A CLOSER LOOK: criteria for an AMBER Alert to be issued

A Closer Look

Missouri State Highway Patrol Twitter photo. Kaiden, Mayson & Darrell Peak.

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — A Missouri father and his two sons were found dead after going missing on February 25. Their bodies were discovered Monday, March 1, in a structure in Benton County, Missouri, by the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP).

On February 26, a Statewide BOLO — Be On The Lookout — alert was sent for the three missing people, but an AMBER Alert was never issued.

According to authorities, it did not meet all of the criteria. Such as, it was believed the boys were not in “imminent danger.”

Greene County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Public Information Officer Jason Winston explained the process.

Individual law enforcement agencies don’t have the authority to just issue an Amber Alert. We’ve approached the Highway Patrol on a few occasions with the information in an attempt to get an Amber Alert put out, but it has not met the criteria. The highway patrol wants to preserve the criteria because we want to protect the seriousness of Amber Alerts. We don’t want to issue Amber Alerts so much that the public becomes numb to it.

Greene County Sheriff’s Office Deputy PIO Jason Winston

TIMELINE OF EVENTS, PER GREENE COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

FEB. 25:

  • Around 4 p.m. – Darrell was armed with a pistol and seen driving away with the children. He was known to carry regularly.
  • Around 5:30 p.m. – A Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) trooper who stopped to check on Darrell’s disabled vehicle contacted the Sheriff’s Office. Darrell refused assistance.
  • Around 5:52 p.m. – A Benton County deputy reported seeing a man and two children walking along Highway 65. When the deputy turned around to talk to the father and sons, she couldn’t find them.
  • Around 7 p.m. – MSHP sent a trooper to the area to check on a man walking with two children, but the trooper couldn’t find them.

FEB. 26:

  • Around 10:30 a.m. – The family contacted the Greene County Sheriff’s Office to file a missing person’s report.
  • Around 12:58 – A Statewide BOLO alert was sent out for the three missing persons.
  • Around 1:01 p.m. – Missing person(s) information entered into the system.
  • Around 1:24 p.m. – MSHP troopers and Benton County deputies responded and began searching for the father and sons in the places where they were last seen.

MAR. 1:

  • The bodies were found together inside a structure (in Benton County, MO).

According to the MSHP they were last seen in Benton County, in the area of U.S. 65 near Warsaw, Missouri, and their bodies were discovered not far from there. MSHP and Benton County Sheriff’s Office (Missouri) are the lead agencies in this case.

GUIDELINES FOR ISSUING AMBER ALERTS

The alert is an acronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER). It began in 1996 in Dallas-Fort Worth and was created in remembrance of Amber Hagerman, 9. She was kidnapped on January 13, while riding her bike in Arlington, Texas, and then murdered.

After 25 years, the case is unsolved. Since then, AMBER plans have been adopted nationally.

Department of Justice recommended criteria summary:

  • There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
  • The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • The abduction is of a child age 17 or younger.
  • The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

Here is the full explanation for “reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.”

AMBER plans require law enforcement to confirm an abduction prior to issuing an alert. This is essential when determining the level of risk to the child. Clearly, stranger abductions are the most dangerous for children and thus are primary to the mission of an AMBER Alert. To allow activations in the absence of significant information that an abduction has occurred could lead to abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness. At the same time, each case must be appraised on its own merits and a judgment call made quickly. Law enforcement must understand that a “best judgment” approach, based on the evidence, is appropriate and necessary.

DOJ Guideline for issuing AMBER Alerts

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