The student weekly of St. Olaf College
Manitou Messenger: Broadcasting Abduction
Friday, September 27, 2002
Each day 2,000 children are abducted either by strangers or relatives in the United States. Seventy-four percent of children abducted by strangers, she said, are murdered within the first three hours of disappearance. These devastating statistics are the reason why the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children continues to campaign heavily for the Amber Alert System. Amber Alert is a system first created in Texas after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was kidnapped off of her bike near her Arlington, Texas home and found four days later in a ditch murdered. "Every minute is one more mile that an abductor has a chance to get away," said Nicole Hayes, media relations assistant at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "And if you think that they could be in their car going 60 miles an hour, then you see how quickly they could get away." On a national level, the Amber Alert system has saved 32 lives, she said, with a total of 20 states enforcing the plan. States such as California and Minnesota have only recently set up the Amber Alert system, but Hayes said Texas has had the program in effect since a year after the 1996 abduction. "There's been lots of legislation drafted for a nationwide Amber Alert system," she said. "The Senate has already passed a bill, and the House will be voting on it soon. It won't be long before Amber is a household name." The Amber Alert was initially the idea of a concerned Texas citizen who contacted a radio station in the Dallas/Fort Worth region and shared the concept. The Association of Radio Managers picked up the idea to utilize the power of public broadcasting to save a child's life. When a missing child case is reported to law enforcement, Hayes said, they evaluate the details and facts and determine if the case is a candidate for the Amber Alert system. She said that the child must have been abducted by a stranger and enough facts, such as a description of the abductor or vehicle, must be present to disperse the alert to the public. Once law enforcement has a concrete case, she said, they contact the Emergency Alert System, radio and television stations broadcast a description of the child, vehicle and/or suspect. States even post descriptions on electric highway traffic signs. "It's amazing how it works," Hayes said. "People are always reading the boards to see if there is traffic, and they are always listening to their radios while they are in their cars." Hayes said that the amount of time it takes for an alert to go out is determined by how quickly the facts are gathered in an investigation. Agencies prefer an alert to go out during the first hour, but sometimes it can take as long as three. The Amber Alerts in effect, are run on a local, regional, and even state level. In Minnesota, the plan is run through the Crime Alert Network that was created in 1995. Congressman Bill Luther helped introduce the bill on the federal level and gave this statement on September 5th to the press concerning the pending legislation. "This bill is an excellent opportunity to expand our state system to the federal level," he said. "The availability of federal grant money will help Minnesota finance and improve our technology [for finding children] even more." Hayes said the benefit of a federal Amber Alert system is that information will be communicated to the public across states. Though students may not be aware of the plan now, Hayes said this lack of knowledge occurs most likely because students do not have children of their own. The general public, she said, is becoming increasingly aware of the system, and it's growing in power as an aid in finding abducted children. "It's enlisting all of the eyes and ears of the community to save a child," she said. "And it's just one more tool for law enforcement officials."
The Manitou Messenger is a student publication of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. It is published weekly
during the academic year except during vacations, exam periods and interim. The
cost for one year's subscription is $45.00. Postage is paid in Northfield, Minnesota.
St. Olaf College
1500 St. Olaf Ave.
Northfield, MN 55057-1001