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Hundreds of Florida's missing children remembered outside state capitol

'We have got to make sure we’re doing what we can'
Posted at 6:47 PM, Nov 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-22 18:53:26-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Hundreds of Florida kids are missing, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

All 345 of them were honored at the capitol Friday morning for the 21st Missing Children’s Day.

The annual event brings attention to families still looking for their loved ones and highlights the efforts of others to bring kids home.

Dan Campbell’s 14-year-old Wendy Hudakoc disappeared in 1998. The Naples father has been coming to the event each year since.

“Some years, it feels like it’s getting a little easier," he said. "Then you have a year where it just tugs on your heartstrings.”

That pain has turned into advocacy for Campbell. He now sees his trips as an opportunity to reflect on what was lost and how he can help others.

“This can happen anywhere at any time," Campbell said. "Wendy had a history of saying, ‘Nothing bad ever happens to us.’ We believed that too, until 21 years ago last week.”

With the legislature starting up in January, Campbell felt Florida was moving in the right direction, but said more could always be done to help victims and families.

At the moment, however, state lawmakers are focusing on curbing gun violence. None of the more than 2,000 bills proposed for the 2020 session directly tie to missing children.

First Lady Casey DeSantis, who’s taken up a mission of helping children, said following the event she would like to hear some.

“If legislators have some good things that we can do to try and bring these kids home— I’m all ears," Casey DeSantis said. "I think it’s a priority, we have got to make sure we’re doing what we can.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent budget proposal could indirectly help. He’s asking for millions to enhance Florida’s crime database and to create threat assessment teams stopping violence before it happens.

GOP leadership in the House and Senate largely praised the Republican's budget proposal. Democrats said getting educators pay raises was a top priority, one of DeSantis' major goals for next year.