LATEST: Missing children advocate Nancy McBride no longer at national center

A Palm Beach County woman who for years has been a leading figure in the nation’s search for finding missing and exploited children is out of the job she held for four decades.

Nancy McBride left office within the last several weeks after decades with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and its forerunner, the last several of that as executive director for Florida.

Why she left, and whether it was of her own accord, is not known. The West Palm Beach office said this week only that she no longer worked there and referred a reporter to the press office at the center's national headquarters near Washington.

Several calls made Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to that office went to voice mails that were not returned. The press office also has not responded to three days of emails. Inquiries to officers of the organization also were not answered.

McBride did not respond to a request for comment made through an associate.

She did reveal her departure from the national center on Wednesday at a meeting of the Palm Beach County Crime Prevention Officers Association, on which she’s served for 28 years, said Lenny Neff, secretary of the group. 

Neff said Thursday McBride did not say how she left.

“She said that she is looking forward to continuing her dedication and commitment to the community,” Neff said. 

McBride was a familiar face in newspapers and on television when high-profile missing-child cases broke. And when authorities tried to rekindle interest in cold cases. On Memorial Day weekend in 2017, she participated in a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office campaign in which 8-year-old Christy Luna, missing through 1984, “spoke” through social media in hopes of spurring leads. The case remains unsolved.

At a 2013 press conference, McBride, standing alongside the girl’s mother, Jennie Johnson, appealed to anyone who was "brave enough and strong enough to finally tell Jennie what happened to Christy.”

And when a 2013 nationwide three-day child prostitution sweep rescued more than 100 exploited children and arrested more than 100 pimps, the national center had analysts try to match some of the children with missing persons reports. The center created "Hope Bags" for the rescued children, filled with toiletries, flip-flops, snacks and a change of clothes. 

"I don't think there's a great understanding in the public of the fact that this is going on in the country, versus in some other country," McBride said at the time. "I just think it's a crime that's been in the corners, the dark corners, and it's finally being brought to the forefront."

The mission of the nonprofit's national center is to help prevent child abductions and sexual exploitation; help find missing children; and help victims and their families. In 2016 alone, the center fielded more than 8 million reports of sex crimes against children. 

John and Reve Walsh founded the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center in 1981, after their 6-year-old son Adam was abducted from a Broward County mall and later found murdered. McBride started as a "Guardian ad litem" coordinator and a program coordinator and an assistant to John Walsh.

McBride left in 1987 to work for HBO but returned in 1990 as executive director of the Walsh Center, which had merged into the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, then based in the Washington suburbs. Five years later the Walsh center became the national center's Florida branch.

John Walsh later hosted the television show “America's Most Wanted” and became a national crime-fighting icon.

John Walsh did not respond to an inquiry made on his Facebook page.

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