The Milk Carton Kids — Your Memories Needed

Remember the Milk Carton Kids — the faces we saw each morning, usually under the headline, “Missing!” or, “Have you seen me?”

I’d love to hear your memories of those cartons and the impact they had (or still have) on you, for a piece I’m writing. Chime in! Thanks! – L

Have you seen this...milk carton?

Have you seen this…milk carton?

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64 Responses to The Milk Carton Kids — Your Memories Needed

  1. Michelle December 18, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

    I’m 33. The only memory / experience I have with missing children on milk cartons is reading The Face On The Milk Carton. A very poignant book.

  2. J.T. Wenting December 19, 2014 at 12:30 am #

    Seen them while visiting the US, shook my head wondering how it would do anything to find a kid who’d gone missing in Boston to have his photo on a milk carton in San Fransisco.

  3. Kimberly Herbert December 19, 2014 at 1:01 am #

    I don’t remember seeing them.

    I have seen fliers about missing kids, in packages of construction paper. The kind that schools buy in bulk. To me that made more sense because it was directed towards school staff – a group that is more likely to see long missing kids than the general public. Most of the kids listed seemed to be part of custodial kidnappings.

  4. Sandi December 19, 2014 at 1:45 am #

    I’m 46 yrs old. I remember them being mostly a joke.

  5. Grant Gould December 19, 2014 at 6:41 am #

    I remember at the time deciding they were clearly nonsense — that a random milk-drinker would recognize an abducted kid (where?) from a grainy, smudged, years-out-of-date photo seemed manifestly silly. The absolute essence of do-something do-anything thinking.

    And of course we were in the late days of the Satanic Panic then, so there was this air of Chick-tract occult mystery around the whole thing that just added to the silliness — were we meant to pretend that the invented victims of invented murder-cults would show up at the school lunch table? Or were we allowed to admit that these were certainly nearly all noncustodial-parent abductions in the context of a custody dispute?

    The point of those photos as far as I could tell was never to recover particular named kids, and if that ever happened it was a side-effect. The point was to scare kids into compliance — kids JUST LIKE YOU get kidnapped EVERY DAY, probably by SATANISTS, and it will HAPPEN TO YOU unless you HEED THE WARNINGS.

  6. danielle December 19, 2014 at 6:49 am #

    I was just coming to say exactly what Michelle did.

  7. MichaelF December 19, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    I am like Sandi, I remember them but mostly we joked about them. None of us knew about them or what to do if we saw one somewhere.

    I’m 48 so I remember going through all this stuff, from being a latch key kid to the Satanic Panic and then all the way through no score sports teams.

  8. Donna December 19, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    I remember seeing them when I was a kid. I didn’t think anything of them other than the whole idea seemed stupid.

    We also used to get fliers of missing kids in the mail when I was a young adult. I did know someone who identified a child in one of those. She worked in a local grocery store and recognized the child as one of the regular customers. Apparently several other people recognized the child as well since when she called she was told that there had been numerous calls and the child was already in custody.

    Both these methods seem a lot more likely to result in a missing child being recovered than pictures on the wall in Walmart. People tend to at least glance at things in their hand. I don’t know many who hang around the lobby of Walmart long enough to look at the pictures of missing kids.

  9. Dhewco December 19, 2014 at 7:51 am #

    Heh, I used to glance at those Wal-Mart photos, but I noticed I was the only one who seemed to look. It started to make me feel like a creep. I only wanted the excitement of saving someone, but I didn’t like the feeling of being the only one checking them. (I’m sure I wasn’t actually the only one, but it felt that way.)

  10. SOA December 19, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    Really had no impact on me. Only thing I remember is the scene is Lost Boys were they show the milk carton with Laddie on it.

  11. Andrew December 19, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    When ever I see a milk carton, I think about Married With Children. They introduced a character named Seven. Then after a season, they stopped using him. A season or so later his picture is seen on a milk carton in the background. It’s funnier on screen than in writing.

  12. Trey December 19, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    I remember reading a few and deciding that most of then were the very sad ebbs game of a custody dispute or an argument with the parents over older boyfriends.

  13. Adam F December 19, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    I remember Jello Biafra talking about the cops searching his flat (the “harmful matter” Giger album cover incident):

    In 1986 the police raided the home of Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, searching for evidence to support the obscenity charges that would soon hit the band. “One of my roommates had been collecting milk-carton kids and lining our kitchen walls with them,” Biafra later recalled, and the decor alarmed an officer:

    this cop walks in with his Eliot Ness trench coat, asking, “What are all those pictures of missing children doing on your kitchen wall? Do you know where they are?”

  14. Adam F December 19, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Sorry, I goofed up the HTML. The link for that is here:
    http://reason.com/blog/2012/04/23/milk-carton-faces-tell-lies-and-i-got-pr

  15. lollipoplover December 19, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    I came from a large, Irish Catholic family and we routinely saw them on our milk cartons at breakfast but like others have said, they were a joking point.

    Most of my sisters and brothers looked like my mom (fair) but one of my sisters had dark hair and small eyes and the ongoing story for years was that her father was the Charlie Chip delivery man or that she was from Vietnam. When we say those milk cartons with the girls that had the same Dorothy Hamill haircut as her (time enhanced- those were the best)we told her she was missing and called her the name on the carton. I believe she was Juanita for awhile. She was totally our sister so this was all preposterous, but she reminded us at a white elephant party of our milk carton jokes with this gift
    http://www.amazon.com/Original-Adult-Milk-Carton-Costume/dp/B0027KZSXU

  16. Kristen December 19, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    I remember the milk cartons but all I wondered was “How do they know what they look like now?”

    Only broadly related, I was 6 years old- just a month older than Adam Walsh- and we had just moved to Florida right before his abduction. I remember all of the news coverage— and that was before 24 hour news. My dad was NYPD before we moved so I probably had more exposure to crime stories than your average kid; with that, plus the media coverage, I spent some time worrying my head might get cut off by a stranger. To be clear: my parents didn’t try to scare me about strangers (my dad’s stock response to an abduction story was that it was probably one of the parents). It’s just what I manufactured using my own little kid logic from the news coverage, that we were the same age, and we lived in the same state.

  17. Maggie December 19, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    We ignored them. The novelty wore off after the first carton.

  18. Jill December 19, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    I was thinking to myself, “Hey, Milk Carton Kids would be a great name for a band!” I Googled it, and apparently there is a band with that name.
    I’m hopelessly behind the times. That’s what comes of being abducted by a stranger driving a white van and being held prisoner in his basement for a decade. You lose track of the current music scene.

  19. Isaac S. December 19, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    I’m 32; I remember making lots of jokes about them as a kid. I was in first or second grade when Jacob Wetterling went missing so there was a lot of fear mongering going on at school. None of us took it very seriously other than to make jokes about “you’re going to be one of those kids on a milk carton.” It seems like our parents and teachers took it pretty seriously, though; I remember lots of warnings about “stranger danger.”

  20. Opal December 19, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    I remember seeing them as a kid in the early 90s, and getting really scared (I was a fairly imaginative kid). I looked at their ages and info, then filled in the blanks, coming up with crazy stories about what had happened, largely influenced by my obsession with The Boxcar Children books. It was always a neat outcome, like,”Johnny ran away and he and these other kids are having fun living in the woods.” I don’t think my parents had the heart to correct me.

  21. Jacob Minas December 19, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    I mostly remember from that skate movie The Search for Animal Chin where Chin gets his own milk carton.

  22. Kenny Felder December 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    I remember, in connection with those, a little cartoon dog on a milk carton or some such, with the caption:

    Safetypup says, “Never go with strangers!”

    I was in college at the time. My roommate added the helpful sentence, “Only date people in your immediate family.”

  23. Renee Anne December 19, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    Full disclosure: I’ll be 35 in a couple weeks.

    I honestly don’t remember seeing the kids on the milk cartons. Ever. I remember watching a movie about it but it’s an extremely vague memory. I also remember our milk coming in plastic jugs for as long as I can remember.

  24. JulieC December 19, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    I remember seeing them and noticing that many of them were runaways. I just thought how sad that someone had such a bad home life that running away seemed like a good answer. I also noticed that a good chunk of them were missing due to a custody dispute.

  25. Donald December 19, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    I liked the milk carton with Mike Bloomberg on it. He sneaked out to play golf in Bermuda when New York was still distressed from 9/11

  26. Dee December 19, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    I think the vast majority of them on the cartons were custody issues. Not an entirely bad way of trying to find them…but I think it added to the child abduction hysteria of today.

  27. Judy December 19, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    I don’t remember the milk carton kids. I do remember visiting New York City in the summer, as a kid, and seeing posters everywhere for Etan Paetz. This would be in the 1970’s.

  28. Lisa December 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    I’m 44 and I remember when they started. For me, both as a kid and as adult, I feel the same way about milk cartons as I do seeing the really sad fundraising commercials about animals in need or kids in developing countries. I guess they work, as far as fundraising (not sure if the milk cartons help to find kids) so that’s why they keep doing them. I’ve never felt compelled to make a donation after seeing them, they just make me sad. I feel the same way about the milk cartons–helpless. Not like I can do anything to make a difference.

  29. Warren December 19, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    I clearly remember my dad telling me that if I ever did “insert misbehaviour here” again, I would end up on a mild carton.

  30. bluebird of bitterness December 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    I remember the kid’s face on the milk carton in the movie “Big.” In that context, it was funny.

  31. AnnMarie Johnson December 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    I’m 42. I remember a book called something like “The Face on the Milk Carton” about a girl who discovers she was kidnapped when she’s herself on a milk carton. I always found the book a bit unbelievable.

    I didn’t drink much milk from cartons at school (we had milk machines mostly). I do remember the photos and always feeling bad and wondering what had happened to the children and hoping they were found. No real impact on my life however.

  32. Havva December 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    I’m 31 now. When I was little we used to drink milk from paper cartons. At some point I became familiar with the concept of ‘the face on the milk carton.’ But about the same time my mom switched to plastic jugs. So I have no memory of actually seeing the faces on the carton.

    What I do remember distinctly was the same thing being in the tax booklets. My mom did the taxes for the family and my dad’s business so there were often tax booklets laying open on mom’s desk. I saw lots of those kids. My mother was annoyed by her quarterly dose of these pictures. I was unnerved by them. They did their share in making me deeply serious about obeying the stranger danger rules that I had as stickers on my lunch box. And I believed that would protect me. I blame the stickers (and my personality) more than the tax booklets, but between all those influences. It took years for my mom to get me back out of stranger danger mode so I could once again interact normally with the world.

  33. John S December 19, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    I’m 42, raised in NYC. Those milk-carton kids are a distinct part of my childhood, both as somewhat grim morning reading (even as a kid, I could only read the back of the Lucky Charms box so many times) and as a morbid joke among kids. I’d say they were, at the time, fairly harmless–it’s only in retrospect that they can be seen as the thin end of the wedge of terrorizing parents about their child’s danger level.

  34. BL December 19, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    “I liked the milk carton with Mike Bloomberg on it. He sneaked out to play golf in Bermuda when New York was still distressed from 9/11”

    He was searching for terrorists on the golf course. Isn’t that where OJ used to search for “the real killer”?

  35. BL December 19, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    @Renee Anne
    ” I also remember our milk coming in plastic jugs for as long as I can remember.”

    Hmmm. I remember the phenomenon, but I don’t actually remember sitting at my own table and looking at the milk cartons with missing kids. I must have had plastic cartons in those days, too.

    Nowadays, I don’t drink milk.

  36. Matt in GA December 19, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Wasn’t there an “After School Special” back in the day involving a girl who saw her own picture on a milk carton? The storyline had a pair of sisters and it was a parental-abduction thing rather than a stranger danger plot.

    I’ve never liked milk as a beverage, and as a kid I refused to put it on my breakfast cereal, so I never had much of a relationship with the milk cartons, although I was aware of them.

    But I did LOVE those “After School Specials”!

  37. Nicole R December 19, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    I remember a movie, too – the little girl was kidnapped from a shoe store or something? She was too young to remember, but then recognizes herself years later on a milk carton.

    I don’t remember whether I saw those kind of cartons at home or not. I guess if I did, I wasn’t traumatized by them.

  38. Elsie Kleeman December 19, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    I also read “The Face on the Milk Carton.” I think I was in third grade or so.

    This does remind me of two incidents that happened in college.

    When I was a young adult in college, I spiraled into a deep depression due to a series of unfortunate circumstances and incidents. I’d always liked mysteries and the macabre, so I watched some of those crime shows. One depicted the murder of a young woman. I only remember some of the nasty details I won’t relate here, but I do remember thinking at the time that her life was over, and mine wasn’t. She could never graduate from college, get a job, get married, have children, or whatever. Whatever problems I had could be worked through and I had a lifetime ahead of me.

    I also remember getting the mail one day and seeing a flyer with a girl’s picture who was missing. What struck me was her date of birth – it was the exact same date as mine. I reflected on that for a long time. I don’t know how long she was missing or why she was missing – a runaway, domestic dispute, stranger abduction, etc. But I did decide that while things were very hard and not going well, I wasn’t “missing.”

    I don’t think my take away was the intended message from either media. The message I took away from it was meaningful to me, and in a small way, helped me to work through some of my problems. I have a fanciful interest in people – I am a people watcher. I still look at those pictures and ask myself “I wonder” type questions – Did he have breakfast that morning? What kind of cereal did he like? Who was her best friend? Did she like to draw? Who was in her family? What was his teddy bear’s name?

  39. Elsie Kleeman December 19, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    One other incident:

    After I graduated from college a girl (again with several similarities to me) was abducted from a college town just south of where I lived. She was a young woman, a college student. For years her picture was on the interstate billboards. It was a high profile local case. I remember talking to friends about how weird it was that a young woman was abducted – no one ever talks about how young women, not young children, are actually the most likely to be abducted.

    Several years later, her abductor and killer was found – it was a stranger, a random abduction. What I then found out was that a family I know very well were related to the missing girl – in fact, they were the family the young woman was living with when she was abducted. This knowledge has not made me more hyper vigilant, but I have watched this family with interest in how they raise their kids. They seem to have a balanced approach to raising their children, which seems surprising, given their family story.

  40. Jen Kerr December 19, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    I’m 43 & remember them clearly. I babysat a young boy who collected them as trading cards.

  41. SanityAnyone? December 19, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    I remember having two thoughts on this as a child:
    1) How close is he or she to my age?(probably meaning “could this happen to me?”)
    2) I will try to memorize his or her face and maybe I will find her.

  42. Alyssa December 20, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    I am 38. I always took them seriously. I’d try to remember names and faces in case I could identify someone. I think I still have that subconscious habit when I see one.

  43. bmommyx2 December 20, 2014 at 4:36 am #

    I don’t think it really had any sort of impact on me, nothing stands out. I do remember a story about someone who saw their picture on a milk bottle. I think it was made into a TV movie

  44. Ceridwen December 20, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    I’m 59. I would tell my kids that, if they saw any of the kids on the cartons, they should tell someone. I thought that’s what they were for. I seem to remember, when they started these things, the purpose was that, hopefully, someone would see one of these children and call authorities. The idea that my kids might show up on a carton never quite entered my head. It was more of my thinking that, if an abducted child was in our area, it was more likely that another kid would see them at school or out playing.

  45. Papilio December 20, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    “Hmmm. I remember the phenomenon, but I don’t actually remember sitting at my own table and looking at the milk cartons with missing kids.”

    Who does that anyway? It’s milk! Put it back in the fridge!

  46. CrazyCatLady December 20, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    I think that must have been about the time that my mother decided (probably illegally) to buy milk directly from the farmer up the road, the direct result of 4 teens in one family. Loved that fresh milk!

    I would be interested in hearing REAL stories of the kids who were on the cartons as teens or adult and what they may or may not have done as a result of that discovery.

  47. Jacob Minas December 20, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    I grew up in this era (I’m 41) and even the kids did not take this seriously. I don’t remember the actual milk cartons, but I do remember the jokes about them. Appearing on a milk carton was the automatic consequence of taking candy from strangers. Threatening to make someone show up on a milk carton was a common playground taunt.

  48. JLD December 20, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I recall the 1988 Democratic presidential primary. Al Gore had made almost no campaign appearances in Iowa, but still participated in a debate in Des Moines. During the debate, Bruce Babbitt commented, “Al, It’s good to see you back. I thought they might start putting your picture on milk cartons.”

    Two days later, Babbitt had to apologize for the comment because some considered it to be insensitive.

    So, the milk carton kids remind me of the beginning of modern day political correctness.

  49. Laura December 20, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    I remember the kids on milk cartons. They stirred a little bit of fear in me back then. It’s hard for kids themselves to sort out how unlikely it is they would be kidnapped. Pictures on cartons everyday in your home made it seem like it could happen any day.

  50. Vicky December 20, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    I’m 53 and I remember feeling deeply sad and concerned for those children. There was never a carton that said a child had been found and was safe. It remained a mystery because my mother didn’t go into gory details, so it was like they simply vanished from the earth. It was an effective tool in making me not wander too far from home and instilled that little ‘alarm’ feeling in my gut when a strange man addressed me by myself. It hurt me for them yet it taught me to be aware on the edges of my mind.

  51. hineata December 21, 2014 at 4:57 am #

    I’m 48. Our milk came in glass bottles, and the only missing things in the milk were the flies that would get in if some twit forgot to reseal it with the little foil lid.

    We have cartons now but no pictures of kids…just the occasional cow. Not enough kids go missing around here, damn it, in spite of the effort parents put in….

  52. hineata December 21, 2014 at 5:00 am #

    Oh, and sadly, for the most part Daisy isn’t actually missing.

    On the positive side, though, she’s usually rather tasty :-).

  53. Inessa December 21, 2014 at 6:15 am #

    I didn’t pay much attention to them, but then I did and it terrified me to think about how long some I’d the kids had been missing. The age enhanced photos were the scariest. They had a bigger impact on me that many of the other posters, it seems.

  54. Nobody December 21, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    I don’t think they started doing the milk carton pictures until I was in college. My family always bought milk in the gallon plastic jugs, though. The only things I use milk for are for pouring on my cereal and putting in my coffee occasionally. It really seemed kind of pointless to put the pictures on the milk cartons, but I suppose that someone might have recognized a missing child. I think I was too old for it to affect me personally.

  55. ScoutingManiac December 21, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    I am usually not for spreading panic or worrying information like this that could make parents believe…………..”That could be my kid” but in this case I will make an exception. The biggest problem that law enforcement and organizations that do work in regards to missing kids is a lack of community awareness. Too often does it occur that someone saw something and didn’t report it that could have led to a different outcome. We as people need to come together as communities especially local communities and start paying attention to others more. That doesn’t mean worry what it means is that we need to become aware and make strong efforts to increase our observation skills. For a look at humanities view of helping others when around many people is to do a search for the “bystander effect”.

  56. Joshua December 22, 2014 at 1:47 am #

    I’m 44. I remember them. I remember them making me incredibly, inconsolably sad, and every day at breakfast sitting there eating my cereal and imagining myself in their last minutes, being beaten or raped or locked away in a basement somewhere.

    I don’t think any of them actually helped find, identify, or otherwise reunite any lost, runaway or abducted children with their parents, did they? I think they existed to make us feel weak and powerless and scared, like everything else the oligarchy throws at us. An illusion of power on top of the weight of weakness, crushing us, constantly, until we will swallow whatever they tell us.

  57. Kate December 22, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    I remember them and always wondered why they now seemed to be adults.

  58. Papilio December 22, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    @Hineata: “Our milk came in glass bottles, and the only missing things in the milk were the flies that would get in”

    Sounds more like ‘lost and found’…

  59. hineata December 23, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    @Papilio – so true. I wonder if flies run their own ‘missing’ shows? “Has anyone seen Louie? 5.2mm…last seen buzzing around the glass tower. His heartbroken mother wants him back! Text …to….”.

    Don’t think I have any future in writing…fly dramas, anyway!

  60. Dot December 23, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    We used to fight over who’s turn it was to draw on them. The boys drew mustaches while the girls went all out with colored markers to add make up and accessories.

    Before and after the late news one of the carton kids was flashed with the “it’s 10 PM do you know where your kids are?” PSA which frequently promoted gender based threats of defacement towards the most recent curfew offender.

  61. Victor Sudakov December 24, 2014 at 12:46 am #

    I have a question. Is there real data (statistics) how many children were really found via those advertisements?

  62. Jennifer December 24, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    I remember milk carton kids. Reading about some kid how long they had been gone and who the likely “took” them.
    I grew up in San Francisco, in the era of Kevin Collins. There was real fear born by parents, mine and my friends.
    Seeing these kids on the carton added to the fear that my mother, mostly, was instilling me with. “Strangers bad!” “Step one foot away from me and you will be kidnapped!”
    My own thoughts in my 14 year old head was “I bet they ran away because their parents were mean.”
    I kind of hoped that they ran away and were living some great new life. Over all it felt just like the wanted posters in the post office, kind of creepy.

  63. Yocheved December 24, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

    I’m 49, and I remember being fascinated by the “age progression estimates”, and wondering how they figured out how to make the kid look older.

    I’ve never heard of any crimes actually being solved my a milk carton, have you heard of any cases resolved that way?

  64. Cin December 29, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    In Canada, the pictures are hung at department stores, and printed on the backs of credit card bills. They were never on cartons (and most of Canada had bags of milk that you put in a milk pitcher, anyway.)

    I have an American-Norwegian friend who was abducted by her father in Norway and moved to the US — and she was ON the back of a milk carton and saw herself there when she about about 11 or 12. It started the process of learning the truth and eventually reuniting with her mother.

    Here is my friend Sarah Cecilie’s story:
    http://www.thekidslink.org/life-as-an-abducted-child/