Friday marked the 16th anniversary of the Amber Alert system, a joint effort by law enforcement, media, and transportation agencies to notify a community when a child is missing and in danger. The goal is to get as many people involved in the search for the missing child as possible, and the program has seen great success. As of January 6, 2012, 554 children have been rescued. There are Amber Alert programs nationwide, in Canada, and in Puerto Rico, and many states have formal or informal agreements with neighboring states to issue alerts when it is believed a child has been carried over state lines. The Amber Alert program has taken a step into the realm of technology by offering Amber Alerts on both wireless devices and on Facebook. (For additional information, please visit the Amber Alert clearinghouse site: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children or check out their Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/AMBERalert) and Like them.) A quick review of Amber Alert child recoveries reveals concerned citizens have helped find many of the missing children.
The Amber Alert system was named after 9 year old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted while riding her bicycle. Though a neighbor witnessed the abduction and was able to describe the vehicle involved, Amber was later found murdered about 4 miles away from where she was abducted. This tragedy inspired many involved to work to create the Amber Alert system, making quick notification of the public possible. Previously, there was little interaction between law enforcement, the media, and other agencies. This caused delays in spreading the word, a problem since the great majority of missing children homicides are committed within three hours of the abduction. The need for urgent public notification was obvious, and, when a concerned citizen suggested the media inform the public just as they would for tornados or other emergencies, the Amber Alert idea was born. Eighteen months after the initial local effort in Dallas, a baby was found after being kidnapped by her babysitter. This success encouraged other agencies to come on board, and a world-wide effort began.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has numerous resources on their site, including some specifically for law enforcement professionals. These include free books (downloadable or print versions), an investigators checklist and package in English and Spanish, step-by-step information to share with parents, and more. There are also statistics (797,500 children went missing in the one-year period of time studied, averaging 2,185 children being reported missing each day, according to the US Department of Justice), advice on keeping children safe during a natural disaster, and a CyberTipLine for reporting instances of child endangerment which are then forwarded to the local law enforcement agency.
Today, Amber’s family remembers the happy girl and is glad so many children have been recovered through the Amber Alert system. They wonder, though, what the outcome would have been if the alert system had already been in place when Amber was abducted. And they still hope for justice for the little girl whose life was so brutally stolen and whose killer remains free.