When Jim Walters looks back at all the accomplishments he made while he was the program administrator for AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP), his biggest feat may be fulfilling a promise to a distraught mother. Walters pledged to Pamela Foster to make a real difference in helping missing and abducted children in Indian Country after her daughter was abducted and murdered.
Ashlynne Mike was kidnapped and killed May 2, 2016, near Shiprock on the Navajo Nation Reservation. The case highlighted gaps in public safety preparedness and coordination for tribal children across the country.
Walters worked with Foster to pass the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act in April 2018. The new federal law supports integration of tribal AMBER Alert plans with state plans and provided grants to help tribes improve communications and responses for missing and abducted children in Indian Country.
“What I have enjoyed most about working with Jim is his kindness and compassion,” said Foster. “I felt like I was with a superhero when my world was falling apart. He believed in me to make changes for a better tomorrow, for our native children. I could not have done what I did without his help.”
Before Walters became the program administrator, he had overseen the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative (AIIC) for ten years; and for six years during that same time period he also headed the Southern Border Initiative (SBI), coordinating child abduction recovery efforts in Mexico and U.S. border states.
“Tribes face a number of challenges; ones most of us don’t consider on a day-to-day basis,” said Walters. “I remember this officer who told me how the training really helped when an AMBER Alert was issued. I believe drawing on the right resources and improving the speed and efficiency of their response can make the difference between the safe recovery of children - or losing them.”
Walters officially retired as program administrator for the AMBER Alert program in February 2021, but said his heart will never be far from its people—especially the children. During his tenure, Walters expanded efforts with Child Abduction Response Team (CART) training, AIIC, SBI, and provided important leadership with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, guiding all aspects of AATTAP as staff and associates worked to swiftly create additional modes for training and technical assistance delivery, including virtual, live instructor-led training (VILT), virtual meetings for regional and state-level events, and increased marketing toward greater awareness of AATTAP’s existing on-demand, self-paced eLearning courses and recorded webinars.
Those who have worked with Walters on the AIIC Initiative say his work to help tribes has been unparalleled.
“Jim elevated tribal nations to the level where they could receive education and training to protect their children,” said Tyesha Wood, AIIC Project Coordinator. “He is the wind beneath my wings.”
“Thank you so much Jim for all you do for Indian Country,” added Chelsa Seciwa, AATTAP-NCJTC Project Specialist. “God bless you. May our Creator watch over you.”
Those remarks were given during a ‘surprise’ online farewell tribute, held February 19 via Zoom. AMBER Alert partners from around the country gathered to offer their thoughts and thanks to Walters.
Janell Rasmussen joined AATTAP as its new program Administrator in February, working with Walters to transition into the new role. She brings to the position nearly 20 years of experience through her coordination of the Minnesota AMBER Alert Program and related child protection work with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Rasmussen helped launch the AMBER Alert program in Minnesota in 2002, serving as the state coordinator while also supervising the state Missing Persons Clearinghouse for 16 years.
Rasmussen also brings with her the experience and insights of having collaborated with other AMBER Alert partners and AATTAP for many years through state-level training, regional events, and national networking at AATTAP symposium gatherings. Most recently, she served as AATTAP’s Region 3 Liaison before accepting the program administrator position. Rasmussen is the third program administrator since Phil Keith led the US Department of Justice’s launch of AATTAP in 2004.
Rasmussen expressed her gratitude for Walters’ work with AMBER Alert. “Thank you for your dedication to protecting kids and for your work with the AMBER Alert program,” she said. “Your passion for the AMBER Alert Program will live on through your team and the partners that have come together to protect kids as a result of your work. We will make you proud.”
Not surprisingly, Walters said the credit goes to everyone who supported him. “None of this happened because of me,” he said. “It was every one of you that made this happen. You have a very special place in my heart for what you have done for the families we serve.”
What other AMBER Alert Partners shared during Jim's virtual tribute event:
“Thank you for your genuine heart and your leadership. You certainly paved the way and will leave a legacy for so many.” Yesenia Leon-Baron, Region 1 AATTAP Liaison
“We’re seeing a lot of good things happen with the AMBER Alert program across the board and you’re responsible for making us all shine.” Derek VanLuchene, AATTAP CART Program Coordinator
“Jim really stresses the importance of teamwork and the common goal - to recover a missing child and reunite a family. ” Beth Alberts, Texas Center for the Missing CEO
“Jim’s commitment to child safety is unmatched. His contributions to the AMBER Alert program and his extensive training of law enforcement and other child-serving professionals has certainly made this world a safer place for children.” John E. Bischoff III, NCMEC Missing Children Division VP
“I enjoy Jim’s passion. He makes you feel like you are his best friend and that you are important to him. ” Regina Chacon, New Mexico AMBER Alert Coordinator
“I enjoy Jim’s sense of humor, his compassion and willingness to support others.” Helen Connelly, NCJTC-FVTC Associate
“I have enjoyed and will remember Jim most for his professionalism and dedication to everything he does.” Byron Fassett, JCJTC-AATTAP Program Manager
“Jim is a ‘go to’ person for knowledge and experience; we will definitely miss having him here.” Carri Gordon, AATTAP Region 5 Liaison
“Jim is a legend in the AMBER Alert/missing children/child protection community. His energy, ideas and passion uplifts all of us working in the field when we need it most.“ Amanda Leonard, Hawaii Missing Children’s Center Coordinator
“Jim has a huge heart and really cares about the people he works with and teaches. I will miss his smiling face, his encouraging manner and his humor.” Cindy Neff, New York Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager
“Jim has a lot of great ideas and isn’t afraid to try things that we don’t typically do.” Jill Nysse, NCJTC-AATTAP Project Coordinator
“It’s something special to have colleagues you can work with so easily and joyfully, which we are lucky to see a lot of in the AMBER Community, especially with Jim.” Carly Tapp, NCMEC Program Specialist