They are mirror images, two small girls whose lives have played out without ever meeting until one key moment. One is African-American, one Caucasian. One is upper middle class, one is somewhat lower. One is known, one is not. They both exist under the status of a missing person, although through different ways. And neither child is whom you might think. Their names are Alexis Patterson and Sabrina Allen.

Despite what one may think, the known child, Patterson, is the lower-class black girl. The unknown one, Allen, is a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who by most estimates should be gracing the front pages of every newspaper in the country. But while Patterson was the victim of what is known as "every parent's worst nightmare," the anonymous stranger who lurks in the shadows waiting for the chance to snatch our children, Allen was the victim of a problem nearly ten times greater than the chance of the stranger lashing out. Her kidnapper was her mother, who had lost in a custody dispute with Allen's father.

It is like something out of a nightmare for most parents: the knowledge that your child has vanished. The immediate image one conjures up is that of a shadowy stranger, one who waits until we avert our eyes to take away our children. The facts are quite different than our perception of them, however. There are perhaps only four thousand non-family abductions each year. Most only last a few hours and are committed for either the purpose of robbery of sexual assault. Only around one hundred of them are estimated to fit the profile of a stereotypical kidnapping, in which the abductor intends to either keep or kill the child. The stranger abductor is more likely to suffer from more severe forms of mental illness than the rest of the population, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They are more likely to be captured than a parental abductor. They often have an extensive criminal record for a variety of offenses ranging from minor breaking and entering to homicide. The time of capture tends to be a short period of time after the abduction.

An ordinary parent at first seems to be the last person one would suspect of being a kidnapper. In a sense, they are correct, for the parental kidnapper is no ordinary parent. The vast majority of parental kidnappers are motivated by spite and a desire for revenge on the other parent. Unlike stranger kidnappings, parental kidnapping is gender-neutral, with mothers and fathers abducting in equal numbers. Mothers are more likely to abduct after a court order is issued, while fathers tend to abduct before an order is issued. The parental kidnapper tends to suffer from less severe forms of mental illness, such as depression and personality disorders. Men are more likely to suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, while women tend to have borderline personality disorder. The parental kidnapper is likely to be caught in the first few weeks, but many are not caught for months or even years at a time. Most of the time, the children are not physically harmed, but neglect and emotional abuse are common, reflecting the selfish nature of the crime.

It was a fairly ordinary day in early May when Alexis Patterson headed off to school. She was somewhat upset, due to a dispute between her and her mother ending in a decision to not allow Alexis to take some cupcakes to school. Her stepfather dropped her off in front off her school, and she was seen by several children on the playground that morning. But somewhere between the playground and the classroom, Patterson vanished. Her disappearance was baffling from the start, as no one witnessed her presumed abduction. Due to the dispute with her mother, there was a slim chance she had left on her own, but due to her age (and the fact she still has not been found) the chance is slim to none. The lack of further sightings tends to indicate that foul play may be a factor, but this is not a certainty.

The abduction of Sabrina Allen was in sharp contrast to that of Patterson. While Patterson's disappearance came out of nowhere, Allen's had been seen coming for some time. After her parents divorced, sole custody was awarded to her father, in large part due to her mother's personality disorders. Her mother was furious over the decision, and began to make threats to kidnap her daughter. She also began to lodge a series of accusations that her ex-husband was abusing Sabrina. The allegations were determined to be baseless and her mother was allowed only supervised visits. It was on her first unsupervised visit that Sabrina was taken. The two were spotted in Mexico over a year after the abduction. Allen was nearly recovered, but she and her mother evaded the authorities. Sabrina appeared unhappy at the time, with poor physical care, and told people her mother was having financial problems.

More information about Alexis' case can be found on her NCMEC poster. Sabrina Allen was located in Mexico in October 2014. If you have have any information on Patterson's case, please contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

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