Five days before Christmas in 1995, Becky Comeaux suddenly found herself buying gifts for a son she hadn’t seen in 12 years.
Just 15 months old when he was taken, Beau Arceneaux had become a computer-savvy teenager who, with the help of people using an Internet chat room, found his way home.
Mother and son were on hand Thursday to help inaugurate a World Wide Web site run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The goal: more cases like theirs solved, but solved faster.
New technology donated by Computer Associates of Islandia, N.Y., will allow the center to keep photos of its 12 most recent missing children cases current on a Web page, with links to other pages and access to the center’s entire database of missing youngsters. The Web page it had been using since 1995 sometimes took 24 to 48 hours to update.
“Beginning today, technology is changing the way the world searches for missing children,” said Charles B. Wang of Computer Associates.
“We’ve come a long way from milk cartons,” agreed Ernie Allen, president of the center.
Beau was 15 months old when his father kidnapped him in 1983, said Becky Comeaux of New Iberia, La.
“I never gave up hope I would find him one day,” she said, though it was a shock when the call finally came from the FBI in December 1995.
“I remember yelling and going down on my knees,” she said of the first call, Dec. 18, telling her that he might have been located. Then the worry set in.
She went to a restaurant, had a “couple of strong drinks,” and began to wonder: “What are we going to do if he doesn’t want to be with us?”
When the FBI brought her photos she didn’t believe the tall youth was Beau. Her memory of him was always as a baby.
Beau, living with his father in Austin, Texas, said he had been told his mother left and had no interest in him. He had been using a neighbor’s computer to visit a chat room on the Internet computer network and women in Delaware and Minnesota became curious about the boy who had no contact with his mother. They contacted police.
On Dec. 20, 1995, the FBI showed up at Beau’s home to tell him his father had been arrested and his mother was looking for him. “I was really taken back,” he said.
“When I talked to her on the phone, my mom, it just seemed like everything was going to be all right,” he went on, smiling at his mother, now 3 inches shorter than him.
Back in Louisiana, Comeaux went Christmas shopping for a lad she knew nothing about.
One photo showed him in a Charlotte Hornets jacket so she “went crazy” buying Hornets paraphernalia. Later he told her he had picked up the jacket at a yard sale.
But she still wasn’t sure the boy was hers, not until that moment of greeting: “Once we hugged, it was all right.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ONLINE The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children web page is at www.missingkids.org.