The Gloucester Township Police Department has launched Project MARRS (Missing At-Risk Response Strategies) to better prepare itself for missing person searches, as well as offer help to those involved in such a tragic event.

Gloucester Twp. Police Chief Harry Earle
Gloucester Twp. Police Chief Harry Earle announces the launch of MARRS. (Townsquare Media)

Police Chief Harry Earle said Project MARRS consists of seven strategies to assist in locating at-risk missing persons and, of equal importance, provide valuable resources to at-risk youth and their families.

"Project MARRS acknowledges that today's missing child may be tomorrow's victim or even tomorrow's offender," Earle said. "The action of the child leaving the home, often referred to as a runaway child, may be an important indicator that the child may be experiencing emotional distress or in need of services."

Research of national data showed that runaway children are at greater risk of substance abuse and are more likely to be arrested.

Included in the seven strategies is the department's goal to work closely with school counselors in assisting at-risk youth, as well as making sure that all cops receive ongoing training on how to effectively manage a missing person incident and offer appropriate social services.

In addition, Project MARRS includes a new response plan to assist with missing person searches. Within the plan is a tracking system where volunteers are identified by a unique number, which assists in tracking search locations, enhances volunteers' safety, and manages the often overwhelming number of people who assist in the search.

"The goal is to be completely, 100 percent ready before a child is taken," said Colleen Nick, whose daughter went missing in Arkansas nearly 18 years ago.

Morgan Nick was six years old and has never been found. Earle said the tragedy serves as a lesson that unspeakable acts of abductions can happen in any community.

Earle said Project MARRS is something he would like to see adopted by other municipalities in New Jersey. Thirty officers from outside Gloucester Township participated in a MARRS training session Monday morning.

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