By State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)
An AMBER Alert is a multi-media notification to the general public that the police have confirmed that a child has been abducted.
The AMBER Alert is named for 9-year old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996. To save other children from Amber's tragic death, Donna and Richard, her parents formed P.A.S.O (People Against Sex Offenders) to alert communities when an abduction occurs. The AMBER Alert grew from that effort. Today, all fifty states and Canada have AMBER Alert systems.
It's been 10 years since the first automated implementation of the AMBER Alert was created by the Child Alert Foundation in 1998.
And it's been nearly 10 years - November 1998 - since the first child in the United States was recovered as a result of an AMBER Alert. That child was 8-week old Rae Leigh Bradbury. On April 4, 2007, 9-year old Rae Leigh introduced First Lady Laura Bush at the announcement of the future opening of the Texas Regional Office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The National Center is a nonprofit group that helps the Justice Department train police to use the alert system.
Federal guidelines for AMBER Alerts require that the child be under 18 and believed to be in grave danger and that the abduction has been confirmed by police. The public information in an AMBER Alert usually consists of the child's name, description and a description of the suspected abductor and the abductor's car and license number, if available.
AMBER Alerts are distributed via commercial and satellite radio, TV stations and cable TV through the Emergency Alert System, as well as e-mail, electronic traffic condition signs, Wallgreen Drug Stores' electronic readerboard road signs and wireless text messages. Those interested in subscribing to receive AMBER Alerts in their area visit Wireless Amber Alerts.
According to the National Center for Missing or Exploited Children, relatives were involved in 47% of the AMBER Alerts in 2007. Non-family abductions accounted for 41% of the alerts.
It should be noted that over the past few years, the number of AMBER Alerts has declined. Police and researchers cite as reasons for the decline, more restrictive use of the alerts. The alerts must meet the federal criteria. For those cases that do not meet the strict criteria, a less widely distributed secondary alert is issued.
Today, police use the alerts only for children in the most danger. Thus, the number of alerts has fallen from 275 in 2005 to 261 in 2006 and 227 in 2007. During the first six months of 2008, there were 102 alerts issued.
Virginia's AMBER Alert coordinator, State Police Lt. Pete Fagen, states that Virginia wants to restrict AMBER Alerts to the most serious cases in order to get and keep the maximum public attention and the maximum media cooperation.
Bob Hoever, the associate director for training of the National for Missing and Exploited Children said, "We have the eyes and ears of the public assisting us." Indeed, the goal of AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search and safe recovery of the abducted child. AMBER Alerts have led to 400 successful recoveries. There have been 12 successful recoveries in the first six months of 2008.
Many of the tough laws against child sex offenders take their names from children who were brutally abducted, sexually assaulted and killed. Megan's Law, a federal statute and law in 50 states, requires convicted sex offenders to register their current address in a Sex Offender Registry which is open for public inspection. The law takes its name from Megan Kanka, a 7-year old child who, was kidnapped, molested and murdered in 1994 by a neighbor who was a convicted sexual predator. No one knew that the neighbor who lived across the street was a convicted pedophile. Megan's law assures that the community can keep informed of the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders in their neighborhoods.
Jessica's law, recently adopted by the Maryland General Assembly, takes its name from Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year old child who was kidnapped, molested and murdered in 2005. The law toughens penalties for child sex offenders. It imposes a mandatory 25-year to life, with no chance of parole, on anyone over 18 years of age convicted of a first or second degree sex offense against anyone younger than 13 years of age.
The names of these tragically murdered young children - Amber Hagerman, Megan Kanka and Jessica Lunsford - live on in laws that impose stronger penalties on child sex offenders and protect children from becoming their victims.