THE TRAGEDY that has struck Atlanta is so profound and baffling that the federal government must do all it can to aid that city's officials and citizens. Rarely has a city government turned to Washington for help with so strong a case.

Seventeen children have disappeared in Atlanta in the last 18 months. The bodies of 14 of them have been found, some soon after the children were murdered, some only months later. All of the children were black. Other than that, there seems to be no pattern to the murders. Atlanta police, who think there is more than one killer, say they have no clues or solid leads.

Mayor Maynard Jackson asked for federal help last Tuesday after the 14th body was found. Although the FBI has been providing some limited investigative aid, Mayor Jackson wanted to find out what other kinds of resources might be available.

His request is reasonable. A large portion of his city is living in terror. Many of its citizens have turned out to aid the police when assistance in searching parts of the city was requested. The local police department has already spent more than a half-million dollars in its unsuccessful investigation.

After properly noting the limited jurisdiction of the FBI in such situations. President Reagan dispatched a team of high officials to Atlanta. During their discussions there, these officials might strain a little to find a way to give Atlanta the kind of help it needs. Surely somewhere in the massive federal budget and the maze of federal laws there is a way to help a city cope with a problem like this that it cannot handle alone.