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Missing Child

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Hey, Billy, where'd you go?

Little Billy is missing, not abandoned, but still without parents or guardians or nanny. Maybe he's wandered off, or turned around and suddenly everyone was gone, or he's just really good at hide-and-seek. But he's missing.

If he's gone missing from school, they might signal a Code Emergency and they will count the kids. They probably also called the police. The responsible adults will be searching everywhere for him, and hopefully found that he wasn't really missing at all, he just needed to go potty and didn't tell anyone.

A logical downside of having Free-Range Children is their tendency to not be where you think they are.

Sometimes, though, the trope can get sinister. Billy isn't just hiding so you don't get mad he ate the last cookie, Billy was taken. In these cases, it crosses over with I Will Find You territory, with the adults going to all ends to get their kid back from a known threat.

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This is about the storyline of adults trying to find missing children. If it happens with babysitters around, you can bet they're going to pretend the kid's asleep until they can find them. If it's at the fairground, expect the cheesy music to get creepier as the parents turn around every kid they see.

It may be subverted with the child having run away from Abusive Parents, who are wanting him back to punish him. Usually the heroes discover this before they get the kid back, but sometimes they don't.

Super-Trope to Face on a Milk Carton, which might appear if the kid spends too long missing.

Compare and contrast with The Runaway, which is where a child or teen isn't lost or taken but has left home of their own accord.


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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Kingdoms: In Figment 2, Capri rides her bike to the Academy Scientifica Lucidus late at night to go and help Figment (who flies alongside her) save Dreamfinder and the aforementioned academy from the Doubtfinder, leaving a note explaining this for her mother Jess. When Jess finds the note, she drives to the academy to see what is going on for herself due to worrying about her daughter.
  • Rat Queens features a prequel one-shot where Orc Dave has a child. Said child is not mentioned in the main comic until he is abruptly discovered in an enemy camp, where Dave admits the boy was kidnapped in front of him. Apparently Dave has taken no action on that front for years.

    Fan Works 
  • In It All Comes Back, Camilo went missing shortly after his gift ceremony. He ended up in the same lab as Eleven, where he spent eight years. He wouldn’t end up return to the Encanto for another twenty years. Will’s canon disappearance also still happens.
  • In Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail, Chloe runs away after an argument with her father and Childhood Friend and then gets sucked into the Infinity Train. While she is having the time of her life, her friends and family are trying to figure out where she could have gone.
  • Marinette's unexplained disappearance after being struck by a person-erasing akuma is what drives the plot of Missing.
  • In The Portal, 16 year-old Thomas Smith disappears from the Human World and ends up entering the Dragon Realms, leaving his parents extremely concerned about him.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Finding Nemo. Nemo the baby clownfish gets captured by divers, leading his nervous dad Marlin to look for him.
  • The Rugrats Movie focuses on the babies Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil trying to send Tommy's younger brother Dil back to the hospital and ending up getting lost in the woods. Tommy's spoilt, older cousin Angelica later goes missing too when she sets out to look for her doll Cynthia Dil snatched from her earlier.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: In one scene of The Long Haul, Rodrick and Greg sneak off to a video game convention and their mother Susan notices they're gone. However, she sees them on TV and goes to the convention to tell them off.
  • While trick-or-treating in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Elliot goes off into the woods to help the alien E.T. and stays the night, causing his mother to report him missing. However, he comes back and that's when she discovers E.T.
  • In Hocus Pocus, three hundred years before the year the film takes place, a girl named Emily Binks goes missing, and it turns out she was kidnapped by three evil witches who take her soul. Later, the witches capture a little girl named Danni, but she gets saved.
  • Prisoners is about two little girls gone missing and the hero detective trying to find them.
  • Kidnap Features this trope. A lovely day at the fair turns into a tragic one when Karla's son gets kidnapped which subsequently turns Karla into an equal mix of Mama Bear and Determinator.
  • The entire plot of Gone Baby Gone revolves around a missing little girl.
  • The Wicker Man (1973) is about a policeman investigating reports of a missing child on a remote Scottish island, and finding the locals to be disconcertingly unconcerned about the whole thing.
  • Switchback: Frank LaCrosse's son was taken out of his house by the killer, who murdered the child's babysitter. Since then, naturally LaCrosse has been obsessed with finding him, as the killer promised he could, though most people think it's hopeless.

    Literature 
  • Dandelion Wine: While walking with his brother and grandfather, Doug ends up going off with a group of neighborhood kids. A few hours later, his mom becomes worried when he still hasn't come home. She and Tom go out to the ravine to look for him.
  • In Gangsta Granny, Ben goes off with his grandmother to steal the crown jewels and when he comes back, his parents reveal they'd been searching for him.
  • In Gone Baby Gone two Boston area detectives investigate the kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl.
  • One of the interactive Goosebumps books focuses on the main character's younger brother Denny going missing due to stepping into a time machine.
  • In It, kids go missing in droves every 27 years in the town of Derry. The protagonists learn that an Eldritch Abomination that feeds off fear, known only as 'It', is responsible and set out to stop it before anyone else is taken.
  • It's Not the End of the World: Karen wonders if her parents would reconcile if she or one of her siblings went missing, since she's seen TV shows where that happened, and even wonders at one point which of her siblings would make the best kidnap victim. She is disabused of that notion when her older brother Jeff runs away, which not only fails to bring her parents back together, but results in one of their worst fights ever.
  • In one of the Treehouse books, Andy and Terry are babysitting Mr. Big Nose's grandchildren (six-year-old twins Alice and Albert and their unnamed baby sister) and several times, the children wander off and must be found by Andy and Terry. They never leave the treehouse, but it's so big and dangerous that it's just as dramatic.
  • Happens fairly frequently in Warrior Cats: Cloudkit and his littermates head into the forest to go "hunting" during a blizzard in Fire and Ice and are found by Fireheart and Sandstorm, Tawnypaw goes missing in The Darkest Hour when she runs off to join her father's Clan, Leafstar's kits vanish during the SkyClan manga when Sol hides them in the hope that he'll be made a warrior after "finding" them, etc.
  • The Wind in the Willows has an Arcadian Interlude subplot where Mr. Otter's son Portly goes missing, and the other Riverbank animals rally to find him, with Rat experiencing visions of a Pan-like entity helping him find the child. It's cut from most adaptations, since it has little impact on the rest of the plot, although the 1995 movie version keeps it in.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Diff'rent Strokes:
    • "The Spanking," from Season 1, when everyone thinks that Arnold — who is in line for a spanking due to pranks that he had pulled in the apartment building — is indeed missing. He is later found and eventually forced to take his medicine.
    • "Sam's Missing," the very-real Nightmare Fuel episode when Sam fails to return home from a trip to the store. It is later determined he was kidnapped by a seemingly benevolent stranger who is anything but.
  • Janda Kembang:
    • The first episode revolves around all the main characters looking for the missing Laila, who actually just sneaks into Neneng's house and is unknowingly locked inside.
    • Episode 16 has a neighbor of the main characters looking for her missing son. By the time of the episode, he has been missing for three days, so the RT leader is forced to look for him himself. After the police gets involved, the kid reveals that he just ran away to a friend's house for some Internet.
  • The first season of Stranger Things revolves around, but really is mostly just framed by, family and friends trying to find 12-year-old Will Byers who went missing. Little do they know that he is Trapped in Another World. Most works involving missing children typically emphasize the effects of the disappearance's effects on their family, the parents particularly. Stranger Things demonstrates that a missing child's friends are affected, too, and that the disappearance or death of a friend could be an concerning for children, too. Now imagine at least thirty different people having to cope with this due to the Mind Flayer's Assimilation Plot.

    Poetry 
  • In the poem Emmeline by A. A. Milne, a small girl named Emmeline disappears for more than a week after being told her hands were dirty. Where she went is a mystery, but when she returns, she claims to have gone to visit the Queen, who said her hands were "purfickly clean".

    Video Games 
  • There are two objectives in Banjo-Tooie that involve finding lost children. In Witchyworld, Mrs. Boggy is looking for her three children, Groggy, Soggy, and Moggy. Groggy wants Banjo and Kazooie to bring him a cheeseburger, and then carry him back to his mom, since he is too fat to walk back on his own. Soggy wants Banjo and Kazooie to bring her french fries, and Moggy doesn't want to leave, but if you hit him, he will run back to his mom to tell on Banjo and Kazooie. In Terrydactyland, Scrotty's daughter, Scrut, has run away to visit Witchyworld, and ends up becoming captured and put on display in the Cave of Horrors as a "Mighty Evil Dinosaur". Banjo and Kazooie must destroy her cage, and then take her back to Terrydactyland with Chuffy the train.
  • The Origami Killer from Heavy Rain kidnaps young boys, traps them in a pit that slowly fills with rainwater, and forces their fathers to complete a series of extremely dangerous trials in exchange for the chance to save their son before he drowns. Some of the fathers are never seen again. Protagonist Ethan Mars' son Shaun is kidnapped shortly into the game, forcing Ethan to undertake the trials himself. And he can fail them; there's a Bad Ending where Shaun is never rescued.
  • Missing Children has three. Kanae, Mizuki, and Akiko, who've all run away together. Sato's goal is to find them.

    Visual Novels 
  • Spirit Hunter: NG:
    • Kakuya kidnaps Akira's young cousin, which kickstarts the plot and motivates him to play along with her game. Meanwhile, her mother is shown to be worried sick, spending most of her time at the police station while they try and fail to track her down.
    • The Screaming Author chapter features a serial kidnapping case, with elementary-school girls being kidnapped every ten years around the Miroku Mansion. Said girls were victim to horrible experimentation by the house's owner, until the last victim turned into a spirit and started haunting the place.

    Web Animation 
  • The Twins (2022): As the credits roll, someone posts a missing child flyer for Lake. This is Dramatic Irony because we know that it's actually Lucas who is missing and he's not really missing; he's dead.

    Web Video 
  • AFK: Q, it turns out, has a daughter, and being sent into the game world left her behind. As a result she doesn't know if her daughter's properly being taken care of since she's been left alone. Of course, her daughter also has no idea where she went, and Q is distraught at the idea of the distress it's no doubt caused. She later takes comfort in the fact her parents were coming to visit that day, so her daughter wouldn't be alone for long. Then she's further relieved learning that almost no time has passed.

    Western Animation 
  • Arthur: In Lost!, Arthur gets lost after falling asleep on the bus.
  • In an episode of Babar, Princess Elizabeth goes missing in the castle, and her brother Prince Alexander thinks she has gone to the dump.
  • Family Guy:
    • In "Extra Large Medium", Chris and Stewie get lost in the woods during a camping trip.
    • In "JOLO", Peter climbs onto a billboard to see if its three-dimensional prop pudding cup has real pudding in it, but finds that a kid is already in there. Joe identifies him as "the lost Nicholson kid", and Peter is hailed as a hero.
      Peter: They arrested a custodian 'cause of you.
  • P.C. Pinkerton: In "Calling All Units", Mrs. Beatty informs P.C. Pinkerton that her 4-year-old daughter, Joanna, has gone missing. After describing her to him, Pinkerton orders all cops in the jurisdiction to look for her. She is found soon after.

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