Robert’s mother was frustrated with her 16-year-old son. The homeschool student didn’t want to do his school work that March day. He said he could get a job any day, one that paid even better than his dad’s oil field work.

“So I said, ‘Fine,’” said his mom, Michelle Thompson of Edmond. “I told him he either needed to go to school, get a job or find another place to live.”

Those words would come back to haunt her. She hopes other parents can learn from her family’s experience, and not feel at such a loss if ever faced with a similar situation.

“We say things as parents we don’t mean,” she said later, but admitted she did intend to frighten her son with her words.

“I was trying to scare him,” she said. “I was trying to set him up for failure because I wanted him to stay in school.”

The family recently moved to Oklahoma from Indianapolis, partly to find a better community in which to rear their five children. They’d had some minor behavior problems with Robert, the oldest, they said.

The teenager left home about noon that Thursday, angry at his mother but not intending to stay away. He ended up wandering Edmond for almost four days.

“The thought to run away didn’t occur to me until a couple of hours after I left,” he said. “I just went out and walked.”

His parents were understandably worried as the hours passed. At 10:30 p.m., they called the Edmond Police Department.

An officer went to the Thompsons’ home and took a report, but Michelle said she was less than satisfied with the officer’s response.

“He had a really nonchalant attitude,” she said. “He told us Robert had probably befriended some people here in Edmond and had gone to a party with them.”

The officer took Robert’s information and assured the Thompsons when their son got cold and hungry, he would probably return home, Michelle said.

She wanted more. She said she thought police should issue an Amber Alert.

Lt. Tom Custer of the Edmond Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division said an Amber Alert is not issued unless there is evidence of abduction or foul play.

In the case of a runaway like Robert, local officers are immediately given information from the initial report and begin looking for the missing person, he said. The data is also entered into the National Crime Information Computer (NCIC) system.

Meanwhile, Robert was wandering through Edmond, cold and hungry.

“I was thinking I wanted to go home,” he said, “but I was scared of the consequences.”

His parents’ cell phones had Indiana numbers, and Robert had not been taught how to make a collect call.

He hung out at several public places, even outside the police station, but he was reluctant to approach the many officers he saw going in and out.

“I didn’t really want to talk to them. I’d heard you could be taken to ‘juvenile’ or get arrested for being a runaway.”

On Monday morning, Robert finally found his way home, thanks to a stranger who gave him 50 cents for a phone call, and he and his family were happily reunited.

For families who are dealing with various problems with parent/child relationships, Custer recommended the local “Parents Helping Parents” group. “This is an outstanding organization,” he said. “They help parents cope with the situations and issues that come up in families.”

Runaways often turn to their friends for a place to stay for a few days, Custer said. “They’re often found in a vehicle somewhere nearby or staying in an apartment with a friend.”

The number of teen runaways tends to increase at the beginning and end of the school year, he added, saying the child is often stressed by school conflicts or grades.

Parents may be embarrassed their child has run away from home, and may tell others their child was abducted in order to camouflage family problems, he said.

“But for us, the mission is the same. Our goal is to find you safe and get you home.”

As for the Thompsons’ allegations that local officers didn’t search for Robert, Custer said the department does follow protocol in runaway cases.

“Sometimes parents think we’re not taking the situation seriously enough,” he said. “It’s hard to be patient, but (the parents) have to be patient and work with us. We’re trying our best to get them back.”

In spite of her concerns, Michelle said she’s glad the experience ended safely for Robert.

“We were lucky,” she said. “I’m afraid other parents won’t be so lucky.”

(Alice Collinsworth may be reached via e-mail at

What can parents do when a

teen runs away?

• Call 9-1-1 as soon as you suspect your child has disappeared. Ask for a police report to be filed


• Record the officer’s name, badge number, telephone, fax and report numbers. Ask who will follow up the


• Find pictures of the child to use in the search. Choose photographs that are recent and realistic.

• Check with your child’s friends, work, neighbors, relatives or anyone else who might know the child’s


• Go to the teen’s school. Speak with teachers and staff members and go through the teen’s locker and desk.

• Find out if any of the child’s friends are missing. They may be together.

• Check home computers for leads.

• Keep a record of everyone you contact during the investigation.

• Cooperate fully with police and with the media.


Resources for teens and parents:

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

• Understanding and preventing teen runaways:

• Oklahoma Department of Human Services:

Runaway Hotline: 1(800)RUNAWAY: Anonymous and confidential, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

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