Crime Stoppers to target child predators

March 29, 2012 8:12:33 PM PDT
Next month, Crime Stoppers is planning to target Houston's most wanted child predators. The initiative coincides with National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which begins April 1, and this could be the largest child safety campaign in the organization's history.

They are the worst of the worst, accused child predators walking amongst us and sometimes hiding in plain sight. The number is staggering. Some 1,600 are in Harris County alone.

"As a parent, I am shocked by that. I really am. That's a scary thought," parent Sanjanetta Barnes said.

Starting next month, Crime Stoppers will launch a major offensive to track down more than 800 of these child predator fugitives and bring them to justice as part of it's Safe Child Initiative project.

"When these offenders hide in our neighborhoods and continue to pose a threat to our children, we want citizens to be on the lookout," Crime Stoppers spokeswoman Katherine Cabaniss said.

As part of it's month-long campaign, Crime Stoppers is rolling out more than a dozen giant billboards across the city, raising awareness through public service announcements and teaming up with law enforcement.

Throughout the month of April, members of the different law enforcement agencies will be working together to form arrest teams. They will literally go out and hunt down these fugitives as the tips come in.

Photos of the 847 wanted felons will also be featured on the Crime Stoppers website. For example, Claudia Fuentes is accused of beating her small child to death and has been on the run for nearly 10 years. Then there's Pedro Espinoza Escama, who five years ago was charged with forcing his girlfriend's two young daughters into prostitution.

"It's really heart wrenching to know that there's so many people out there that can do so much harm but you can't find them," concerned citizen Alejandra Garcia said.

When it comes to child predators, there is no "poster child." There is no certain look, age or ethnicity, and in a lot of cases, they're not always strangers.

Justin Vault was babysitting several children last year when he allegedly tried to have sex with a 12-year-old girl who was under his care.

"It's just a good reminder that stranger danger is no longer the only message to tell our children or parents," Cabaniss said.

It's a message, that for parents, has become loud and clear.

Crime Stoppers is holding a news conference on Monday to officially kick off its Safe Child Initiative. Last year in April, more than 150 child predator fugitives were arrested as a result of this campaign. This will be its sixth year.

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