Nona Best is the Director of the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons. She has been with the center under purview of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol since 2009. Her state career began in 2003 as a corrections officer, also serving as a processing assistant for the State Bureau of Investigation, and as a lottery supervisor for the Alcohol Law Enforcement branch. Best became interested in missing juvenile cases as her office while supervising the lottery was juxtaposed closely to the Center for Missing Persons. Astounded at the number of missing juvenile cases, she wanted to pursue work with the center. Best now trains law enforcement officers on how to handle missing persons, sex trafficking and international abduction cases. She also works as an advocate for abused and neglected children with the Guardian Ad Litem program.
WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR MISSING PERSONS PROGRAM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE YOUR PROGRAM SUCCESSFUL?
I think what is unique about the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons is it is a one-stop shop. I handle all missing persons, adults and children for the state. All three of the state’s alert systems (AMBER, SILVER, EAS and BLUE) are housed and activated from the Center, which is manned 24/7 through our nationally known number, 800- 522-KIDS (5437). We are successful because we try to keep our training levels up. I get training and go out and train every chance I get. Once I receive training, I share it with my chain of command and through the communication line with troopers so we can grow strong together. Everyone understands why any request from the center is needed and why it is a priority.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?
First and foremost I think it’s because I’m a mother and a foster parent. I can’t imagine not knowing where my child is. I worry about the children out there and their safety. I know the average person doesn’t understand how people can go missing without a clue or reason. It’s hard when you have a parent or grandparent on the phone crying, to not cry with them. I sometimes have to start praying and trying to keep the parent encouraged with hope. What I love about my job is helping left-behind parents and siblings at their most vulnerable time and being able to assist them in a way that gives them understanding about the process of finding their missing loved ones.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT AND MISSING PERSON PROGRAMS?
I work with a great group of people. For the most part I get to work the programs and make changes as I see fit. I have such great support from above that I’m able to get our needs met without delays.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT AND OTHER PROGRAMS IN THE FUTURE?
I would love to see all my alert programs automated with no paper trail. The Blue alert is the only alert that is automated in a way that law enforcement can go in and create their request online and we approve it online. We are working to get the Silver and AMBER Alert programs set up that way.
Also, I continue to advocate for stricter criteria for our Silver Alert program. The current language states the alert is for a person “believed to be” suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or a disability that requires them to be protected from abuse or harm.
I would like the criteria to say that the person is “diagnosed” rather than “believed to be” suffering. I would also like to have more annual statewide training sessions and a stronger relationship with our Indian Country partners.
PLEASE SHARE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SUCCESS STORY IN WORKING A MISSING CHILD CASE. HOW DID THE AMBER ALERT AND CENTER FOR MISSING PERSONS SUPPORT THE OUTCOME?
During the past 10 years there are many good ones, and sad ones, to remember. We were really blessed in one case from 2016 in New Hanover County. A six-year-old girl was abducted from her yard while playing with her siblings.
A convicted sex offender was riding by on a moped and just stopped, scooped her up and took off. Thankfully the kids ran in and told their parents immediately. The public also started calling 911 saying there was a small child on a moped without a helmet. Although it was 18 hours before the child was located, the suspect was identified fairly quickly. The victim was found the next day chained to a tree in the woods about eight miles from her home.
Sheriff McMahon said it best, “I think you can say we beat the odds today.” We are all amazed and grateful she was alive; but at the same time we were hurt that this child and her family had to experience this.
HOW HAVE YOUR CAREER AND LIFE EXPERIENCES, INCLUDING YOUR WORK AS AN AMBER ALERT COORDINATOR AND/OR CLEARINGHOUSE MANAGER, STRENGTHENED YOUR COMMITMENT TO HELPING ENDANGERED, MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?
The job and training really keep you on your toes. You think about it everywhere you go. If I’m in public and I see a child wandering or running around alone, I automatically go into alert mode. I start looking for parents, watching the child and sometimes getting upset that parents could be so careless.
My commitment to training and talking to youth has increased now more than ever due to sex trafficking. It is so prevalent and growing so fast but it’s like a shadow. No one is paying attention except law enforcement. Teens, even runaways, still don’t seem to be aware of or worry about sex trafficking.
State laws need to be tightened and changed to provide the left-behind parents with more protection and rights. An absent parent should be held accountable and not allowed to pick up and leave with a child. The trauma to the child and left-behind parent is tremendous. The left-behind parent also has to come up with money to start the proceedings to get the child back. I just feel that is so wrong.
HOW HAS TRAINING HELPED YOU IN AMBER ALERT CASES?
AMBER Alert trainings like the annual symposiums are priceless. The networking and classes open your mind to new ideas and always make me rededicate myself to do all I can. I always come home with a long to-do list. The training helps me be the state’s expert on missing and abducted persons and supports me in keeping all our programs running with progress.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS?
Get training, and always feel free to call on your AMBER Alert partners. Everyone I have ever called with a question, a request for assistance, a program information sheet or anything else has been more than happy to help. It is a wonderful world to be in when people doing the same work as you, have the same passion for the work as you are willing to offer assistance.
I love that you also get to go put faces with the names at the national level. I would also suggest they share their training opportunities with others who are interested in or work missing person’s cases.