be misguided.

The initial labels of runaway or missing child don’t always have a large impact on the way law enforcement investigates a child’s disappearance, said John Bischoff, acting vice president of the missing children’s division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“It depends on the circumstances of the case,” he said. “It depends on what law enforcement is able to find to drive them in a specific direction in searching for a child. The label on the front end, in reality — the only thing anyone is looking at is, there is a missing child out there.”

In Gannon’s case, law enforcement alerted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to Gannon’s disappearance on Jan. 28 — the first full day he was missing and when he was still considered to be a runaway, Bischoff said. That allowed the center to immediately begin assisting in the case, and the organization assigned one of its local consultants to join the search effort.

“They wanted to find this child and find him quickly,” Bischoff said.