AMBER Alert Briefs – Issue 3 2021
Short News Clips on AMBER Alert & Child Protection Issues
Virginia starts new alert system for missing adults with autism; adds new platform for all alerts
Virginia launched a new alert system on July 1, 2021, to be used when adults with autism go missing. Efforts to create the alert started after a 29-year-old woman with autism went missing and drowned in a swampy area a mile away from her home.
The Virginia State Police also began using a new communications platform to notify the public about the state’s six different alerts. Virginia has an AMBER Alert, Senior Alert, Critically Missing Adult “Ashanti” Alert, Missing Child with Autism Alert, and the new alert for missing adults with autism. The platform is designed to get the key details out to the public more quickly.
NCMEC begins using new technology to tie AMBER Alerts to license plate readers
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has begun using a new operating system allowing Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology to be connected to AMBER Alert activations. NCMEC’s joint effort with Flock Safety will use the company’s machine-learning powered network to help law enforcement to find vehicles wanted during an alert.
TikTok video offers new clues in 2003 kidnapping of Washington girl
Police officers in Kennewick, Washington, are investigating whether a viral TikTok video from Mexico shows a woman who was abducted nearly two decades ago shortly before her fifth birthday. The case remains open for Sofia Juarez, who was kidnapped on February 4, 2003, and sparked the state’s first AMBER Alert. The video is less than a minute long and shows a woman who claims she was abducted but said she doesn’t know where she’s from.
Phone scam leads to New Hampshire AMBER Alert for child who was not abducted
Police in Manchester, New Hampshire, said a “sophisticated phone scam” led to an AMBER Alert for a mother and child who were never in danger. The scammers tell the victim a family member is in trouble, demand a ransom and insist the victim doesn’t hang up the phone so they can call for help. During these scams, officers are asking the public to use another device to text or email the family member to verify if they are safe.
Mendocino County in California tests alert system
Mendocino County, California, Office of Emergency Services conducted a test of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) in May 2021 to identify weaknesses in the system. WEA is used to notify the public of AMBER Alerts and other emergencies like wildfires. The WEA went out to 90,000 people and included a hyperlink to MendoReady.org, a newly created website designed to be a comprehensive resource for residents regarding emergency information.
Privacy advocates seek to limit Massachusetts police from using license plate readers
Civil liberties groups are asking Massachusetts lawmakers to limit when police use license plate readers so they can’t be used for surveillance, dragnet monitoring or other civil rights harms. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said data collected from plate readers can be used to pry into people’s private lives. Law enforcement groups say an outright ban on plate reading technology would compromise their work, including crucial cases like AMBER Alerts.
Ohio woman who survived years in captivity assists state’s AMBER Alert program
Gina DeJesus, a woman who was held against her will for 11 years, has partnered with the Northeast Ohio AMBER Alert Committee to assist families and law enforcement agencies. DeJesus’s organization, the Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children, will offer support in cases involving missing or endangered children. DeJesus was 14 when she was abducted and held in a home with two other female teens. You can read more about her story of survival and advocacy efforts for missing children in the June 2019 issue of The AMBER Advocate.
Tennessee’s new alert helps find missing adult
Tennessee used its new Endangered Child Alert to find a woman who was kidnapped in 2019. Daphne Westbrook was 18 when she was allegedly abducted by her non-custodial father; law enforcement determined the case didn’t qualify for an AMBER Alert. The woman was found safe in Alabama in March 2021. Her father has since been indicted and charged with aggravated kidnapping. Tennessee recently passed the Holly Bobo Act which allows law enforcement to send alerts for endangered adults ages 18-20.
Arizona’s new law allows foster and homeless youth to get ID cards
Arizona will allow foster and homeless youth to obtain official documents to prove who they are - something that previously required getting permission from a parent or guardian. The law goes into effect in the fall and lets 16- and 17-year-olds apply for a state-issued identification card and certified birth certificate. Proponents say it will be helpful during AMBER Alerts and to protect the children from identity theft.