Marie Edenstrom cried as she clutched her murdered 14-year-old son's photo album yesterday in a House subcommittee hearing on missing children. Wiping away tears, she told the panel chairman during a break: "This is all I have left of Kenny."
Edenstrom, 40, of the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, struggled to describe what happened last July 16.
"He was riding his bicycle . . . ," she began, her voice fading. "I had an innocent child murdered . . . . He would have been a fine adult."
Twenty-four hours after Edenstrom's son, Kenneth, was reported missing, he was found dead. He was last seen riding his bicycle about a mile from home and, Edenstrom said, Detroit police do not know who killed him or why.
Since her tragedy, Edenstrom said, she has tried to help parents of missing children. In January, she started a Ferndale public-awareness group called KENNY (Kids Everywhere Now Need You).
Yesterday, she and others asked the human resources subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee to allocate judiciously the $4 million approved under the Missing Children's Assistance Act of 1984 and available Oct. 1.
The panel heard recommendations to use the funds to increase public awareness, educate law enforcement officers and counsel parents of missing children.
Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.), father of three teen-agers and chairman of the subcommittee, appeared moved as spokesmen for several groups reeled off statistics about missing children, including:
* Current whereabouts of an estimated 1.5 million Americans under age 18 are unknown.
* Last year, 212,000 such cases were reported nationwide.
* Every year, about 5,000 children under 18 are buried nationwide without having been identified.
"I think the most startling figure is the 5,000 kids buried that nobody knew who they were," said John C. Shepherd, president of the American Bar Association. "For a country that can land someone on the moon, this is startling."
Shepherd and Howard Davidson, director of the National Legal Resource Center for Child Advocacy and Protection, told the panel that police and federal agencies must work together to combat the problem. Davidson said finding and returning children is further complicated by differing state laws on noncustodial parental abductions.
"There is a dramatic difference state to state," Davidson said, noting that the District of Columbia, unlike many states, does consider such abductions a crime because parents are specifically excluded from its kidnaping statute.
Since the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children opened last June, it has helped return home 870 children, Executive Director Jay Howell testified. Of those, he said, 30 percent had been kidnaped by a parent denied custody of the child.
After testimony that many missing children may never be found because they have been given new identities, have changed in appearance and may be working as prostitutes, Kildee asked: "What's wrong with the very soul of this country?"
"We have appropriated $4 million for missing kids, and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Cap Weinberger has $4 billion squirreled away for defense that he didn't even use. Four billion. This is obscene."
After the hearing, Edenstrom, who has two sons in military service, said:
"When it happens to you, you feel like you're going insane. You want to be buried with your child. But grief counseling helps. It makes it a little easier to know there is going to be a tomorrow."