AMBER Alert on the Front Lines: Minnesota

Minnesota grandmother uses birdwatching skills to save child in AMBER Alert

The premise of the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds” is that cars can be stolen in a minute or less. Unfortunately, that short time frame was the real-life situation after a mother left her one-year-old son in the back of her vehicle to grab something from their Minneapolis, Minnesota, home before leaving.

At 12:21 p.m. on February 6, 2021, the mother’s white Jeep Grand Cherokee was taken with her baby still inside. The Minneapolis Police Department contacted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) at 12:52 p.m. about issuing an AMBER Alert.

Janell Twardowski, Minnesota AMBER Alert Coordinator
Janell Twardowski, Minnesota AMBER Alert Coordinator

“The situation met Minnesota’s AMBER Alert criteria for a stranger abduction, so the BCA quickly worked with the Minneapolis Police Department to gather the information and issue an alert,” said Janell Twardowski, Minnesota AMBER Alert Coordinator.

BCA issued the AMBER Alert at 1:49 p.m. through the Minnesota Crime Alert Network, Wireless Emergency Alert, and the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Under the Minnesota plan, the EAS messages are broadcast on radio and television and a Crime Alert is distributed to media outlets statewide.

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are sent to all compatible cellphones in Minnesota. The alert is also shared on social media and goes to electronic highway signs and billboards.

“It was winter in Minnesota; the weather added a heightened concern with the low temperatures that day,” added Twardowski.

The AMBER Alert was heard and seen by thousands of Minnesota residents, including Barbara Gusse. She saw the alert on her phone while she was feeding the birds outside her Brooklyn Center home.

Gusse grabbed her birdwatching binoculars and focused on a SUV that had been idling for about 20 minutes at a church parking lot across the street. She checked the license plates and discovered the plate was an exact match with the vehicle in the AMBER Alert.

Gusse contacted the police at 2:40 p.m. Seven minutes later, police confirmed the child was safe and asked for the alert to be canceled.

WCCO reporter Justin DeRusha interviewed Gusse shortly after the child was found. DeRusha’s cellphone interview was shared on Twitter and has since gone viral with more than 300,000 views. “I was crying,” Gusse said. “I’m just so happy. I could hear that little thing crying when they opened the door. I’m just glad he’s OK.”

Gusse said she is not a hero—just a grandmother of nine who wanted to make sure the child was safe. The Minnesota AMBER Alert Coordinator said Gusse’s actions played a significant role in the safe recovery of the child.

“Her keen awareness to notice the vehicle parked in her neighborhood and quick actions to notify authorities were remarkable and were exactly what we ask the public to do when an AMBER Alert is issued,” said Twardowski.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was so impressed with what happened he named February 9, 2021, as “Barbara Gusse Day.” The mayor posted his delivery of the proclamation on Facebook.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey presents Barbara Gusse with the “Barbara Gusse Day” proclamation
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey presents Barbara Gusse with the “Barbara Gusse Day” proclamation

“You are that important to our city,” said Mayor Frey. “You certainly saved a life and you should be honored. We as a city are eternally grateful for (your) attentiveness and swift action that led to the heartwarming end of a terrifying day.”

Minnesota’s AMBER Alert Plan has been operational since 2002. BCA has issued 39 AMBER Alerts as of May 1, 2021. Minnesota’s AMBER Alert Program has established many partnerships that provide resources to disseminate AMBER Alert information as quickly as possible throughout Minnesota.

Twardowski said training and preparedness are instrumental when issuing an AMBER Alert. Each alert is different she said, so continuous education and training is needed to ensure AMBER Alerts are activated smoothly and effectively.

“The AMBER Alert Plan worked just as it is meant to work,” said Twardowski. ” Working with our partners and the public to find missing and abducted children is rewarding work. I am honored to be part of the AMBER Alert Program in Minnesota.”