Although she was a fictitious character created by writer Caroline B. Cooney, there is nothing fictitious about the 13 Jennifers the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has listed in their national database.
Milk Carton Program
The Missing Children Milk Carton Program was also not fictitious. It was started in the mid 80s when the National Child Safety Council coordinated the public awareness effort with more 700 dairies.
I remember staring at Johnny Gosch‘s picture over many a breakfast. He’s the only face I remember from the milk cartons. The campaign ended in the late 1980s, but became a cultural touchstone for Generation X.
The first time I heard about a child going missing I was about 8 or 9-years-old. A local TV reporter from Odessa, Texas, interrupted an episode of the The Love Boat with a news report about a 10-year-old girl that had been abducted from some dirt road in the middle of West Texas.
I pretty much never slept the same after that. A few years later, while traveling from Texas to Kansas on an Oklahoma Turnpike, a toll booth employee handed my father a flyer of two girls who went missing from the Oklahoma State Fair. It was 1981 and the girls were 13-years-old, the same age as me.
Historians, sociologists and marketers, etc., assign collective personas to every generation. When writing or talking about Generation X, they always cite the following influences: AIDS, MTV, The Cold War, Space Shuttle Challenger, divorce, latchkey kids and missing children on milk cartons.
I can imagine no greater agony on earth than the loss of a child. But, to have a child go missing for 10, 20, 30 years or more and never know what happened to him or her is a hell like no other. Here is a Jennifer that’s been missing since 1984. Like me, she was born in 1967. She told her mother she was going on a bike ride and nobody ever heard from her again.
This blog post is part of a year-long project, The Jennifer Chronicles. It’s an effort to tell the story of Generation X through anecdotes about women named Jennifer. It was the #1 girls name in America from 1970 to 1984. It’s also my name. Will you follow along and tell all your Jennifer friends about it?