Dakota Datebook

Young Traveler

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Each year thousands of children go missing and because of this a system of state-wide, as well as national programs and alerts, have been recently established to respond to these incidents.
On this day in 1947 a child, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Erwin Torkelson was reported missing. The family lived at Sully‚Äôs Hill National Park and were doing Christmas shopping in one of the Devils Lake stores. At approximately 4:00 in the afternoon the Torkelson family realized that their son Gene was not with them. An immediate search amid the holiday shopping crowds failed to locate the five-year-old boy and the frantic parents contacted the local police, who, along with storekeepers and friends, joined in the search. Realizing that a North Dakota winter added an additional threat to the safety of the youngster, the police then contacted the local radio station, KDLR, which broadcasted the boy’s description over the air waves.
Three hours later word came that the boy was safe. It appears there was some wanderlust in the young man. With the railroad depot being located near the downtown part of the city, Gene became fascinated by the noise of the engine and decided to inspect the area while his parents continued with the shopping. He climbed onboard the eastbound, Great Northern passenger train and enjoyed his first train ride- solo. When the train arrived at Lakota, the trainmen phoned the Devils Lake authorities that they had a non-paying passenger. Gene, however, was allowed to continue his ride to Grand Forks and was returned to his relieved parents on a late evening bus.
Sixty years ago, radio station KDLR responded to pleas of the frantic parents. In approximately two weeks we mark the Fifth Anniversary of the implementation of the Amber Alert System in North Dakota. The power of the media to quickly respond to the reports of missing children within the first three hours of their disappearance is critical to aid in the safe return of the children. Statistics on the number of missing children in North Dakota over those past sixty years is unknown, but on this day in 1947 Gene Torkelson was safely returned, happy to be home.
By Jim Davis
Devils Lake Daily Journal December 22, 1947.

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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