Sara Hennessey has been the New Hampshire AMBER Alert Coordinator since September 2012, and began her service with the New Hampshire State Police as a trooper in 1998. Hennessey is a sergeant in the agency’s Major Crime Unit and commands the Family Services Division. Her husband John is also a commander with the New Hampshire State Police.
WHAT PATH LED YOU TO THIS WORK?
As a New Hampshire state trooper our primary function when we first get assigned is highway patrol but that was never where my heart belonged. I did it because I had to do it, but I always wanted to be a detective and move in that direction. I spent some time as an advocate in domestic violence prior to becoming a trooper; that’s always where I wanted to go. In 2007, I became a detective at a troop and naturally started taking cases that were related to domestic violence, sexual assault and child protection. I was also able to work some interesting cases with the homicide unit. Unfortunately, in some of the cases we had, the children were recovered deceased. I always wanted to work hard to minimize this horrible outcome, and improve investigation of these cases so that we would not find ourselves at that point. I have done some work and training with the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). I continue to work hard to educate DCYF, law enforcement personnel, and anyone who will listen, in an effort to lessen the number of homicides and child abductions we see, along with lessening the maltreatment of children.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART, AND THE HARDEST PART, OF YOUR JOB?
The best part of my job is having the opportunity to help people and kids in crisis. The hardest part is knowing that sometimes the outcome isn’t always the best. I have been through some tough cases and it has taught me how bad it can get.
HOW DOES AMBER ALERT WORK IN NEW HAMPSHIRE?
We’re a really small state, so a lot of people have seen my face and know me through different entities and events I’ve been involved with. When incidents arise, sometimes the boss may look over and call my name out in the office; I’ll poke my head up from the cubicle and will make my way over to the front of the office and he will fill me in. Other times, a local agency will call looking for our K-9 services or to find out what other resources the New Hampshire State Police can provide. The head of the K-9 unit will give me a call and say, ‘We have this case going on, has anyone contacted you yet?’ There’s a lieutenant at the Manchester [New Hampshire] Police Department who runs their Juvenile Unit with whom I have an excellent relationship. She will call my cell phone and say, ‘This is what we have, this is what we need; are we good to go?’ Incidents seem to come in waves; but because we’re so small it is easy to get ahold of me. Other departments may call state police headquarters and they will contact me; I then make contact, have a conversation with them about what is going with their case, and offer advisement and support.
HAS NEW HAMPSHIRE ADDED ANY NEW INITIATIVES TO ITS PROGRAMS AND WORK TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?
We now have the state lottery system as a partner. They are a welcome member to our team and they are already helping us reach more people with the AMBER Alert.
WHAT APPROACHES DO YOU TAKE TO PROVIDE TRAINING, EDUCATION AND AWARENESS ON AMBER ALERT?
I will talk to anyone who will listen. People see my face associated with a lot of platforms, so at those events, or as part of information being provided, I will include up-dates on mandatory reporting, the AMBER Alert program, and elder abuse laws, when I am training. I also utilize my work with the state police academy. In New Hampshire, all of the police recruits go through a single academy; this provides a great way to de-liver important program and training information in a consistent manner. The trooper who teaches child abuse at the academy covers the AMBER Alert program and procedures, and we both talk about it to reinforce the information. Anytime I have a chance to talk about the AMBER Alert, I will. We’ve had some tremendously high-profile missing cases in New Hampshire; some have ended successfully, and some have not. That has allowed an extraordinary relationship with some of the departments in our state, and with our federal partners. Again, it’s a small state and we all talk to each other; we all communicate, and people know where to call. In September 2018 at the annual New Hampshire Attorney General’s “Partnering for a Future without Violence,” I teamed up with the lieutenant from the Manchester Police Department to conduct a workshop on AMBER Alert, combined with a case review of the last alert we had in April 2017.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?
When we have missing children needing to be found, and we work within and across our law enforcement agencies - and with the public - to help bring them home. Every instance of this motivates me to continue to the work and do all that we can to safely recover missing children.
WHAT WAS A CASE YOU WORKED ON THAT HAD A LASTING IMPACT?
There was a case that I worked in a very rural area in the Northern part of the state and it involved a missing young girl. For the first part of the case there were a lot of resources brought in. It was a case where we had federal partners working and it got to the point that they needed a place to put us because the town was so small. They opened up a school and people were coming in to serve us lunch. They cordoned off areas of the school we could use for interviews. The school was essentially our command post; with part of the school open, and part of it closed. It was during the summertime and there was a little boy walking down the hallway; I remember his shoes were untied. He was there with his mom who was helping with the volunteer effort. He knew I was a trooper and stopped me in the hall and said, “Have you found my friend yet? I really miss her.” I told him that we had not found his friend yet. We ended up finding the girl; she was not alive. This case, and that encounter with this little girl’s friend; it obviously had a lasting impact. I will never forget that little boy in the hallway. We have to keep searching, we have to keep looking. For every missing child, there is a little boy or girl in the hallway waiting for their friend to return.
WHAT ARE SOME LESSONS YOU HAVE LEARNED IN THIS POSITION?
Find your friends in your local states. In New England, we have fabulous coordinators in other states. Our states are small, so it doesn’t take much time for a suspect and child to be in and out of different states. When I was new, they pulled me in and said, ‘If you need anything call me. I will help you.’ So, with Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island we have a strong crew - and it’s an experienced crew. They have worked a lot of years over a lot of cases and had different things happen; they can share those experiences with you and help you through some of the issues, re-source problems - whatever it is that comes up in these cases. We are in constant contact with each other. I have also learned that when a child is missing, it is all hands-on deck, no questions asked. Everyone jumps in to help. We are tight-knit here; our program would not work if we were not.