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A closer look at the Amber Alert program

A closer look at the Amber Alert program

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Fifteen-month-old Evelyn Boswell could become the 986th child successfully recovered as a result of an Amber Alert, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued a statewide Amber Alert on Feb. 19 for Evelyn, a Blountville, Tennessee toddler, who hadn’t been seen by family since December. She wasn’t reported missing to authorities until Feb. 18.

To issue an Amber Alert in Tennessee, the child must be 17 years of age or younger, and there must be accurate information on a description of the child, suspect or vehicle.

The TBI, which issues the alerts, said there must also be reasonable belief that an abduction has occurred, or the child is in imminent danger of bodily injury or death.

“In this case, investigators have information that leads us to believe the child is in imminent danger of bodily injury or death,” TBI spokeswoman Leslie Earhart said regarding Evelyn’s disappearance. “Therefore, an Amber Alert was issued Wednesday evening [Feb. 19] in hopes of locating her as quickly as possible.”

So far in 2020, the TBI has issued three Amber Alerts. There were four issued in 2019, eight in 2018, 13 in 2017 and six in 2016.

Amber Alerts do not expire. They remain active until authorities have definitive answers about the whereabouts of the child, Earhart said.

The Virginia State Police is responsible for Amber Alerts in Virginia. So far, none has been issued this year. Two were issued in 2019, eight in 2018 and two in 2017, the VSP said.

The Amber Alert system was created following the disappearance of Amber Hagerman in 1996. The 9-year-old girl lived in Arlington, Texas, and was last seen on Jan. 13, 1996, riding her bike in a parking lot, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees the program.

A witness saw a man with a black, flat-bed truck snatch Amber from her bicycle. Four days later, her body was found in a creek about three miles from her home. The case remains unsolved.

Dallas-Fort Worth residents were outraged and began calling radio stations, not only to vent their anger and frustration but also to offer suggestions to prevent such crimes in the future. One person, Diana Simone, suggested that a program be implemented using the Emergency Alert System to notify the public when a child has been abducted, the DOJ says.

Simone followed up with a letter, and her only request was the program be dedicated to the memory of Amber Hagerman. That letter was used by broadcasters who met with local law enforcement and created Amber’s Plan, in Amber Hagerman’s memory.

The Amber Alert program has now evolved to use all available technology when alerting the public. All 50 states now have an Amber Alert program to notify residents of missing children. As of February, 985 children have been rescued because of the Amber Alert program.

From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018, 161 Amber Alerts involving 203 children were issued in the U.S.

A number of agencies often assist in finding missing children, including the local, state and federal agencies.

In the case of Evelyn, known agencies participating so far include the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, TBI, FBI, Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, U.S. Marshals Service, and the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office, Wilkesboro Police Department and the Yadkinville Police Department in North Carolina.

Earhart noted that when the TBI receives a tip through 1-800-TBI-FIND, any tips for out-of-state locations are given to the local agencies, which resulted in assistance from the North Carolina and Virginia departments.

FBI Special Agent Jason Pack said several special agents from the Johnson City residency office have worked to conduct interviews, assist with intelligence analysis and investigative analysis. The FBI can also help with logistics of coordinating any leads or investigative activities elsewhere in the country, should it become necessary. Pack noted the FBI has 56 field offices.

In 1932, Congress gave the FBI jurisdiction under the “Lindbergh Law” to immediately investigate any reported mysterious disappearance or kidnapping involving a child of “tender age,” usually 12 or younger, Pack said. He added that a case does not have to involve a ransom demand nor does the child have to cross state lines or be missing for 24 hours for the FBI to become involved.

If a case is warranted, the FBI will immediately open an investigation in partnership with state and local authorities, Pack said.

rsorrell@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2531 | Twitter: @RSorrellBHC | Facebook.com/robertsorrelltn

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