Faces of the AMBER Alert Network: Wisconsin
From the ground floor to saving lives: Wisconsin AMBER Alert Coordinator Melissa Marchant’s decades of work in criminal justice and missing persons
Melissa Marchant has been Wisconsin’s AMBER Alert Coordinator and Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager since May 2021. Last year Wisconsin had 11 AMBER Alerts, a record for the state. She started working for the State of Wisconsin as a janitor in 1990, right after graduating from high school. Marchant went on to work as a program assistant at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). She then became a criminal analyst, a position she has held for 18 years.
Marchant has been an advocate for criminal analysts as the president of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Analyst Network (WILEAN). Although she began actively participating in AMBER Alerts in late 2019, she was already a member of the Child Abduction response Team (CART) and worked as an analyst during callouts for cases involving missing persons.
She is a mother of two children, grandmother of four, and has always loved spending time with young ones. Marchant respects and appreciates law enforcement efforts in missing person cases. She also has profound admiration for families who hold on to hope while everyone is trying to find their missing loved one. “Our kids deserve the best resources and collaboration when they go missing,” said Marchant. “It is our job and duty to bring them home safe, and Wisconsin encompasses all of that.”
WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE IT SUCCESSFUL? We have amazing partners who help us disseminate information through many means as quickly as possible when we are trying to locate a child. The support and determination of these agency partners is truly amazing.
During an AMBER Alert in Wisconsin, you could be driving down the road and see it on the highway DOT signs, hear it on your radio, observe another message on outdoor advertising billboards and see it on the lottery terminals when pulling over for gas at a convenience store. In addition, TV, radio and social media help us get the message out. I’m truly amazed each time we issue an AMBER Alert by the vast and quick response from everyone.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN? When a child goes missing, I treat the situation as if it involved my own child or grandchild. I worry and pray for them like they were my own family. I do everything I can to bring them home safe and hopefully keep them out of danger. This job motivates me to keep hope alive and use all available resources to find missing children and bring them home safely.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM? I think the challenge we are constantly looking at is the timeliness of our alerts. We usually review each AMBER Alert about a week after the alert is issued to identify ways to expedite the process and learn from our experiences. There is no ‘big red easy button’ — it takes a tremendous amount of quick and effective coordination to make the alerts happen.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE PROGRAM? I am looking forward to expanding our online and social media presence. I believe that sharing online stories and posters of our missing will help us reach many more people than what is happening now.
PLEASE SHARE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SUCCESS STORY IN WORKING A MISSING CHILD CASE. HOW DID THE AMBER ALERT SUPPORT THE OUTCOME? WHAT WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED? I was a criminal analyst when Jayme Closs went missing in October 2018. I was attending our department’s in-service training with just an overnight bag. When our agency got the call to assist, I immediately requested to go to Barron County. I responded to the command post and set up tips and leads for the initial response. I then worked with the FBI to continue organizing and maintaining a strong system.
I remember not wanting to go back home, I just wanted to stay and help in any way I could. I stayed for 15 days, and it was difficult to leave. I felt so connected to this response and the search for Jayme, and the AMBER Alert brought in so many tips. The citizens did an amazing job of reporting anything they could to try and help locate her.
Ultimately, it was Jayme’s bravery and determination that allowed her to escape and return to her family in January 2019. I am inspired everyday by Jayme, a truly brave young woman who made the decision that she was going to escape and gain back her freedom.
HOW HAVE YOUR CAREER AND LIFE EXPERIENCES, INCLUDING YOUR WORK AS AN AMBER ALERT COORDINATOR, STRENGTHENED YOUR COMMITMENT TO HELPING ENDANGERED MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN? My dedication to endangered and missing abducted children has been strengthened by my experiences in the Clearinghouse, working with families, law enforcement, NCMEC, and the AMBER Alert Program at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC). I also feel my role as a criminal analyst in DCI, prior to being the AMBER Alert Coordinator, gave me an advantage in assisting on missing person cases by providing me with invaluable resources and training. I worked side-by-side for years with special agents, detectives, officers, and prosecutors around the state to help bring missing persons home or violent criminals to justice.
I was excited to take on a role in which I could work with victims’ families more, but also continue to work with all the talented law enforcement individuals in Wisconsin to assist on missing person cases. Every time I see a face of a missing person it reminds me that they deserve to have someone looking
for them, and my goal is to do everything I can to return them home safely.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS? Establish and maintain strong and frequent communication with your partnered agencies; they are invaluable. Do what makes sense for your state. Each state has different needs based on their missing population and available resources. Also, take advantage of the FVTC training and regional meetings. Connect with community partners, as well as other AMBER Alert Coordinators, because these will truly be invaluable connections.