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Photo of members of the Not Invisible Act Commission shown with Jolene Hardesty, far right.
After her appointment to the Not Invisible Act Commission (NIAC), Joelle Hardesty (far right) served with 35 people from across the nation to fulfill the NIAC’s goal to effectively address the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples’ (MMIP) crisis. Commission members received testimony from more than 250 surviving victims, families, and others.
Portrait of Joelle Hardesty, Missing Children’s Clearinghouse Analyst and Missing Persons Coordinator for the Michigan State Police. She served on the Not Invisible Act Commission.
When Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Hardesty to the NIAC in 2022, she praised her “extensive experience collaborating with local, state, and federal law enforcement to find and recover missing children.” Hardesty serves as Missing Children’s Clearinghouse Analyst and Missing Persons Coordinator for the Michigan State Police.

By Rebecca Sherman

Jolene Hardesty has faced challenges in her 20 years of public service—from her early days as a 911 sheriff’s office dispatcher to her current role as Missing Children’s Clearinghouse Analyst and Missing Persons Coordinator for the Michigan State Police.

And while she has helped rescue an estimated 600 children by providing analytical, resource, and training support to regional, state, federal, and Tribal law enforcement, she can now count another challenging assignment as a win: 15 months of service on the Not Invisible Act Commission.

For Hardesty, the experience was equal parts daunting, rewarding, and eye- opening. She worked with 35 others from across the nation to fulfill the Commission’s goals, as follows.

  • Identify, report, and respond to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP) and human trafficking.
  • Develop legislative and administrative changes to enlist federal programs, properties, and resources to help combat the crisis.
  • Track and report data on MMIP and human trafficking cases.
  • Consider issues related to the hiring and retention of law enforcement officers.
  • Coordinate Tribal, state, and federal resources to combat MMIP and human trafficking on Indian lands.
  • Increase information-sharing with Tribal governments on violent crimes investigations and criminal prosecutions on Indian lands.

The Commission held hearings across the nation, receiving heartbreaking yet critically important testimony from hundreds of victims, survivors, family members, family advocates, and members of law enforcement.

In the fall of 2023, Hardesty and her fellow Commissioners submitted their final report to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and Congress.

With May designated as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) Awareness Month (and May 5, National MMIP Day, also known as “Wear Red Day”) we talked with Hardesty about her work on the Not Invisible Act Commission—and what’s on the horizon.

Tell us a bit about your work on the Not Invisible Act Commission.
Each day was spent gearing up and prepping for meetings. I read a lot—federal statutes, statistical reports, and notes from other initiatives prior to the Not Invisible Act, such as Operation Lady Justice. Many weeks we met multiple times and brought in subject-matter experts to answer questions. I also gave in-person [congressional] testimony in D.C. as an expert on missing children, and traveled to Minnesota and Montana for public testimony. We were organized into subcommittees based on our experience. I was co-chair of Subcommittee Two, which focused on MMIP data. And on Subcommittee Four, we looked at coordinating resources, criminal jurisdiction, prosecution, and information sharing— for instance, understanding how the NCIC [National Crime Information Center] database is aggregated, and what shortfalls it presents.

Information sidebar: Not Invisible Act: Key findings Jolene Hardesty shares thoughts from her Not Invisible Act Commission work. Resources are desperately needed. “We heard testimony from an Alaska Native woman whose sister was murdered in her home—and she lay dead on the floor for three days because no police came to investigate,” Hardesty says. “There are also villages in Alaska that don’t have a fire department; villages that take a State Trooper three days by airplane to reach; and villages where Tribes don’t have a police department—or if they do, officers are not staffed 24/7. These departments lack the funding, resources, people, or skill sets to have an appropriate response, much less an immediate one.” Jurisdiction can be a problematic puzzle. In Oklahoma, where nearly half the land is Tribal owned, “you have a checkerboard of different Tribes, and criminal jurisdiction isn’t clear,” she says. For instance, a crime that happens on the northwest quadrant of a street may be the responsibility of a different Tribe than one on the southwest quadrant. And if the crime is murder, another jurisdiction may need to be involved. “Keeping up with the matrix needed to determine who’s going to respond to a crime can be overwhelming,” she says. Justice is often meted out differently. “Tribal law enforcement and courts are limited in what they can do [and often include social-rehabilitation measures]. If a murder occurs on Indian land, the most jail time imposed [may be] nine years,” Hardesty says. How does the way data is collected present a problem?
In NCIC, there aren’t enough race categories—it’s either “Alaska Native” or “American Indian.” Beyond that, it’s also important to know if a person is a member of the Cherokee or Crow Nation, for instance, or maybe also affiliated with another Tribe. Grouping people into one category doesn’t serve justice when you are at the granular level of an investigation.

Why is the term “Indian” still used by government officials?
Growing up I was taught that term was offensive, but during my work for the Commission, I learned that when you’re speaking about Native American land, the legal term is “Indian Country.” Additionally, Alaskan Natives don’t like being called “Indian”—they live on Alaskan land. But if we explain why we need to use the term in certain circumstances, it goes a long way to show respect. I found that changed the entire conversation when talking with Native partners.

How have you built bridges of respect with your Native American partners?
By creating relationships. I reached out to our Mount Pleasant post in Michigan and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe Police Chief and asked them to be experts on relationship matters. Michigan is home to 12 federally recognized Tribes and a few that are not. And in the state’s not-so-distant past, there were at least three state-funded Indian boarding schools, where Indigenous people were not allowed to speak their language, celebrate traditions, or practice their religion. Because of that, Native American law enforcement partners and citizens often associate non-Native [law enforcement/legal] personnel with trauma. It’s important to acknowledge that, to tell them you understand why they may not trust us. Relationships built on a foundation of mutual respect are critical. You’ve got to be able to have difficult conversations with one another honestly and openly, and still be able to respect each other. Accomplishing this is possible, but takes intentional work on both sides.

Display quote from Jolene Hardesty: “During our hearings in Minnesota, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, said, ‘At best we are invisible, at worst we are disposable.’ That really got to me—and was the driving force behind my work.”

Tell us about the importance of cultural awareness and historical training.
Learning about the culture really helps. For example, when non-Native people get sick, they go to the doctor. But for Native peoples, it’s very different. [When going to] Indian Health Service care, a person is asked, “How much Indian are you, and what kind?” Some clinics only serve members of certain Tribes. All that matters before treatment. So that’s the kind of thing our Indian partners face on Indian land. Historical awareness is also important [to understand inherent conflicts between Tribes]. Many were warring Tribes for generations before [the U.S. government] put them on the same reservation and said, “Be happy.”

How have you approached the complexities involved in working with different Tribes?
Every Tribe needs its own voice to be heard, and this takes significant communication and collaboration. The best way to address our Tribal partners’ needs is to ask them. We should ask them not only “What do you need?” but also, “What can I help you with?”

As you reflect on your Commission work, what’s next for you?
My work on the Commission was some of the hardest I’ve done. It was frustrating at times, and I had a huge learning curve, but I feel like I’ve helped, and know I’ve made connections with some phenomenal people. And while I’m sad to see the Commission’s work come to an end, I look forward to the next goal: Implementing AMBER Alert in Indian Country. For many of us on the Commission, the focus will be to bring our Native American partners to the table as advisors, equals, and subject-matter experts. Together, we can really address their needs.

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Photo of Dr. Noelle Hunter with her daughter, Maayimuna “Muna”
Dr. Noelle Hunter shares a happy moment with her daughter, Maayimuna “Muna.”

By Jody Garlock

Sitting in a McDonald’s restaurant in Kentucky on New Year’s Day 2011, Dr. Noelle Hunter had a sinking feeling that something was wrong. Her ex-husband was three hours late to their planned meeting spot, where he was to return their 4-year-old daughter, Maayimuna “Muna” from a holiday visit. Her maternal instinct proved to be right. She and Muna had become victims of international parental child abduction (IPCA).

It was the start of an ordeal that Dr. Hunter never could have imagined.

After the FBI was able to confirm that her ex-husband had illegally taken Muna to Mali, West Africa, Hunter thrust herself into a tireless effort to bring her daughter home. She navigated cultural nuances and complex international law, staged protests in front of embassies in Washington, D.C., pleaded with United Nations members, and worked with a congressional delegation to pressure the Mali government to return Muna. In 2014, she was finally able to bring Muna, almost 7 by that time, home safely. But Hunter never took her foot off the gas.

Dr. Noelle Hunter (at far right) walks with fellow advocates for the iStand Parent Network in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Noelle Hunter (shown far right) walks with her fellow advocates for the iStand Parent Network in Washington, D.C.

For the past decade, the mother-turned-advocate has led the iStand Parent Network, which she co-founded in February 2014 to provide resources, support, and advocacy to IPCA survivors—parents and children alike. With Muna’s help (as an iStand Youth Ambassador), she has been a champion for change to ensure other parents don’t suffer the same fate—and a support for those enduring a similar struggle. Hunter was one of eight parent co-authors of the newly updated multimedia resource, When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide.

In September 2023, the iStand Parent Network held its final annual conference and gala as the organization concluded nearly a decade of important and committed work to bring greater awareness and better understanding about the problem of IPCA, and support families impacted by it. Hunter—a clinical assistant professor at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH)—is now transitioning from advocacy work to a behind-the-scenes role in research and policy analysis through the university’s new International Child Abduction Prevention and Research Office (ICAPRO), which she spearheaded. “I’m just hard-wired to fight for children,” she says. We spoke with her about her journey—and what’s ahead.

Quote: “There are far too many parents unaware that it can happen—until it happens.” From Dr. Noelle Hunter—IPCA victim, child advocate, and professor
>> WATCH: To hear Dr. Hunter tell her story and share advice for the newly updated, When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, visit familysurvival.amberadvocate.org/video-library/ and click on “Dr. Noelle Hunter.”

How are you and Muna doing? How have you managed to move forward?

Muna is having the best year of her life. She’s 16 and a 10th-grader. She has a close friend group who shares her quirky humor and love for anime. She’s a naturally gifted visual artist, and just started her first job at a supermarket to earn her own money. Most of all, though, she is a truly gracious young lady—very kind, respectful, gentle—with a very strong sense of self. I marvel because she could justifiably be angry, non-trusting, or generally unhappy after her abduction. But she was never that way. As for me, my bedrock faith has always sustained and empowered me—first to bring Muna home, and then to help other families, and speak truth to power. It’s the simplest and greatest reason I thrive.

Did you imagine the iStand Parent Network would last a decade?

I honestly envisioned iStand enduring in perpetuity. Our motto is [the hashtag] #iStandUntilAllChildrenComeHome, so there is grief. But it was time to sunset the organization since its parent-driven engagement had decreased. It had become basically two parts—myself and Jeffery Morehouse [also a Family Survival Guide parent-author]—doing the policy work, with a few others helping. But iStand has catalyzed other organizations to form and continue the work, including iHOPE, a Lebanon-based NGO that will take it to the next level of global engagement. And most importantly, we’ve helped empower parents to bring children home. We’ve seen most elements of our 10-point vision statement come to life. So we can rest knowing that iStand has impacted generations.

What has changed with IPCA—good or bad—in the past 10 years?

We’ve seen legislation enacted, such as the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (aka the Goldman Act or ICAPRA) designed to ensure compliance with the Hague Abduction Convention, which set standards of practice between countries to resolve abductions. We’ve seen the U.S. government fully implement an abduction prevention program that includes a no-fly list for at-risk children—I’m most proud of that. We’ve also seen Congress recognize April as IPCA Awareness Month.

In 2014, Hunter, her daughter Maayimuna “Muna,” and a family friend visited U.S. Senator MitchMcConnell. McConnell was part of the Kentucky delegation Hunter worked with to secure Muna’s safe return.
In 2014, Hunter, her daughter Maayimuna “Muna,” and a family friend visited U.S. Senator Mitch
McConnell. McConnell was part of the Kentucky delegation Hunter worked with to secure Muna’s safe return.

But during the pandemic, we lost a great deal of our momentum. We also believe Congress has rested on its laurels after passing ICAPRA, not giving weighty consideration to stronger enforcement of it and other laws. And tragically, there’s been little global reform on this issue. Some nations, such as the U.K., perform relatively well, while others, such as Japan, India, and Brazil, continue to disregard the Hague treaty and international norms concerning abducted children. This is brutal policy work and we’ve been doing it from a parent-advocate prospective, which gets us only so far. It’s time to shift to a data-driven approach.

Tell us about your new research initiative at UAH.

The goal is to begin to create a body of current literature in research on IPCA. Existing research is almost 20 years old and the information is woefully out of date. We want data to illustrate the scope of the problem, the gaps in federal and international responses. We want to take what we learn from the initial research to make policy recommendations to Congress. This all came about in a beautiful way. I teach classes at UAH, and in one of them we created a IPCA think tank. Students did such a wonderful job that I asked permission to develop it into an office concept, which took a year. Our 10th point of vision with iStand was to establish an independent entity that would guide research and engagement, so this is really an evolution of that.

In May 2023, Dr. Noelle Hunter spoke before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing “Bring Abducted Children Home,” televised on C-SPAN.
>> WATCH: Dr. Hunter speak before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing “Bring Abducted Children Home,” televised in May 2023.

What do you want law enforcement to know about IPCA cases? 

No. 1, it is not a civil matter. The response tends to be, “We can’t do anything unless you get a court order,” and a court order is by definition a civil matter. But a parent is not required to have a court order to report their child missing. Federal law requires the child to be immediately entered into the NCIC database. No. 2, there are other laws that require law enforcement to fulfill first-responder duties without waiting for a court order. And No. 3, consider a child to be at risk when they’ve been taken internationally, regardless of if he or she is with a parent.

What was it like being one of the parent-authors of the updated When Your Child Is Missing: Family Survival Guide?

Eye-opening and transformative. I honestly had only thought about international abductions and didn’t see the number of similarities with domestic ones. I was also truly humbled by the grace of my co-authors whose children were murdered. What magnificent valor to continue to help others after the unimaginable. I was honored to be in their company and work with them on this project—which I already know is helping people: I received a call from a parent who was going down the checklist. Our hope is for it to be a widely known go-to source—for law enforcement, attorneys, social services, child and victim advocates, and others—as the first step to empower parents on this awful journey.

What’s next for you?

Besides the work I plan to do with the new International Child Abduction Prevention and Research Office, it’s time for me to live a little. Time to rest. I haven’t stopped since 2011 when my daughter was taken. It’s time to slow down and enjoy life knowing I’ve been a good soldier. And perhaps it’s time to start writing a book of this amazing story that doesn’t seem to have an end.


Photo illustrating facts vs myths

IPCA Myth Busters

Dr. Noelle Hunter dispels three common myths surrounding international parental child abduction (IPCA) cases

 

Myth: It’s feuding parents, not criminal action, that harms children and families.
Reality: Local law enforcement initially brushed off Hunter’s abduction claim, assuming she and her ex-husband had simply had a fight that would resolve itself. “I remember the exact words from them: ‘Well, I guess he just got tired of dealing with you and took her.’ ” She urges law enforcement to take parental child abduction seriously and treat it as the criminal matter it is.

∞ 

Myth: Parents can just go get their child.
Reality: To get her daughter home safely, it took Hunter nearly three years of nonstop work, which involved developing a network of attorneys in both the U.S. and abroad. Despite court rulings in her favor, her ex-husband would file appeals to delay the process. Fortunately for Hunter, Muna’s return happened shortly before she turned 7—the age when a mother’s custodial rights greatly decrease in Mali. Hunter also contends that governments have been lax in enforcing the Hague Abduction Convention and holding non-compliant countries accountable.

∞ 

Myth: The child is fine because he/she is with the other parent.
Reality: Even if there’s no physical harm, abducted children who have their life uprooted and are forced to adapt to a different culture takes an emotional toll, Hunter says. “My daughter was in a foreign country—she didn’t know anyone.”

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Unidentifiable man seated at computer screen that reads: "What should law enforcement understand about family needs and expectations when responding to missing child reports?"

By Denise Gee Peacock

The Family Survival Guide parent-authors–and subject matter experts who work daily to prevent and prosecute crimes against children–want law enforcement to consider the following when working missing-child cases:

Be compassionate

“It’s easy to become immune to horrific crimes; you deal with them daily. But work to counter that. Each case is not just a number. Each case involves human beings.”
– Ahmad Rivazfar

“When someone in law enforcement tells me, ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through,’ I often think, ‘Well, you do know.’ Anyone who’s ever lost sight of their child in a crowded environment can relate.”
Jeffery Morehouse

One of the officers initially working my daughter’s missing case told me, ‘Well, I guess [your ex-husband] got tired of you and left with Muna.’ That left me speechless. Fortunately the FBI agent I ultimately worked with was deeply empathetic and helpful. He said, ‘It’s going to take a long time to help you, but we are going to help.’ ”
– Dr. Noelle Hunter

Photo of unidentified police officer with unidentified child with this quote from Charles Fleeger AATTAP Region 3 Liaison and Texas-Brazos Valley AMBER Alert Coordinator: “A runaway child is a missing child, and we must assume that the child is in danger and investigate it as such.”Know the laws—and think ahead

“I’m a father who had legal custody of my son but had to convince people of that. It’s important to know that IPCA [international parental child abduction] actions are not a custodial dispute, but a federal crime that requires local law enforcement to enter the case into NCIC. … Also, when a missing child becomes an adult, please don’t remove them from NCIC. That sorely limits parents’ resources, such as access to age-progression photos available from NCMEC.”
– Jeffery Morehouse

Federal law requires immediate entry of missing children into NCIC. … But we know what kind of stress you’re under. We know you might get four more calls after ours and then it’s time to leave your shift. But while you might forget, we don’t. These are our children.”
– Nacole Svendgard

Communicate regularly and respectfully

“When talking to parents, talk to them the way you would want to be talked to if your child was missing. Treat us with dignity. … Also, check in with us at least once a week to update us with any news or a good support resource.”
– Yvonne Ambrose

Stay current with training and technology

“Let’s train all our first responders, from dispatchers to the hospital workers who handle sexual assault exams. And let’s provide more training at the academy level, where there’s little to no time spent on the subject.”
– Nacole Svendgard

“Everything is changing for the better, but you have to know what exists and how to use it. Not knowing can be a matter of life and death.”
– Patty Wetterling

Learn the signs of sex trafficking, and why children go on the run

“Look closely into what, or who, has caused a child to leave home. There’s the real danger.”
– Yvonne Ambrose

“In talking with detectives about runaways, I’ve heard, ‘Well, she’s 17 and with her boyfriend.’ That’s when I respond, ‘Well, until she’s 18, she’s our responsibility.’ ”
– Captain Stacie Lick, CART Coordinator, Gloucester County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office

Be cognizant of cultural bias

“Not all parents of missing children speak English or understand American laws and cultures. Sometimes I felt like my Iranian heritage had law enforcement looking at me as a criminal.”
– Ahmad Rivazfar

“Why isn’t the media reporting more on crimes involving marginalized or minority communities? Are they not learning about them from law enforcement? Or are they choosing to overlook these cases?”
– Patty Wetterling

With a family member’ doesn’t always mean ‘safe’

“Just because a child is with a biological family member does not mean they are safe. On the contrary, family abductions are the leading cause of AMBER Alerts. In my situation, law enforcement was convinced that a father could never hurt his child. That took a whole week out of the [investigation] process. So much can be lost in that time.”
– Elaine Hall

“I would often hear, ‘At least you know he’s safe; he’s with his mother’—completely discounting that a federal and state crime occurred, and that a healthy parent does not kidnap her child to a foreign country, cutting him off from the only life and people he has ever known.”
– Jeffery Morehouse

Find out what resources exist for victim & family emotional and financial support

“People think that once you and your child are reunited it’s all hugs and kisses and happily-ever-after. But that’s really when the hard part starts. It’s critical for parents to connect with a survivor-led advocacy group. Find out which therapists can ‘get’ where a child is coming from—or where they need to go as a family.”
– Nacole Svendgard

“Help parents understand what victim assistance funds may be available, and how to access them. … I know parents who just walked away from trying to find their child because of the heavy emotional and financial cost involved. It really takes a toll.”
– Dr. Noelle Hunter


Page showing various ways law enforcement can help share the new "Family Survival Guide"
>> Click here to learn how to best use and promote the Family Survival Guide.
Photo collage featuring the eight parents of current and former missing children who helped produce the new "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" (Fifth Edition)
>> Learn more about the Family Survival Guide parent-authors and their children here.
Book cover of Patty Wetterling's new memoir, "Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope." Image shows her son Jacob and also a lantern.
>> Read about Patty’s new memoir, Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope—and five lessons for law enforcement—by clicking here.
Cover of the Fall 2023 AMBER Advocate double issue showing the "Family Survival Guide" team and the words "We Speak the Language of Missing"
>> Cover Story: Click here to learn how the parent-authors and others worked to update the Guide—and made lasting bonds in the process.

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phasellus sed convallis iaculis neque ultricies convallis sed enim.

Cover of Patty Wetterling's new memoir, "Dear Jacob: A Mother's Journey of Hope'
Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope takes its name from the poignant letters Patty Wetterling wrote to her son, Jacob, during the years he was missing. The lantern on the cover reflects Patty’s request that on each October 22 (the day Jacob was abducted) her community, and the nation, leave its porch lights on for him—and all missing children. “Each light helps illuminate a world that Jacob believed in, where things are fair and just,” she says.

Type reads: An Open Book The new memoir of Patty Wetterling, Family Survival Guide parent-author, is an intimate and candid ‘must-read for anyone working on unsolved abduction cases.’

Info box with this information: "Dear Jacob: A Mother's Journey of Hope" by Patty Wetterling with Joy Baker, Minnesota Historical Society Press 336 pages, $29.95 • Web extra: Read Joy Baker's blog post, “This is really happening,” for her thoughts on working with Patty: bit.ly/JoyPost.By Denise Gee Peacock

Patty Wetterling may be retired from offering her unique parent’s perspective on missing child investigations for AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) and National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) classes—but in a way, she’s still teaching.

Her newly released memoir, Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope, is practically a 336-page course on her nearly 27-year quest to find her missing son, Jacob, with the help —and sometimes hindrance—of local, state, and federal law enforcement. (Read her bio here.)  Patty speaks frankly about what went right and what went wrong during the years. And for a few officers involved in the case, “it may be a harsh read,” she says. “But it was important that I provide an honest perspective. There are many lessons that law enforcement can learn from the book.”

Dear Jacob is Patty’s movingly personal take on the events leading up to and following Jacob’s abduction on October 22, 1989, in St. Joseph, Minnesota. That day, as night began to fall, her 11-year-old son Jacob, his 10-year-old brother, Trevor, and their friend, Aaron, 11, were riding their bikes back to the Wetterling home from a nearby convenience store when a masked gunman emerged from the roadside. Ordering them into a ditch, he asked each boy his age before telling Trevor and Aaron to get up and run toward the woods. “Don’t look back or I’ll shoot,” he told them. Ultimately, they did look back, and Jacob and the man were gone.

What unfolded was a search that would last nearly three decades—and become one of America’s highest-profile child abduction cases.

In the early days of the investigation, the Wetterling family saw “amazing community and investigative support,” Patty says, noting, “Compared to what many parents experience, we had the sun and moon and stars” in large part because an FBI agent happened to have a son in Jacob’s class. “It was personal for him.” The agent called the Minneapolis bureau, which sent an agent to help oversee the search effort for about six months. “Plus the Stearns County sheriff at that time helped us in every way—we had dogs, horses, the National Guard, you name it. But one by one, the resources, and ultimately our contacts, went away,” she says.

Meantime the Wetterling family endured extortion attempts, erroneous psychic visions, and “horrifyingly false leads,” Patty says— including one from a tipster who said Jacob had been abducted by a satanic cult and was sacrificed on Halloween.

As the case appeared to be going dormant, Patty did her best to keep Jacob top of mind for every investigator connected to it. She also dedicated herself to helping other searching parents. In 1991 she joined the board of directors for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), serving as chairperson for three of her 27 years with NCMEC, and co-founding its parent-to-parent support program, Team HOPE. She also helped create national policy change through her advocacy work.

As time passed, leads dwindled, communications ceased, and staffing turnovers occurred—along with missteps and missed opportunities.

Photograph showing 'Family Survival Guide' parent-author Patty Wetterling, right, with her memoir co-author, Joy Baker, in front of the Minnesota Historical Society
Patty Wetterling, right, and her co-author, Joy Baker, are photographed outside the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. “It was important to find the right publisher—one that could help tell the story in more of a historical context rather than a sensationalized way,” Patty says.

Despite her national efforts, back in Stearns County, Jacob’s languishing case was almost unbearable. Whenever Patty was working with NCMEC or meeting with lawmakers in D.C., “I felt relevant, impactful—that my work was truly making a difference,” she says. “Yet in my own hometown I felt powerless, insignificant, and somewhat brushed aside” while trying to get updates on her son’s case.

Then, in 2013, a Minnesota blogger introduced herself to Patty at a fundraising event. Joy Baker, a writer and marketing consultant, had written about Jacob’s case several years earlier for her blog, JoyTheCurious.com. Patty was unaware of Joy’s work, but learned that Joy had recently received new insight into the case from a man named Jared Scheierl. Nine months before Jacob’s abduction, Scheierl, then age 12, had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a man who, after releasing him, told him to run and not look back or he would be shot.

When Scheierl decided to share his story publicly, other victims came forward, and new leads were generated. Joy also befriended the man the sheriff had identified as a “person of interest” in Jacob’s abduction, and helped him share his side of what happened that night.

“It was important for him to clear his name and also find out who took Jacob,” Patty says. Though Joy’s approach seemed unconventional, Patty ultimately realized that she was “reaching all kinds of people with her blog that never have been reached using traditional media.” And “between Joy’s investigative skills and Jared’s desperate quest for answers, they were asking questions that had never been asked—and truly making a difference,” she recalls.

What most concerned Patty was the feeling that merely by talking with Joy and Jared “somehow I was betraying the very people I had trusted the most” in Jacob’s case—law enforcement.

“We just needed to figure out how we could all work together” without compromising the integrity of the case. Thankfully, “Joy was willing to share all her leads with investigators,” Patty says (though she was later dismayed to learn that many of those leads were apparently not followed up on).

Photo of Jacob Wetterling in the hands of his mother
Jacob Wetterling pictured shortly before his 1988 abduction and murder

Joy’s efforts helped “shake the tree,” sparking renewed public interest in Jacob’s case and related media coverage. Emboldened, Patty convinced state and federal law enforcement to take another look at Jacob’s case in 2014. Within a year, the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) team would use advanced DNA technology on old evidence to pinpoint Jared’s abductor, who they also believed to be Jacob’s killer.

The man had been arrested in 1990 but released due to a lack of solid evidence to charge him. He ultimately took a plea deal before informing law enforcement where they would find Jacob’s buried remains, which were discovered on September 3, 2016.

When the search for Jacob ended, Patty felt like her son had been taken away from her all over again. Throughout the years she had never lost hope that Jacob would one day return home, much like other missing youth that had been reunited with their families, including Steven Stayner, Elizabeth Smart, Shawn Hornbeck, Jaycee Dugard, and the three young women in Cleveland: Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus.

After a period of grief and self-reflection, Patty emerged with a renewed commitment to continue helping other children from falling victim to predators—and advising parents of missing children as well as law enforcement.

“There are missing children still out there, and it is up to us to find them,” Patty says. (As of the book’s publication, “NCMEC had found 56 children who were recovered after more than 20 years,” she notes.)

“One of the main reasons I wrote the book was to help other families going through trauma. They may not be experiencing their journey the way we did, but hopefully they can learn that they will get through it,” Patty says. “They’ll get through it by finding resources and supportive people—and never giving up.” And no matter the outcome, she says, “everything they experience will help them help the next person in need.”

Patty also wants the book to help inform law enforcement, “for whom I have tremendous respect,” she says. “I hope they’ll be energized by what they learn.”


Top 5 Takeaways for Law Enforcement
Acclaimed Minnesota crime reporter Carolyn Lowe calls Wetterling’s memoir ‘a must-read for anyone working unsolved abduction cases.’

  1. Don’t get stuck on a single suspect if the facts aren’t adding up. “Toward the end of Jacob’s case investigation, it was clear that our sheriff was onto to the wrong guy; he wouldn’t even look at other people, despite new information emerging,” Patty says. “But when Jacob’s remains were found, he was in tears. I could see how much he cared. He’d just been going in the wrong direction.”
  2. Avoid the “been there, done that” mindset. Just because evidence has been reviewed “a million times” doesn’t mean it won’t require another look. “After the FBI sent in their CARD team, they looked at the evidence differently. They re-analyzed the clothing Jared had been wearing during his assault, which was still held in evidence. And though it been tested several times, they used advanced DNA technology and got a hit on the guy who assaulted him—who turned out to be the same man who assaulted and killed Jacob.” So as technology advances, “don’t stop looking at what you have,” Patty says. “Don’t stop talking to earlier suspects.”
  3. Pay attention to the periphery. Regularly scan social media sites and discussion platforms for pertinent information or suspicious posters. Create Google searches for your crime victims and suspects. And follow the findings of reputable crime blogs. “Some true-crime bloggers are careless with the information they receive,” Patty says. “Joy, on the other hand, was trained as a reporter, and her writing, reputation, and tenacity reflect that” (which is why Patty tapped her to help write the memoir). She also sensed that “Joy was working harder to find Jacob than anybody else on the planet.”
  4. Training is everything. So is knowledge of specialized resources. “The training provided by Fox Valley Technical College and NCMEC is such a gift for law enforcement—as is the training offered by the FBI and state crime bureaus,” Patty says. She recommends attending conferences where survivors of missing child cases are slated to speak or missing child cases are given an in-depth review. For specialized assistance, NCMEC “should always be a first call,” she says, noting the experienced support available for law enforcement via Team Adam, and for families, caring mentoring from Team HOPE.
  5. Don’t let cases truly go cold. “Have a plan to revisit them every five years or so,” Patty says. “Schedule a roundtable meeting of all the best minds in law enforcement and ask, ‘What more can we do with the tools and information that are now available?’”

    Cover of the Fall 2023 AMBER Advocate double issue showing the "Family Survival Guide" team and the words "We Speak the Language of Missing"
    >> Cover Story: Find out how the parent-authors and others worked to update the Guide—and made lasting bonds in the process. 
    Photo shows President Bill Clinton meeting in the Oval Office with "Family Survival Guide" parent-author Patty Wetterling after passage of Megan's Law in 1996.
    >> Check out the parent-authors’ advocacy work highlights by clicking here. Above: Patty Wetterling meets with President Bill Clinton after helping pass Megan’s Law in 1996.

    Unidentifiable man seated at computer screen that reads: "What should law enforcement understand about family needs and expectations when responding to missing child reports?"
    >>Find out what the Guide‘s parent-authors want law enforcement to consider when working missing child cases by clicking here.

 

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Photo of Chitimacha Tribal Police Chief Jada Breaux, right, with a happy young D.A.R.E. essay contest winner.
Chitimacha Tribal Police Chief Jada Breaux, right, beams with pride after giving a young member of her community a certificate for a winning D.A.R.E. essay.

By Rebecca Sherman

As the new Captain of the Chitimacha Tribal Police Department in south Louisiana, Jada Breaux’s days are often packed with administrative duties and supervisory obligations.

The work she’s most passionate about, however, is looking out for all those she calls “my children” on the Chitimacha Reservation. It gets her out from behind her desk to work with youth as an instructor for the D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

This passion also keeps her training for any missing child case she may have to handle— and sometimes requires giving law enforcement colleagues in surrounding parishes a crash course in two words that tend to stop people in their tracks— “sovereignty” and “jurisdiction.”

“Many think Tribal sovereignty means working with outside law enforcement is not welcomed or encouraged. But even though we’re on sovereign land, we function just like everyone else—and know working with our regional and state colleagues is crucial,” Breaux says.

Confusion over the Tribe’s authority to issue AMBER Alerts or subpoena critical information can create life-threatening delays. Thankfully Breaux has a good working relationship with the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office, which can help her with such needs. But neither the Chitimacha, nor the state’s three other federally recognized Tribes, have Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) in place to seamlessly engage with state law enforcement when time is of the essence—particularly when searching for Tribal missing children. Breaux aims to change that. “Without collaboration, nothing can be accomplished,” she says. We spoke more with her shortly after seeing her at the 2023 AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) and AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) Symposium in Arizona.

Map of Louisiana showing the location of the Chitimacha Tribal Nation. This text accompanies it: "The Chitimacha, with about 1,600 members, is the only Tribal Nation in Louisiana that still resides on its original land. The reservation now encompasses 950 acres adjacent to Charenton, in St. Mary Parish, but its territory once spanned the entire Atchafalaya Basin of the Gulf Coast— from Lafayette to the west and eastward to New Orleans. Map: nationalatlas.gov" What challenges are unique to your job?
I started my law enforcement career at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office before making the move to the Chitimacha Tribal Police Department 17 years ago. It was an entirely new world for me. One of the most unique challenges is understanding jurisdiction. You have to learn where [oversight] falls— be it Tribal, state, or federal. Currently Louisiana’s Tribes do not have active MOUs allowing us to directly initiate AMBER Alerts or request search warrants. And while I respect the system, it can be frustrating. For instance, in investigating one juvenile case, I submitted a search warrant to a social media company, and they replied that they were not able to honor it because they don’t recognize the Chitimacha Tribal Court as a legal entity. Before having to go through all the extra steps needed to issue that warrant, we fortunately were able to locate the child; but the situation was eye-opening. It would have cost us a lot of extra time, which is not on our side when children are missing. I would like to see this change.

Photo of Chitimacha Tribal Police Chief Jada Breaux with this quote from her: “People don’t realize how difficult it is for Tribal law enforcement to have its legal documents upheld across the country. We need to see positive change occur to help us more effectively and efficiently do our work.”

What are some of the initiatives you’re working on to foster understanding?
One of the biggest challenges is the lack of awareness about Indian Country. I’m a firm believer in knowledge and education, so I’m working with AATTAP/AIIC Program Manager Tyesha Wood and Project Coordinator Valerie Bribiescas to bring training here this fall. We plan to invite all the Tribes in Louisiana and the law enforcement agencies with whom we work. We also want to host trainings on Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) investigations. We need to strengthen and sustain our public safety partnerships.

What motivates you to go into work? One of my motivations is the community I serve. While I’m not a member of the Tribe—my father’s mother was a member of the Choctaw Nation—everyone here has embraced me as one of their own. I have attended countless weddings and graduations, and watched a whole group of children become young adults and succeed as they chase their dreams. I’d like to think that I’ve had a small hand in that from being their D.A.R.E. instructor, or just the officer who hung out with them at school. I’ve had former students thank me years later for helping them make difficult choices by using tools from the D.A.R.E. program. There’s nothing more rewarding than being able provide resources to our children and watch them not only become productive members of our Tribe, but also of our society.


Ashlynne Mike’s legacy:
A law to help Tribal children—and law enforcement

Photo of Ashlynne Mike on a poster of loving messages to the girl, who was abducted and then murdered on the Navajo Nation in 2016.
A poignant tribute to Ashlynne Mike, whose tragic story broke hearts across the nation—and prompted Indian Country to embrace AMBER Alert training.

Chitimacha Tribal Police Captain Jada Breaux remembers the deep sense of loss she felt after hearing the news that Ashlynne Mike had been abducted and murdered on the Navajo Nation in 2016.

“But it was only after I heard Ashlynne’s mother, Pamela Foster, speak at the 17th annual National Indian Nations conference that I learned more about the heartbreaking story—and the jurisdictional confusion following Ashlynne’s abduction being reported.”

Like many Tribal leaders across the nation, Breaux realized that if communication weaknesses and jurisdictional misunderstandings could happen to the nation’s largest Tribe (spanning three states and 27,000 square miles) what did that portend for the 573 other federally recognized Tribes, which have much significantly fewer resources?

Born from this tragedy was the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018, created to foster greater collaboration between Tribes and their state and local law enforcement counterparts, and to strengthen resources. To accomplish this, the U.S. Department of Justice’s AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative helps Tribes learn what the law entails, and provides numerous no-cost resources, from training events to Technology Toolkits (“which we’ve already put to good use,” Breaux says).

“At the end of the day, everyone in law enforcement should have the same goal: to find a missing child as quickly as possible, using every available resource,” Breaux adds.

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Portrait of West Virginia State Police First Sergeant James KozikBy Rebecca Sherman

WEST VIRGINIA STATE POLICE First Sergeant James Kozik is known nationwide for his expertise in using technology to fight crimes against children. But getting to this high point in his career—serving as the state’s Crimes Against Children (CAC) Unit Director and Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Commander—has been a path as winding as the mountain roads in his state.

Internet child exploitation cases first began popping up in 2006, while Kozik was working narcotics and financial crimes for the WVSP’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations. “We were caught off guard here,” says Kozik, who, like most law enforcement 20 years ago, knew very little about the Internet. West Virginia’s lone pioneer in digital forensics at the time would give him the initial training he needed to investigate ICAC cases.

A year later, Kozik’s department received its first ICAC grant, and he became the unit’s alternate commander. “At the same time, the state was seeing cases involving hands-on offenses against children fall through the cracks, so we formed a separate unit of investigators,” focusing on real-world legwork and fact-finding, he recalls. In 2009, the new unit joined forces with the national ICAC Task Force. Then other programs were added, such as the state’s AMBER Alert Plan, Missing Child Clearinghouse, and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) collaboration.

As an investigator, training coordinator, and digital forensic analyst, Kozik helped build West Virginia’s first comprehensive CAC Unit, now an exemplary program modeled throughout the nation. He was named its Director in 2017. “We became an all-inclusive one stop: If it’s [a crime] against a kid, you come to us,” says Kozik, whose team includes 11 WVSP investigators. In this role, he wears many hats, including coordinating the state’s AMBER Alert and Blue Alert networks, and leading the state’s ICAC Task Force and Missing Child Clearinghouse.

Graphic with quote from West Virginia State Police First Sergeant James Kozik: "A lot of crimes, not just AMBER Alerts, can be solved with technological tools. I just wish more law enforcement were trained on how to use them."Though he no longer investigates cases himself, Kozik works closely with law enforcement agencies throughout West Virginia when a child goes missing. “I’m the one who gets called in the middle of the night to find out whether an AMBER Alert can be activated or not,” he says. He also triages cases from NCMEC, a heartbreaking job sometimes requiring him to watch unspeakable videos of child abuse. “I just want to reach through the screen and help those kids,” he says.

Under Kozik’s leadership, West Virginia now has one of the country’s top ICAC Task Force Units. In 2012, he developed the first ICAC Data System, a website allowing thousands of registered law enforcement users to quickly and efficiently access and transfer cases, information, and tips. As the database’s ongoing project manager, Kozik has trained ICAC commanders and other law enforcement around the country to use it, including the Los Angeles Police Department.

In addition to two decades of on-the-job experience and a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice, Kozik has hundreds of hours of training in digital forensics and child exploitation. A highly regarded expert, he is often called upon to testify in state and federal prosecutions.

Fast-changing and complex, technology remains an important weapon in Kozik’s crime-solving arsenal, especially when it comes to finding missing and endangered children.

“Technology is incredibly useful in locating kids. I can put out an AMBER Alert and Facebook will splash it on every user’s [page] in West Virginia. I can reach a lot more people that way,” Kozik says. Conversely, “Technology is also a curse.” Social media often puts vulnerable kids at risk of serious harm by “friends” they meet on TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and gaming voice and messaging platforms (Discord, Google Hangouts, and others).

These days, abductions by strangers are less common. On the rise are cases involving kids lured from home by adults they’ve met on the Internet—encounters that happen in secret, but often in plain sight of their parents. “We often really don’t know about it until the child doesn’t show up for dinner, or a parent finds something suspicious on their child’s cellphone,” he says.

While technology can be to blame for a child’s disappearance, it also can play a pivotal role in locating the child quickly—even before an AMBER Alert or Missing and Endangered Child Alert is issued. That involves local law enforcement pinging the child’s phone to find his or her location. This can be done with permission from a parent or guardian using a device-locating program or other app installed on the child’s phone. In some instances, a court order is needed. “A lot of crimes, not just AMBER Alerts, can be solved with technological tools,” he says. “I wish more law enforcement were trained on how to use them.”

To preserve the efficacy of AMBER Alerts—which for 27 years have been a powerful tool for alerting the public toan abducted child in peril—Kozik carefully evaluates each potential case to ensure it meets the state’s activation criteria. “If it doesn’t, I don’t put out an alert,” he says. “If you keep lighting up cell phones with unwarranted AMBER Alerts, people shut them off and they’re no longer effective.”

One complication Kozik routinely faces are requests from law enforcement agencies, even judges, who ask that AMBER Alerts be issued on behalf of Child Protective Services (CPS). This occurs when a legal or non-custodial parent being monitored by CPS has taken a child to an unknown location, but is not thought to pose a serious threat to the child’s safety. CPS often cites the parent’s past or current drug use, or impoverished status, as the reason for the child’s endangerment—but Kozik isn’t convinced. “A lot of people in West Virginia get caught up in drugs, and unfortunately don’t make the best decisions, but that doesn’t mean they will harm their kids,” he says. Thus, if law enforcement hasn’t issued an arrest warrant for kidnapping, and no imminent serious bodily danger is posed, Kozik will not activate an AMBER Alert.

Kozik urges law enforcement to use other investigative techniques besides AMBER Alerts or Endangered Missing Advisories to address the situation rapidly.

One way is by locating the parent’s car using license plate readers throughout the state. Another is tracking the missing parent and child via any cellphone(s) they may have. “Tracking their phones is easily done with an emergency court order, and does yield results, but police often don’t know they can do this,” Kozik says. He encourages all state law enforcement to just pick up the phone and call him if they are unclear on how to respond to a missing child incident, especially since a case remains fluid until it is solved. “A situation might not initially qualify as an AMBER Alert, but an hour later it might,” he says. “In the meantime, there are lots of other investigative techniques that can be tried.”

Technology is essential to combat crimes against children, but significant barriers often prevent it from being implemented. “A lot of older officers never think about the homing devices we all carry in our pockets or vehicles,” Kozik explains. “But as younger officers come on board who know technology, things will change.” Yet, even that hopeful thought faces a barrier. Younger recruits aren’t clamoring to become police officers, he notes. Bad publicity stemming from high profile police brutality cases in recent years could be to blame, he says. “We’re barely able to fill police cadet classes,” Kozik says. “Every agency in America is having a manpower shortage.”

There’s no easy answer to that dilemma, and even as Kozik is set to retire within two years, he wants to be as helpful as he can for as long as he can to make a difference.

“I’m passionate about my job. if I don’t do it, no one else will,” he says. “That’s what gets me going in the mornings.”

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Joan Collins is all smiles upon retiring after 28 years’ service with the Rhode Island State Police. She joined AATTAP shortly afterward. Photo: Facebook
Joan Collins is all smiles upon retiring after 28 years’ service with the Rhode Island State Police. She joined AATTAP shortly afterward. Photo: Facebook

By Jon Leiberman

Joan Collins is uniquely qualified to be the Region One Liaison for the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP). For the 11 states that call on her for guidance—spanning Maine to West Virginia—she provides AMBER Alert Coordinators, Missing Persons Clearinghouse Managers, and members of law enforcement with an experienced insider’s perspective that few can match.

“Joanie,” as many know her, joined the AATTAP a year and a half ago after retiring from the Rhode Island State Police (RISP) after 28 years’ service—25 spent as the RISP’s Law Enforcement Telecommunications Unit Communications Specialist Supervisor. During her RISP career she also helped audit and train all users of the Rhode Island Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (RILETS); was central to increasing the state’s various emergency alerts; managed the state’s sex offender/“Most Wanted” databases; and worked with the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force.

What inspired you to work with AATTAP?
All of my experience over the years strengthened my determination to work diligently on missing and exploited children cases. My passion and motivation for this work was energized from hearing and seeing the trauma, raw emotions, and tragedy experienced by families. Their heartache inspired me to work on cases involving missing and exploited children. When the opportunity arose to work in my current role, I knew it would allow me to continue being a part of this important work. I was humbled when asked to consider the position because I had met and worked with many of thebrilliant people involved in the program over the years. Each training I received from AATTAP, and others gave me the chance to review our agency’s procedures to make positive changes. Working with AATTAP would allow our collective experiences, strengths, and skills to enhance the training we provide.

Two photos showing Joan Collins early in her law enforcement career. Accompanying quote from her reads "During a missing child investigation, everyone has a crucial role to play to help solve the case."What has prepared you for the position?
A law enforcement career where I had to respond quickly—sometimes with little information to go on—and one in which I had to know what resources were available. Early in my career, a clerk took a call related to a family issue that was characterized as a civil matter. It was entered into our system as a “low priority” case, and only provided “child taken” in the comments field. When I asked for more information, I learned that was all we had. Luckily we had a telephone number, so I called the person who reported the situation. I then learned her child had been taken by her estranged husband or boyfriend, and that someone had possibly been hit by the man’s vehicle during the ordeal. I quickly requested assistance for someone to render aid to the person injured, and one of our units was able to stop the abductor’s vehicle just before it crossed state lines. The child was thankfully recovered, but I’ll never forget the stressors—nor the absolute joy when the case was resolved.

What does your AATTAP work involve?
I connect the northeastern states with AATTAP training and resources. And through communication and problem-solving, I help them review their AMBER Alert issuance criteria, update and strengthen their policies and procedures, and improve response times when issuing an AMBER or Endangered Missing Alert. I suggest training opportunities for law enforcement agencies and those focused on children and families and help states review training materials. I also update AMBER Alert coordinators, missing persons clearinghouse managers, and Child Abduction Response Team (CART) program leaders in Region One on upcoming events and changes on the horizon of AATTAP-NCJTC and AMBER Alert in general. My goal is ensuring everyone involved in the process of finding missing and endangered children can perform effectively.

How would you describe the importance of training?
Providing people with training not only teaches them skills to work effectively, but it also shows them they are valued. This improves their morale and workplace capabilities, which enhance efficiency.

What are your goals for 2023?
To encourage ongoing training initiatives while strengthening Region One’s networking. While with the RISP, I recognized our expansive network was mutually beneficial; we could learn from each other. We should reach out to one another, just to listen or share experiences.

What do you most look forward to accomplishing?
Informing our partners about essential training and resources, while also obtaining valuable input from those dedicated to ensuring the well-being of children. Keeping children safe represents my perfect day.

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Seated man next to standing woman. From left: Steve Benefield and Denise O’Leary. Photo: Texas Center for the Missing
Steve Benefield, left, and Denise O’Leary. Photo: Texas Center for the Missing

By Denise Gee Peacock

For 24 years Denise O’Leary’s main goal has been helping families in the Houston-Galveston area find their missing loved ones. Now, she says, another family duty calls: Helping her aging parents. “It’s time I gave them more of my focus.”

Before leaving her current post, however, O’Leary was intent on training “the new me” – Steve Benefield, the new Emergency Alert Coordinator (EAC) for the Houston nonprofit Texas Center for the Missing (TCM). The TCM provides crisis support to the families of missing persons, training for law enforcement, and preventative safety programs to children and their parents. The TCM EAC also doubles as the Region 9 AMBER Alert coordination point for the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS).

Benefield joins the TCM after recently retiring from the Houston Police Department (HPD) after a 39-year career there. His HPD tenure was primarily youth centered. He taught Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) to school kids, investigated missing persons reports, handled child abuse/internet crimes against children cases, and child custody interference situations – “all of which makes him well suited for this job,” O’Leary says.

“It’s a big job with big responsibilities,” Benefield adds, noting the TCM’s 93 percent success rate is one of the highest in the nation. And the region he serves is the second largest in the country – covering 14 counties with more than 5 million people and 300 law enforcement agencies.

Benefield is no stranger to the challenges posed by the vast region or its youngest, most vulnerable inhabitants. “This job will allow me to continue helping kids,” he says. “I’ve always been inclined to help people who can’t help themselves.”

So far, Benefield is off to a good start. Several days into his first week, everything O’Leary had been teaching him was put to the test when the HPD requested an AMBER Alert. The call came in during the weekend, when O’Leary and Benefield were out of the office. “I reached Steve by phone, and since we both had our work laptops with us, I talked him through the process. He did great.”

“Thankfully, I had a good co-pilot,” Benefield quips.

“And thankfully we had a good outcome on the case,” O’Leary notes, providing some background:

On August 21, 2022, the HPD was contacted by the parents of a 3-year-old girl who, after waking up at 5 a.m., found their daughter missing – and the front door ajar.

Police officer shown during mounted patrol duty.
Denise O’Leary on mounted patrol duty for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Photo: Facebook

The HPD responded to the scene and began canvassing the family’s apartment complex in North Houston. Fortunately, a neighbor reported seeing the girl being placed in a vehicle that he could provide a good description of, along with its driver.

An AMBER Alert was issued, and within hours, the HPD had tracked the suspected abductor to a motel less than two miles from the girl’s home. After confirming with a manager that the man in question had checked in earlier that day, officers were able to access the room, safely recover the child, and arrest a 50-year-old man for kidnapping her.

“Neither the girl nor her parents had ever met the man,” O’Leary says.

The positive outcome “is a textbook case of why the public’s involvement is vital, and why public education is so important,” she adds.

Community education is central to the TCM’s work. Currently they are partnering with Houston Public Media, which is helping them produce short public service announcements. “We’ve created an awesome pamphlet to help the public understand how AMBER Alerts work,” O’Leary said. “We don’t want people to get annoyed and turn off their phone’s alert notification function. We need them to be our eyes and ears.”

O’Leary and Benefield also discussed what has fueled them along their career paths.

“While working HPD cases involving juvenile abuse, I began to see just how many kids grow up in difficult conditions,” Benefield says. “To see a child intentionally burned by his or her caregiver, before going with the child to the hospital and staying by his side – and then going home to my own two children – was tough. I realized that if somebody from law enforcement wasn’t there to help them, who would?” O’Leary can relate. “As the mother of two teens, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help families find their missing children.”

The TCM is one of two nonprofit organizations in Texas that help families and law enforcement search for missing children. The other is the AMBER Alert Network-Brazos Valley led by Chuck Fleeger, who also serves as TxDPS Region 3 Coordinator.

“Denise has a unique skill set,” Fleeger says. “She joined the TCM after years of experience working missing persons investigations for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), particularly long- term missing cases.” O’Leary worked for the HCSO for 12 years before ultimately working as a reserve captain. “She has always made herself available to anyone who needs her. Her dedication is remarkable.”

O’Leary says she won’t be riding off into the sunset entirely. She will continue her HCSO missing persons work as time allows. “You can’t completely leave this line of work,” she surmises. “It becomes a part of you.”

‘One-Stop Support Shop’ for Families of the Missing

The Texas Center for the Missing (TCM) is nationally recognized for its Missing in Harris County Day, a free public event held each spring. (The next will be April 29, 2023.)

“Basically, it’s a one-stop support shop for families of the missing,” O’Leary said. “We have representatives from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), the medical examiner’s office,
all regional law enforcement agencies and representatives from other resources who are available to talk with anyone who has a missing family member or friend.

Families can file a report if they haven’t already, and NamUs can take samples of their DNA to include in its national database.“The medical examiner also has booklets of photos showing unidentified remains that people can review. They’re not easy to look at, but if you’re a parent searching for a loved one, they can be a big help.”

Concerned families are encouraged to bring their missing child’s skeletal X-rays, dental records, or other identifying records, and have two biological relatives attend to provide DNA samples.

“We’ve had a number of cases solved because of the event,” O’Leary said. “It makes a difference.”

For more details visit centerforthemissing.org/missing-in-harris-county-day/.

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Stacie Lick, the Gloucester County Prosecutor/Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Supervisor
Lieutenant Stacie Lick | CART Coordinator, Gloucester County, New Jersey, Prosecutor's Office

By Denise Gee Peacock

Lieutenant Stacie Lick, with the Gloucester County Prosecutors Office in New Jersey, has served as her county’s Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Coordinator since 2008. That year she helped create her state’s first CART – assembling its specialized resources and personnel while devising its policies and procedures that, 14 years later, have become a model for CARTs across the country.

In the spring of 2022, the Gloucester County CART met another milestone: It became the first CART in New Jersey to be certified by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Gloucester County CART has 120 resources that can be activated in response to a child abduction. The team also relies on a 100-page manual of protocols that Lick helped develop for missing child investigations (which the AATTAP has incorporated into its CART training materials).

Currently, Lick oversees the Gloucester County Special Victims and High-Tech Crimes Units, specializing in cases involving crimes against children and human trafficking. From 2017–2020, she helped acquire funding to build and equip the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of Gloucester County. The CAC serves as a safe place for children to share their stories of abuse to professionals trained in forensic interviewing, and houses a Special Victims Unit that Lick also helped create. After earning a B.A. in criminal justice from Temple University, Lick entered law enforcement in her home state in 2000, and now raises her family close to where she grew up.

The AATTAP recently connected with Lick for an interview about her time in law enforcement and child protection work, what she has learned along the way, and her vision and goals for the future.

What drew you to your field of work?

When I first started work at the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office in 2003, there wasn’t a big focus on missing and endangered children. No one specialized in it. So as a newer, younger detective, I thought I would do that, and work to help kids in our community. I wanted them to get them the attention they deserved.

What motivates you when it comes to missing and endangered children?

The work is extremely rewarding. Especially helping high-risk, endangered kids who have left home because they’re not happy with what’s happening there. I’m grateful to be able to listen to their stories. To be their voice when no one believes them. To get them the services they need to move forward.

What provided you the opportunity to create the Gloucester County CART?

In the fall of 2008, Sean Dalton, then the Gloucester County Prosecutor – the county’s chief law enforcement officer – called me in and said, “I’m tasking you with creating and managing a Child Abduction Response Team (CART). You can choose someone to work with you, and I want you to go to training.” So my partner, Bryn Wilden, and I attended a NCJTC pre-CART training, and were astounded to hear our State Attorney General, Anne Milgram, thank our very own prosecutor [Dalton] for his innovative CART work. She then announced that our state would be required to have a CART in all 21 of its counties. Knowing our county’s prosecutor had spearheaded the plan for the entire state really motivated us. We knew we had to represent the plan well. And thankfully we have the continued support of Acting Prosecutor Christine Hoffman.

What were the greatest challenges during the process?

Finding the right personnel for the team. We approached it by going to all the team chiefs in the municipality and asking, “If your child were missing, who would you want working the case?”

What traits do you look for in a CART member?

I look for people with a passion for the work and a dedication to their agency; people who make safely recovering a missing child the priority during an investigation. Such passion and dedication are an indication of how that person will respond during training and deployment.

What are your thoughts on CART training?

We train twice a year to stay updated on resources, policies, and procedures. We also review case studies to learn what went right and what didn’t. And we have mock activations to help build muscle memory. We don’t even have to think about what we’re doing; we just do it.

How do you sustain your CART?

I have a list I’m pretty proud of: It has about 120 resources from all 19 municipalities in our county — from K9 handlers to trash stops. I update it once a year. I also invite CART liaisons to suggest people they think should be involved and open our training to first responders interested in helping.

What goals do you have for your CART?

I’d like to improve our volunteer program. I created an application and waiver form for them, which is helpful, but I’d like to recruit more of them. We recently had about a dozen volunteers show up to help for our recent certification process. Even my daughter volunteered! I could tell she enjoyed the process.

Click here for a web exclusive on Stacie's work in

the Autumn Pasquale case.

What would you say to a law enforcement agency that is ‘on the fence’ about developing a CART program?

Having specialized resources and trained personnel is a tremendous asset to the victims and their families. Personally, I don’t understand how agencies can operate without them. A CART is everything but the AMBER Alert. You have a search and canvass team, legal expertise, victim and family advocates, a volunteer coordinator, someone handling the media, and more. This lets the community see you’re doing everything you can – and not wasting time trying to find resources. Also, administration liability is huge in missing child investigations. It’s not what you do, it’s what you don’t do. Having a CART protects you when you have established policies and procedures that you follow to a ‘T.’

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Stacie Lick, the Gloucester County Prosecutor/Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Supervisor
“So much happened during the case that we learned from,” said Stacie Lick, the Gloucester County Prosecutor/Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Supervisor who worked Autumn Pasquale case. Her biggest lesson? “Have a CART policy and procedure in place and follow it. Because we did just that, we were cleared of any wrongdoing.” (Credit: Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office)

During the 2022 National AATTAP-AIIC Virtual Symposium, Lieutenant Stacie Lick of the Gloucester County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office, discussed a case representing both the pinnacle of her work as the county’s CART Coordinator – and a painful test of her leadership abilities.

The case unfolded on October 20, 2012 – set to be one of most festive days in the small town of Clayton, New Jersey, 10 miles south of Philadelphia. While many in the town were cheering on Clayton High School’s afternoon homecoming game and evening dance, 12‐year‐old Autumn Pasquale was focused on outfitting the Odyssey BMX bike she had received for her 13th birthday, only nine days away.

While her family went to the game, Autumn said she would be working on her bike. But after her family returned home, Autumn was not there. Her 8 p.m. curfew passed, with no word from her. Autumn’s father, Anthony Pasquale, began calling friends to locate her, but some were at the dance, and others didn’t know her whereabouts. At 9:32 p.m. he called the Clayton Police Department to report her missing.

The responding officer visited the homecoming dance, confirming she was not there. The officer then interviewed some of Autumn’s friends. One told him that Autumn had planned to meet a guy named Justin, someone she had met online who offered to help her accessorize her bike. Friends also told police she was unhappy at home, perhaps even suicidal. Autumn and her father recently had moved into a house belonging to her father’s girlfriend and her family, with whom Autumn didn’t get along. Meanwhile, detectives pinged Autumn’s phone, which appeared to be in the vicinity of a local park. By 11:50 p.m., Autumn’s case was entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database as a missing person, with a ‘runaway’ code applied.

“There were no obvious indications that Autumn had been abducted or was in danger. Neither her bike nor other personal items were located or found abandoned, and there were no emergency calls or texts from her phone,” Lick said. “If there had been, that would have immediately changed the focus of the investigation.”

The next day, the Clayton Police Department realized they had not followed the state mandate to request a CART activation – required for any missing child under age 13.

Nevertheless, Lick and her partner Bryn Wilden began to put their CART planning work into action. “Bryn and I were tasked with creating its policies and procedures three years earlier, and were proud of what we accomplished,” Lick said. “But the CART had never been fully activated. We just kept telling ourselves we had a well thought-through plan in place, so it should work.”

The plan did work, but not without some detours and hurdles that at times struck Lick as “surreal.” Before those moments, however, 56 members of the 75-member team immediately showed up to assist. “And before long 150 officers were there. Once word went out in our county that there was a missing girl, people came from everywhere, and all wanted something to do,” she said. “That was great.”

A command post was set up, with a detective placed in charge of leads and sign-ins. The Clayton Police Department worked with the non-profit agency “A Child is Missing” to send reverse 911 calls. Lick’s team enlisted the help of parole officers who were able to search the homes of 63 sex offenders in the area (since under New Jersey’s “Megan’s Law,” offenders are on parole supervision for life, so no warrant is needed). Officers were investigating the mysterious “Justin” that Autumn was supposed to meet, and a volunteer K9 handler arrived with his bloodhound from Cape May, an hour and a half away.

Since Autumn was active on Facebook, detectives were able to access messages between her and a Justin Robinson and observed that the messages had become sexually explicit in the days leading up to Autumn’s disappearance. Had he abducted her? Or had she run away with him because she was unhappy at home?

“Autumn’s Facebook postings focused very much on her bike, while Justin’s took a more sexual tone, so she may have ignored any sixth-sense warning about meeting him. She was so proud of her bike and just wanted to modify it,” Lick said.

At the command post, a Clayton Police Detective who had been off the weekend before noticed Justin Robinson’s name on a big white Post-it note on the leads wall.

The detective mentioned that Justin’s brother, Dante, had once been arrested for sexual assault. That led the brothers to being brought to the station by their mother, and after separate interviews with them revealed suspicious answers, a search warrant was executed for the Robinson residence. There, detectives noticed a rolling recycling container had made heavy tracks as it was pulled from the boys’ home to an abandoned building next door.

Upon inspecting the bin, Autumn’s body was found; the county coroner would determine she died from blunt force trauma and strangulation. Inside the house, police discovered Autumn’s bike hidden beneath the basement stairs and her phone taped behind a toilet. In a concealed duffle bag, they found Autumn’s pants, soaked in urine, along with her shoes and a large knife.

“From the time she was reported missing to the time she was recovered, it was just over 48 hours,” Lick said. “We wish we could have found Autumn alive, but we were glad to have brought closure to the case.” Justin confessed to killing Autumn for her bike, and his brother Dante admitted assisting in the cover-up. On September 12, 2013, Justin accepted a plea deal for aggravated manslaughter and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Dante pleaded guilty to fourth degree obstruction of justice and sentenced to 11 months in jail.

One might expect the case to have moved through closure at this point. However, Autumn’s father sued the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office, the New Jersey State Police, and local law enforcement agencies, claiming investigators bungled the search and missed an opportunity to save his daughter. The case was later dismissed. “We couldn’t prevent the death of Autumn Pasquale because she was killed approximately six hours before she was ever reported missing,” Prosecutor Sean Dalton later stated.

“So much happened during that case that we learned from,” Lick said. “The one thing that saved us was our CART protocol. I tell everyone this: Have a CART policy and procedure in place and follow it. Because we did that, we were cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Case Lessons

  • Control your volunteers. “Have a plan regarding what they will do. Because we didn’t, we lost control of them,” Lick recalled, noting that their volunteer K9 handler enlisted his own group of volunteers and went rogue. “The handler started his own command post and was giving out assignments,” she said. They showed up at a house the handler believed Autumn was in, busted the door down to gain access, but didn’t find the girl. The local police had to respond and de-escalate the situation. That was a very unwelcome and unnecessary distraction,” Lick said, adding with a smile, “We now have our own search dog.”
  • Document everything. “One thing helpful is to have a sign-in sheet, where every officer must sign in with their name and contact information. We also had an assignment log that tracked every assignment – the date, time, and assignment given, whether it was completed, and a summary of what happened.” During the litigation following the case, “That log proved to be the best thing that we ever did.”
  • Have a leads management system. “We had a psychic call and say Autumn could be found a field of wheat. We received a tip from a woman who said she saw a girl matching Autumn’s description get into a car with her son. Another person found a cell phone 20 miles away,” Lick said. “We needed that leads management system to keep track of it all.”
  • Avoid one-size-fits-all emergency planning: “During the case, a member of our county Emergency Management team got up and took control of the Incident Command Center, treating the case as if he were managing a natural disaster,” Lick said. “I’ll never forget our State Police commander walking over to the white board and erasing the complicated strategy the man had just written out. The commander said, ‘Let me give you this advice: Only search if you’re truly looking for something – if you have a reason why people should be in an area.’ So that’s what we did.”
  • Learn from your mistakes. “I’m not ashamed of the things that went wrong,” Lick said, “but I am proud we took those mistakes and used them as a model for what we now have in place.”
  • Be aware that the media is everywhere. After finding Autumn’s body in the recycling bin, “out of respect for her and her family, we came up with a plan to have a trash removal truck take the body in the container to where we needed it go,” Lick said. “It was a way to avoid disrespectful coverage.”
  • Have a victim advocate on your team. “We had a friendly, caring officer assist the family, but realized later how beneficial it would have to have a victim advocate. We now have one respond with us during a CART activation. That makes a big difference.”

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Oklahoma AMBER Alert Coordinator & Oklahoma Highway Patrol Captain Ronnie Hampton
Oklahoma AMBER Alert Coordinator & Oklahoma Highway Patrol Captain Ronnie Hampton

By Paul Murphy

Captain Ronnie Hampton began serving as Oklahoma’s AMBER Alert Coordinator in March 2020. Hampton also serves as the Commander of the Property and Evidence Division at the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP). He comes from a family of law enforcement; his grandfather and father were both police officers and elected sheriffs. Hampton’s own career in law enforcement began in 1988, working as a confinement officer, as well as an officer for both tribal and municipal police departments. He has worked the past 25 years with the OHP.

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM AND WHAT HELPS MAKE IT SUCCESSFUL?

An all-hands-on-deck approach is the key to our success. Our media relations team is heavily involved from the moment we issue an AMBER Alert. We also implement a Signal One Plan, which involves having all state troopers in the 77 counties of Oklahoma stop their routine patrols and position themselves at strategic locations statewide to watch for the suspect’s vehicle. We also ask our troop commanders to work with their sheriffs and police chiefs to cover other locations where the suspect might be stopped and captured.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?

I’m motivated by the thought of the trauma a parent goes through when their child is missing. It is critical for parents to know every possible avenue is being covered to return their child to them safe and alive.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING A STRONG AND EFFECTIVE AMBER ALERT PROGRAM?

One of the most pressing challenges is the mass exodus of professionals in law enforcement who are retiring or leaving the profession. Adding to that challenge is the importance of constantly ensuring the newly promoted officers who take their positions are trained to respond effectively to missing and abducted child cases.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE?

I would like to increase criminal intelligence positions; we can always have more than one crime analyst working intel and vetting leads from the outset of the case. For example, one component of intelligence analysis is critical in these cases: Today’s technology requires experts to begin cellphone tracking within minutes.

WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SUCCESS STORIES IN WORKING A MISSING CHILD CASE? HOW DID THE AMBER ALERT SUPPORT THE OUTCOME? WHAT WERE IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED?

About a year ago, a suicidal and homicidal non-custodial mother was released from jail. She immediately traveled to her father’s house and shot him in the head as he answered his front door. Her two children were next to her father and she took them to an unknown destination.

Our intel said she would murder her children and then commit suicide, so time was critical. We used the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to issue a statewide AMBER Alert. The mother made a stop and a person who received the WEA saw her and called police.

The suspect then fled in the vehicle with her children. We issued another, more targeted WEA alert with the most recent information. Within 10 minutes, a local officer in the next county spotted the vehicle and started a 10-mile chase, eventually recovering both children safely.

In those situations I find the WEA sometimes reaches the on-duty officers more quickly than the dispatch center can disseminate a general broadcast over the radio.

We were told the children would likely not be recovered alive. The emotions I felt when I called the sheriff to let him know the children were safe was one of the best feelings in the world.

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?

Being in law enforcement the past 34 years, I thought I knew nearly everything there was to know. But the classes I’ve taken through NCJTC and NCMEC have opened my eyes. I also am learning from other states about programs they are doing for endangered and missing children. This knowledge has strengthened my commitment to ensure Oklahoma learns from all these robust, outstanding programs, and implements them for our citizens.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS?

Educate, educate, and educate. Start training the 911 operators, line-level officers, search and rescue teams, law enforcement administrators, and detectives on how quickly information needs to flow from the first moment a child is reported missing.

We should take every opportunity as AMBER Alert Coordinators to talk to law enforcement groups and conferences. It is important for everyone to know how the state’s AMBER Alert program works.

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Melissa Marchant, Wisconsin AMBER Alert Coordinator and Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager

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.

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Jon Roddenberry, Florida Clearninghouse Supervisor
Jon Roddenberry, Florida Clearninghouse Supervisor

Jon Roddenberry has worked for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for 23 years. He has been the supervisor for the Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC) since December of 2019.

Before that Roddenberry worked with the Sex Offender Registry to help locate absconded sex offenders and predators. The FDLE honored Roddenberry and his team in 2017 for Innovation of the Year for locating high-risk sex offenders in Florida.

The Registry and Clearinghouse work closely together and Roddenberry is grateful for the opportunity to use his experience and skills in helping locate missing persons.

What is unique to your AMBER Alert/missing persons program, and what do you think makes it successful?
In 2000, Florida became the second state in the nation to establish a statewide AMBER Alert program and in the years since we have always tried to utilize the latest technologies and systems to assist in alerting the public as well as searching and locating missing persons. Additionally, MEPIC has a squad of crime intelligence analysts that has been trained to not only issue alerts but to utilize the latest analytical and investigative systems in order to assist in the location of missing persons.

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?
I have three daughters and always try to approach my job from the perspective of a parent who has a missing child or loved one.

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?
In March 2021, a young male diagnosed as non-verbal autistic wandered off from his home in Jacksonville, Florida. FDLE was contacted by local law enforcement in the area regarding the case and an Enhanced Missing Child Alert was issued by MEPIC. An Enhanced Missing Child Alert is similar to an AMBER Alert but on a smaller scale. It allows MEPIC to issue a targeted Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) to a defined area such as a neighborhood or area within a 5-mile radius of where the child went missing. As a result of the targeted WEA, a citizen who received the alert on their phone saw the child in the area and the child was recovered safely.

What makes these types of cases unique is that autistic children are more likely to wander from their homes. They are often drawn to water and more likely to drown than the general population. During the request for the alert, local law enforcement reported many nearby bodies of water in the immediate area of where the child went missing. So more than likely, the issuance of the alert and subsequent targeted WEA may have saved the child’s life.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?
I would like to see the continued use of the latest technologies to assist in notifying the public on AMBER Alerts. I would also like to see more resources on the state and federal level to assist states with funding to help build their Clearinghouses and missing persons programs in their states.

How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?
Training is huge. In MEPIC we do mock AMBER Alert calls on a regular basis with our analysts, alert coordinator and supervisors. This training helps ensure that when MEPIC receives a request for an AMBER Alert that everyone is prepared to disseminate the alert if needed in a timely, accurate and efficient manner. FDLE as an agency also provides strong analytical and professional development training to analysts that assist them in effectively doing their jobs.

What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?
Continue to seek out new technologies to assist with the issuance of alerts. Communicate with other states to inquire what types of alerts they issue and the technology they use to issue the alerts. Provide continual analytical training to your Clearinghouse staff and provide the resources needed for them to effectively do their jobs and assist with locating missing persons.

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Deborah Flory, Maryland State Police

Deborah Flory has been with the Maryland State Police since 1996. She is assigned to the Criminal Enforcement Division’s (CED) Child Recovery Unit (CRU) as the AMBER Alert and Silver Alert Coordinator. Her assignment in CED began in 2003, and included the AMBER Alert program. The Child Recovery Unit (CRU) utilizes specialized computer skills and cell phone knowledge to track and locate critical missing and abducted children in Maryland. Flory is also a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Crimes Against Children Task Force, Special Deputy - U.S. Marshal, with full federal authority focusing on trafficking of juveniles.

What is unique to your AMBER Alert/missing persons program, and what do you think makes it successful?
Our program is unique in the fact our unit has full authority to issue an AMBER Alert or Silver Alert. Most programs have a long chain of command or need an outside commission to issue. Our command staff has full trust in our process, which cuts out a lot of wasted time and delays when issuing the alert.

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?
The family of the missing. Knowing this is the most critical time and can be the difference between life and death. That’s what motivates me.

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?
The AMBER Alert program has made all our alerts memorable. The alert has worked to make a speedy return or resolution. No matter how much time is lost from the time the missing child is reported until the time a police department makes the AMBER Alert request, in most cases the suspect gets the alert and releases or returns the child.

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?
When I was assigned to CRU and the AMBER Alert program, I knew I wanted to finish my career here. Nothing is more rewarding than helping missing and endangered children.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?
I would love to see a National AMBER Alert; the time needed to alert other states is too slow.

How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?
I would like to think I have attended every missing persons training there is, and every time I learn something new. The technology training alone has helped in locating missing, technologically savvy kids.

What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?
Streamline your process. Time is of the essence.

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Carla Proudfoot
Carla Proudfoot, Maryland Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager

Carla Proudfoot has been with the Maryland Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons since October 1985. She is the state’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager and assisted in the creation and implementation of the Maryland AMBER Alert Program in August 2002.

What is unique to your AMBER Alert/missing persons program, and what do you think makes it successful?

Our AMBER Alert plan is only activated by the Maryland State Police on behalf of other police agencies in the state. We strive to get the alert out as quickly as possible; we have timed the process, and have seen dissemination within eight minutes. I think having one entity issuing, vetting the information, and making the decision makes it happen very quickly. Only the AMBER Alert coordinators make the decision, based on each case meeting the criteria.

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?

I ran away when I was 12. I vividly remember what it was like. In my opinion, it seems as though the “runaway” is not a concern for the general public, unless it’s their child. These children need help, and they don’t get any.

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?

Unfortunately, the one I remember most was the first one, but it did not end well. The child was deceased before the parent ever reported the child missing. Most of our success stories are because of issuing the AMBER Alert. The abductor sees the alert and leaves the child somewhere, or contacts the police or reporting person.

How have your career and life experiences, including your work as a Clearinghouse Manager strengthened your commitment to helping endangered, missing, and abducted children?

I am very passionate in getting help for the kids falling through the cracks. Sometimes too passionate. In 36 years, I’ve seen some change, but not nearly enough. I have been saying for too many years that the kids need help now, the current system in place is not helping. No one wants to provide money to help, but if they don’t receive some help, we will be paying for them in the future when they are part of our homeless population or dealing with HIV, drug or alcohol addiction, etc.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?

I would like the AMBER Alert and the Silver Alert to be the only alerts. The more alerts there are, the less likely people will pay them any attention.

How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?

I believe it has helped that the AMBER Alert plans are similar and share much the same criteria. Meeting and working with other state coordinators has assisted us in cases where the child has been taken to another state. We know them, they know us, and as a result we meet with very little opposition in gaining assistance.

What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?

Stick to the criteria, and keep politics out of it as much as possible. Remember the reason for the alert is to save a child’s life.

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May 25, 2021: As we come together today as a Nation to commemorate the 38th National Missing Children’s Day, we do so virtually, which we have become accustomed to over the last year. While the world has adapted to social distancing, working from home and communicating virtually, our front-line workers have continued to work diligently in responding to missing children cases and working tirelessly to bring them home.

We remember today all missing children; those who have been recovered and reunited with their families, and those who have not come home. We honor them and their families as their fight continues, and we support and advocate for them daily as we stand side by side with them to protect, recover and reunite all children. We also honor all those who have done so much to protect children, recover the lost and prosecute the predators across the nation.

It is an honor to be working with you as the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program Administrator on this day. Each child recovered as a result of an AMBER Alert, good police work, and involvement and help from the public is a success. We work continuously to improve our program in providing training, technical assistance and resources through the U.S. Department of Justice to help law enforcement and other child protection workers to prevent abductions and quickly recover missing children. Through these efforts, we endeavor to work closely with our state, local and tribal partners to develop strategies to quickly locate missing and abducted children.

Our AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) staff and regional liaisons are working with every state AMBER Alert and missing children program throughout 2021 to hold virtual meetings to discuss program strengths and successes, areas for growth and improvement, training needs and more; all with a focus on how AATTAP can support operational readiness for effective response to cases of endangered, missing and abducted children. These facilitated meetings will include key representatives from each state and will focus on the best practices across first response, case investigation, support and advocacy for the family and survivors, and ongoing case management. Across this ’50 States’ initiative and beyond, AATTAP will focus on supporting ongoing and productive communication and collaboration to support those working in the field everyday to protect our children.

In closing, I invite you to join us in recognizing the 2021 National Missing Children’s Day awardees. Today and every day, let us remember that the work done on behalf of endangered missing and abducted children never ceases.

Image of US Department of Justice web page recognizing the 2021 National Missing Children's Day Awardees

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Corporal Shawn Kofluk
Corporal Shawn Kofluk

 

Corporal Shawn Kofluk is the Pennsylvania Missing Person Clearinghouse Manager and AMBER Alert Coordinator. He is the supervisor of the Criminal Investigation Assessment Unit (CIA) at the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) and supervises seven AMBER Alert designees.

Kofluk has done undercover work and has been with the PSP for more than 25 years. He’s been involved in numerous homicide and large-scale criminal investigations—including cases involving the Nalani Johnson abduction and murder, child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky, serial murderers, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and a prison guard who was convicted as a serial rapist.

Kofluk has received numerous awards and commendations, including Trooper of the Year. He was recently interviewed for an episode of the TV show “Bloodline Detectives.”

He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked in the mental health field for several years prior to going into law enforcement. He is married with four children.

What is unique to your AMBER Alert and missing persons programs, and what do you think makes them successful?

Currently we have eight AMBER designees who can issue both AMBER Alerts and Missing Endangered Person Alerts (MEPA). We implemented a policy requiring monthly trainings and mock alerts to keep everyone prepared.

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?

Probably the thought of my own children being abducted or missing. Having seen these types of investigations and knowing what abductors are capable of gives me with perspective. This is a parent’s worst nightmare and I never want to see any family go through something like this.

Tell us 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?

The very first AMBER Alert I issued involved multiple children. I was experiencing technical issues with our software and kept running out of time for the recording because we had so much descriptive information for the children and abductor. As soon as I got the recording right, some background noise ruined it.

Regardless, I stayed calm and I was able to work through all the problems. We issued the AMBER Alert and recovered the children safely. I learned that as long as I stay calm and rely on all resources, we can work through any issues that may arise.

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?

I have a unique perspective because I’m a parent and I have investigated many horrible crimes over the years. Once you become involved with the AMBER Alert program, it sort of takes on a life of its own, and you find yourself becoming very protective over your state’s program. It helps me understand the importance of protecting the integrity of our program.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?

I would like to see our AMBER Alert program continue to grow and find new ways to get AMBER and MEPA alerts out quicker. I would also like to see our CIA Unit continue to provide training to state and municipal law enforcement entities to prepare them to respond to an abducted child emergency.

We are working on a new initiative involving an annual web-based training that will be mandatory. This training would provide our people with knowledge on how to activate an AMBER Alert, the activation criteria, and the importance of speed when issuing and responding to these types of emergencies.

How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?

Training is crucial. In my opinion, you can never have enough. Whether you are training first responders on how to handle a child abduction emergency or training AMBER Alert designees on how to actually put out an alert, it all has one goal in mind, the quick response and activation of the alert to save the life of a child.

Our unit teaches as much as we can, and we are always looking to find new audiences and formats to push out training. We are constantly educating and updating police officers, prosecutors, judges, lawmakers, members of the media, and the public about our AMBER Alert program.

What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?

Implement policies requiring training within your department on how to respond to child abduction emergencies, time factors involved, and issuance procedures for an AMBER Alert. Our policy requires officers to take the training, so they better understand the program.

Institute a training protocol for AMBER Alert designees that includes holding drills and other exercises to prepare for issuing an alert. The policy is needed so folks don’t become lazy.

Push for checklists within your department, specifically for first responding officers. The checklists ensure officers have all the appropriate information needed for issuing an AMBER Alert which helps to prevent any delays.

Always be on the lookout for new technology to achieve quicker AMBER Alert issuance. And support your designees to the fullest; this can be an extremely stressful job.

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Brian Front Montana
Montana Missing Person Specialist Brian Frost

Brian Frost is the Missing Person Specialist for the Montana Department of Justice. He spent the first seven years of his career as a dispatcher and spent time speaking with family members of missing loved ones and witnessing firsthand the start of AMBER Alerts. He then began working for the state’s Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN), which also doubles as the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse. For three years he served as a training officer for CJIN, providing online and instructor-led training in all aspects of CJIN/NCIC/Nlets and missing persons. In April of 2020, he was designated as the agency’s Missing Person Specialist, and now acts as a liaison between families and law enforcement for missing persons. He also provides training, resources, and outreach on missing persons to both the public and law enforcement. 

What is unique to your AMBER Alert/missing persons program, and what do you think makes it successful? 

Our AMBER Alert partners and the citizens of Montana; we have terrific AMBER Alert partners that take the goal of AMBER Alerts very seriously. Whether it is law enforcement, the National Weather Service, Montana Department of Transportation, Montana Lottery, NCMEC, or the Montana Public Broadcasters Association – all are dedicated professionals with an interest and determination in finding missing and abducted children. Additionally, our citizens are the best. Montanans have a reputation of being friendly and helpful, and I think that extends to helping civically. We constantly hear from the public when AMBER Alerts are issued and people genuinely care. We all want a positive outcome.

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?

I believe it’s a combination of things – when you talk to family members of missing loved ones, you can’t 100% relate to how they feel because you’re not in their shoes, but you can do the best job that you’re capable of in hopes of reuniting them. The relief in their voices when there is a positive outcome – makes it worth it.

Also, my wife is eight months pregnant with our first child. 2020 has been a strange year and it feels like a bit of a rollercoaster, but it is comforting knowing that should anything happen to our son, a group of AMBER Alert partners and supporters in Montana is standing by. 

Tell us 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?

The Montana DOJ recently issued an AMBER Alert on behalf of the Great Falls Police Department. A non-custodial mother took her two children out of school and fled with another male suspect. We were aware of several reasons to believe the children were in immediate danger. Within just a few minutes after the alert was issued, tips began pouring in. The suspects, along with the children and vehicle, were spotted by witnesses at a gas station approximately 15 miles away from the abduction. The suspects fled the gas station and a sheriff’s deputy pulled them over on a traffic stop shortly afterwards. Both children were recovered without incident. I believe it is a testament to how speed, accuracy and working together can lead to a positive result – in only a few short minutes.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?

I would like to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible. I recently attended a webinar that discussed some of the new (and existing) alerting technologies. Some of the technology included hardware features like sirens and public broadcasting speakers – but others demonstrated Wi-Fi hot spot kiosks that display advertising and could also display public alerts. Montana is mostly rural, but I would like to see us keep updating and adapting our program to keep it as effective as possible. 

How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?  

Training helps me see how everyone comes together, what roles that individual agencies and partners play and how information is processed. AMBER Alerts are low frequency but high-stress and high public-exposure events. I am a firm believer in the IPAWS test lab, practicing checklists and knowing your resources – who to reach and constantly evaluating protocols. Training keeps everyone sharp. 

What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?

Provide training and outreach when you can. I think some of the best feedback I ever received was to keep training and keep reinforcing what you teach. We provide AMBER Alert training to new police officers as they attend Montana Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA), but with all the different subjects the new peace officers learn – it is information overload. You can teach the AMBER Alert criteria, but it may not stick when they are balancing felony traffic stops, interviewing techniques and evidence collecting. The best we can do is to continue to reinforce and provide guidance on missing persons and alerts throughout their law enforcement career – not just at the beginning. 

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Shelly Smitherman is the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Criminal Intelligence Unit/ Fusion Center

Shelly Smitherman is the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Criminal Intelligence Unit/ Fusion Center. She oversees the AMBER Alert/Endangered Child Program, Human Trafficking analysts, and the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry. Smitherman has been with the TBI for 18 years and has worked in the Middle Tennessee Drug Division, Training Division, and Criminal Intelligence Unit. Shelly received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Belmont University. She is also a graduate from the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy and LEAD Tennessee. ASAC Smitherman began her career with the State of Tennessee in 1996 as a case manager with the Department of Children’s Services (DCS). While employed at DCS, she conducted severe child physical and sexual abuse investigations. In 1999, she was hired by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission as a Special Agent. Shelly lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the proud mother of 2 children (ages 18 and 14) and 4 dogs.

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE IT SUCCESSFUL?

We have an amazing team at TBI that supports our AMBER Alert program in Tennessee. We have 16 intelligence analysts who are on-call and assist with AMBER Alerts. Team members train together regularly to ensure we are always ready to respond quickly when an AMBER Alert is issued.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?

I am humbled to oversee the Tennessee AMBER Alert/Missing Children Program. There is no greater reward than being part of locating a child who is in harm’s way; this has been the most rewarding job in all my 23 years of state service. Every recovered child is a reminder of the critical importance the AMBER Alert.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM?

Although we have little turnover in our unit, it is difficult to keep local law enforcement trained on the protocol for issuing an alert, due to changing personnel. We provide onsite training across the state throughout the year to ensure law enforcement officers are aware of the requirements for AMBER Alert issuance. The training includes guidelines for preparing local agencies before a child abduction occurs in their communities.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE PROGRAM?

I am always communicating with my AMBER Alert partners from other states and searching for the best technology we can utilize to notify the public rapidly and provide as much detail as possible in order to resolve missing children cases quickly. We have recently updated our WEA message through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that directs the public to the TBI Twitter page. This allows us to quickly provide details to every cell phone in the state.

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?

We had a recent AMBER Alert that involved a 12-year-old victim who was safely recovered by law enforcement. This case reminded everyone of the importance of agencies working together for one goal - the safe return of the child. The recovery of the victim was a result of successful collaboration between several local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. The child was recovered at a building in Nashville that had a billboard directly outside displaying the AMBER Alert poster from NCMEC.

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?

In my 23 years of working for the state of Tennessee, I have had the opportunity to work a variety of investigations that have prepared me for this role as the AMBER Alert Coordinator.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS?

I urge other AMBER Alert Coordinators to build relationships with their counterparts from other states. I have also developed great relationships with the people at the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College, as well as with NCMEC; they have been great partners in coordinating various training events in Tennessee for local, state, and federal agencies.

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2020 National Missing Children's Day image from the US DOJ websiteIt goes without saying that Missing Children’s Day 2020 is like no other.  The current situation with COVID-19 may impact our ability to gather and recognize those who have done so much to protect children, recover the lost and prosecute the predators, but it has not lessened the importance of the day or the work being done by child protection officials across this country.

While many may be limiting their movement or isolating at home, those on the front lines protecting children have not been able to slow down at all. In fact, if anything the threats have increased.

According to our partners at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), they took in 4.1-million reports of child cyber abuse in April, a fourfold increase over April 2019.  In March, the center received more than 2-million reports, more than double what it received in March 2019.

Let this be a reminder of the importance of the work that each of you do to protect children and the need to constantly improve the way we respond, investigate and recover the missing and exploited child.  We must always be looking for ways to do more, to do better and to bring children safely home to their families.  We must make use of the training, resources and tools provided to us by the Department of Justice and our State, local and tribal partners, and share our knowledge and lessons learned.

In the coming weeks our AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) Regional Liaisons will be convening a series of Regional online meetings between AMBER Program Map of AATTAP RegionsCoordinators, Clearinghouse Managers and CART Coordinators to keep open the lines of communications and collaboration and to make sure that we are supporting those in the field who are working everyday to protect our children.

For more information on the AATTAP regional online meeting being planned for your state/area, please email your regional liaison. You can a link to email your AATTAP Regional Liaison at the bottom of this site’s About AMBER Alert Page.   

Please join us in recognizing the 2020 awardees, and remember that the work done on behalf of endangered missing, abducted and exploited children never ceases.

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During this 2020 National Police Week, we wish to thank each of you for your service and sacrifice on behalf of the tribal communities across the United States. During these unprecedented times you have stayed strong, placing yourselves on the front lines, facing the dangers of the corona virus while protecting our children and our communities.  Each of you have left family members at home as you head out, facing the unknown, but willing to sacrifice everything in the line of duty.

As a community of many tribal nations, we know all too well the cost of sacrifice and the dangers of this profession.  Let us not forget our fallen brothers and sisters. Take the time to visit the Fallen Officer Memorial Page  https://www.odmp.org/search/browse/tribal-police and learn about some of the heroes lost in 2019.  The names include Sergeant Steven Gaspare Greco of the Miccosukee Tribal Police Department, Conservation Officer Shannon Lee “Opie” Barron or the Red Lake Conservation Department, Officer Clayton Joel Townsend of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Lieutenant Joseph P. Johnson of the Seminole, FL Police Department and Officer David Kellywood of the White River Police Department who died February 17, 2020, while responding to a call of shots fired.  David, like those listed here laid down his life, going towards danger to protect others.

Law Enforcement is both a profession and a calling.  It is not for everyone, and at times it can be dangerous, frustrating, and unforgiving.  We are held to a higher standard and are often unable to say what we think or feel. We see and do things so that others will not have too. Many of us will carry scars, both physical and emotional for the rest of our lives.  However, we do so with pride. We realize that our duty is to protect and serve the community, to keep the peace, protect the rights of others; to serve as mediator, counselor, warrior, peacemaker, and servant.  It is a noble calling.

This year, 307 names are being engraved on the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, bringing the total to 22,217 officers killed in the line of duty memorialized there. If you have not had the opportunity to watch this year’s Law Enforcement Memorial program, I encourage you to do so.

Please remember that each of you are incredibly important, you are the protectors and are in our thoughts and prayers. Continue to serve with pride and professionalism.

 

With Great Respect,

Jim Walters | Program Administrator

AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program | National Criminal Justice Training Center

AMBER Advocate Website: https://www.amberadvocate.org

AMBER Alert in Indian Country Website: https://www.amber-ic.org

Contact AMBER Alert:

(877) 712-6237 | askamber@fvtc.edu

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Bonnie Feller Hagan

Bonnie Feller Hagan has been the South Dakota AMBER Alert Coordinator since 2016, and involved with the state’s child abduction alert program since it began in March 2003. She began her law enforcement career in 1985 as a patrol officer in Rapid City, South Dakota. A few years later, Feller Hagan became a school liaison officer, teaching programs and working with students. In 1990, she moved to Pierre, South Dakota, to join the Attorney General’s Office as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst with the Missing Person’s Clearinghouse. Feller Hagan helped South Dakota form a multi-jurisdictional Child Abduction Response Team (CART) in 2006 and an Endangered Missing Advisory program in 2008.

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT/MISSING PERSONS PROGRAM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES IT SUCCESSFUL? Most of the functions of the South Dakota AMBER Alert and Endangered Missing Advisory programs are performed by agencies within our state government as opposed to a third-party vendor.

Our AMBER Alert system was originally set up at the direction of the Governor’s Office and we continue to function through these state agency partnerships today. Our system allows us to adapt to changing technology and other needs while keeping the costs of the program low by utilizing existing state equipment and infrastructures, and the talents of state employees. Additionally, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, wireless associations, and broadcast/media partners send alerts to the public without charge.

We are a small, rural state and are fortunate not to issue many alerts. We do perform quarterly tests of our system and meet frequently to ensure our AMBER Alert system is functioning properly and available when we need it. When AMBER Alerts are issued, we hold a debrief to see if any areas can be improved.

HOW HAS THE TECHNOLOGY CHANGED FOR YOUR STATE’S AMBER ALERT SYSTEM? We do most things in-house. A couple of years ago we considered utilizing a third-party vendor, but decided against it. While we will continue to consider external help/ resources, we have a good system and currently do not have to do fundraising or seek additional appropriations.

I am concerned about reaching people the way they are using technology now. We need to address the prevalence and use of streaming data/content; my kids and their peers now get most things this way. And yet, we have many rural areas and nine Indian reservations in our state where people often rely heavily on satellite radio. We will activate alerts for the reservations, but we have many people living there who may not have cable or internet services to receive those alerts. The Endangered Missing Advisories do not reach their phones. As we expand technology on one hand, we must continue to think about how we bridge the gap for people who don’t have phones, internet services, or access to radio or TV.

HOW DO YOU TEST YOUR AMBER ALERT SYSTEM? We do a quarterly test of all systems and equipment with all of our partners, including emails to every state employee.

We may only issue an AMBER Alert every 2 or 3 years. We follow each quarterly test with a meeting, testing on a Wednesday and meeting the following Tuesday.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN? Once you meet with a family of a missing child, I think you naturally develop a passion for wanting to be part of the case’s resolution and the safe recovery of the child. The families have a lasting impact on me when they share their stories at conferences, meetings, or even through a phone call. If I can help recover a child or assist a family to find resolution to what happened to their missing loved one, it really is one of the most rewarding aspects of my law enforcement career; and for me as a person and mother.

I have a 27-year-old son who is an attorney and a 30-year-old son who is part of a team that travels around the state providing dental care to children who can’t afford it. Growing up they had a very protective mother, as I heard so many other parents share their stories.

PLEASE SHARE 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? The most memorable AMBER Alert success story we worked was a 2011 request from Iowa for a 2-year-old boy who was abducted by his father in the middle of the night after he allegedly killed the child’s mother. Local, state and federal law enforcement began monitoring roadways in the area where the suspect was believed to be.

Officers saw the father’s vehicle and began pursuing him when he refused to stop. The suspect ran a sheriff’s car off the road, causing it to roll, injuring the sheriff. The abducting father stopped long enough to remove his son from his vehicle and place him on the side of the road, and then drove off.

The child was safely recovered and other officers continued to chase the suspect. He continued down the road until he intentionally drove head-on into another sheriff’s vehicle. The crash injured that sheriff, and caused the abducting father’s car to roll and become disabled. The father tried to escape on foot, but was captured, arrested and extradited back to his home state to face charges for his crimes.

The two injured sheriffs were honored, along with a federal officer who set aside his normal duties to actively search for, locate and follow the abducting father.

While this incident was tragic, this case was most memorable because of how AMBER Alert plans in two states coordinated; and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies pulled together across state lines to save a child. Everyone involved was willing to work together and do whatever it took to get this child to safety and protect him from the life-threatening situations into which he had been placed.

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? I have been in law enforcement for almost 35 years and it is a challenging career choice to sustain. However, the work I do with missing persons and the AMBER Alert program has been a positive and enriching experience filled with many dedicated people who really make a difference in families’ lives. I am proud to be an AMBER Alert coordinator and I appreciate the progress the programs have made in the last 20 years to strengthen public awareness and engagement on missing children’s issues.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM AND RELATED PROGRAMS IN THE FUTURE? I would like to have access to expanded technology and available funding to reach more people when we send alerts. We reach people through traditional methods such as broadcast media, email, billboards, websites, weather radios and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). I would like to see alerts go to smart watches, satellite radio and streaming services. I would also expand WEA for secondary alerting systems such as our Endangered Missing Advisory.

HOW HAS TRAINING HELPED YOU IN AMBER ALERT CASES? The training provided at the national AMBER Alert symposiums, missing children’s conferences and onsite technical assistance events has allowed us to bring AMBER Alert and missing and exploited persons training courses and programs to our state. This training has been invaluable to increasing knowledge and developing prevention and response techniques specific to missing children. I rely on and use resources such as the AMBER Alert Partners Portal, sample field training exercises and best practices documents.

Some of the most important aspects of training are the networking and collaborative learning I get when I meet on a regular basis with my counterparts from other states. These opportunities give us a chance to have discussions, exchange ideas and identify resources.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS? Learn from each other. Go to as many trainings as you can attend. Get out of your comfort zone when you go to a training event or symposium. Sit in a different part of the room each day. Introduce yourself to many different people from other states, as well as Indian Country and international partners. Find out how they run their plans, learn about their challenges and successes. Get their contact information and give them yours. Form regional partnerships with your surrounding states and meet regularly. This is important because when you need assistance or encounter a roadblock, a bridge to a wealth of resources and knowledge will have been built.

CAN YOU SHARE A TIME WHEN IT REALLY HELPED TO KNOW OTHER COORDINATORS FROM OTHER STATES? One collaborative group I work with is the I-Search group, a consortium of Midwestern state AMBER Alert and Missing Person Clearinghouse programs. Additionally, while at the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium, I met and got to know my counterparts in Wyoming and Montana. This type of networking makes everything go smoother when the phone rings for assistance, because it’s someone you have had the opportunity to meet and talk with. It is easier to take things at face value because you have a relationship with that person.

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Tanea Idaho

Tanea Parmenter has been the Idaho AMBER Alert Co-Coordinator since July 2018. She has been the state’s Missing Person Clearinghouse Program Manager since 2012, just one year after she started with the Idaho State Police. Parmenter works closely with Co-Coordinator Leila McNeill on all calls and AMBER Alert requests.

Even before Parmenter began her career in law enforcement, she had always been interested in cases involving missing persons, child abductions and exploitation. Parmenter volunteered to help the clearinghouse manager and learned how to support law enforcement agencies with investigations. She goes on “ride alongs” with officers and attends roundtable events to discuss long-term missing cases.

What is unique to your AMBER Alert/missing persons program, and what do you think makes it successful?

This year we are making major strides by streamlining how we handle AMBER Alert requests. The agency entering a Missing Person record into the state system and NCIC can select a box to request an AMBER Alert. The alert request with photos and information goes to NCIC and to our 24/7 control center. The call center contacts me and I log in to review the request and contact the agency if needed. If approved, I click one button that triggers the distribution of the AMBER Alert to our alerting software, OnSolve’s CodeRed.

This improves the process because an agency doesn’t have to fill out a separate form and we don’t have to manually type in the message. The agency controls what information is disseminated, and it’s done instantly. In the past, most delays for AMBER Alerts involved waiting to receive the needed forms. This is speeding up the process from up to two hours to just 15 minutes.

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?

I love my career with the Idaho State Police, and helping locate missing or abducted children is my passion. I see the need for local agencies to have more training, but they don’t always have the funding to send officers. I take the knowledge I gain at any training and bring it back to my state.

What emotional toll do you face during an AMBER Alert?

Any type of missing person case can be emotional, especially when dealing with the family. During an AMBER Alert call, no matter how many I have issued in the past, I continue to get that “gut check.” I have thoughts of “Is this a needed tool?” or “If I issue this alert, will the abductor respond negatively to the child?” as well as “If I don’t issue this alert, is there another way to help recover the missing person?”

Each call brings stress and adrenaline. I feel completely wiped out, but my mind won’t shut off. I still want to make sure I did everything correctly and asked the right questions. I don’t think I ever want to change how I feel because I think it helps us have a 100% return success rate. That passion and drive also is felt by everyone at the investigating agency. They know I am there for them 24/7 and I am willing to assist in whatever capacity they need. If I shut off my emotional response, I wouldn’t feel I was doing everything possible to recover a child safely.

What is one of your most memorable successes in working a missing child case?

Recently I had a request for an AMBER Alert for a mentally-challenged and physically handicapped 16-year-old female who had been the victim of online luring. This happened at 2 a.m. in a small town. The on-call officer worked in the narcotics unit and was not a part of the missing persons crime unit. He called my cell phone and said, “This is so new to me. I have never had a case like this and I don’t want to miss anything. Can you please help.” This type of situation is what motivates me to go to training, keep my policies updated and keep on-call 24/7.

We worked together to make sure we didn’t miss a step. The suspect wasn’t known, so I reached out to our cybercrimes unit to see if we could get any information from the victim’s digital tablet. Because the AMBER Alert had a credible tip on Facebook, we contacted the jurisdictions of the possible suspect. Our dispatchers did amazing research and found multiple addresses for the suspect in different states. I worked with the investigator to contact those jurisdictions to do welfare checks. It turned out great. We walked through our steps, stayed on target, worked across jurisdictions and located the child safely.

How have your career and life experiences strengthened your commitment to helping endangered, missing and abducted children?

Every call, every request, continues to strengthen my passion and commitment. Also, having the opportunity to meet with mothers, fathers and family members of those who are missing. My heart goes out to them. I put myself in their place and realize I would never want to feel that pain or loss.

How does being a parent make a difference in what you do at work?

As a single parent, one of my worst fears would be to have my child missing. I think the first time it truly hit me was during CEO training at NCMEC years ago. It was the first time I met Colleen Nick and heard her story. At the time, my daughter was the same age as when Morgan went missing. I couldn’t control the tears as Colleen relived her worst day. I imagined myself in that same desperation, loss and pain. I could truly feel the tightening in my chest. That was the day I dedicated my career to helping prevent these calls from happening. I have focused on training and prevention. I help the local agencies get the standard operating procedures in place and practice them before the actual call. I provide best practices, resources and training and I’m there for the agencies at any time.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?

I would like to see our program grow. We have very little staff to handle the entire state. If we had additional staff members, we could provide community outreach to get information out to the parents and children. We would have enough time to offer more case analysis, make sure every missing person case has everything needed like fingerprints, DNA, dental, photos, investigator notes, etc. We could offer more training to the local agencies. My next goal is to have a multi-jurisdictional CART team in all six regions of Idaho.

How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?   

You can’t ever stop training or practicing. No one call is the same. No one situation is like the other and no one circumstance will have the same outcome.

What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?

If you are not working closely with your missing person clearinghouse partner, then you need to start doing it. This should be a great partnership that works hand in hand. Also, get to know the AMBER Alert Coordinators in other states. Go to an out-of-state training or conference and network. Eventually you will need them to issue an AMBER Alert in their state for your missing child. Finally, don’t stop growing, learning and studying these cases. Any information and tools you pick up now will help you in that next call.

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Jenniffer Price

Jenniffer Price oversees the Wisconsin AMBER Alert Program and serves as the Child Abduction Response Team (CART) commander. She has been in law enforcement since 1997 after starting as a patrol officer with the Wausau Police Department. Price worked briefly with the Madison Police Department at the University of Wisconsin before becoming a narcotics special agent for the Wisconsin Department of Justice in 2005. In 2008, she became a founding member of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s CART and has been the commander since 2011.

Price was promoted to be the Director of Special Operations in 2013, overseeing several departments including the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, Statewide Intelligence Center, Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children and Adults, and the AMBER Alert Program. In 2017, she led her team to become the only certified team in Wisconsin and the 22nd certified CART in the country.

What is unique to your AMBER Alert/missing persons program, and what do you think makes it successful?

The Wisconsin AMBER Alert Program is embedded in our fusion center along with the Clearinghouse and CART. This integration provides immediate access to criminal intelligence technologies, analytical support, CART resources, as well as family liaison support for any missing child case.

The program is a collaborative effort with our partners at the Wisconsin Broadcaster’s Association, Public Radio, Educational Communications Board, EAS Committee, Department of Transportation, Division of Lottery, and the Dane County Public Safety Communications Center. This collaborative effort makes the program successful by ensuring each and every AMBER Alert activation is as timely and accurate as possible.

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?

On July 4, 1994, my 14-year-old cousin disappeared from his home and his body was located less than a week later. His killer – Joe Clark - wasn’t identified until 1995 when he attempted to kill another teenage boy. Clark was convicted by a jury of my cousin’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.

When my cousin went missing, I was attending the University of Wisconsin – Madison, studying apparel design. When his body was found, I changed my career path and began studying Behavioral Science and Law and Criminal Justice. I graduated with a BS in Behavioral Science and Law and a minor in Criminal Justice. It has been my drive and passion ever since to be involved in protecting missing and exploited children.   

I often wonder if the AMBER Alert Program could have made a difference in my cousin’s disappearance and murder. Having seen the Wisconsin AMBER Alert Program result in the safe recovery of children also motivates me to continue this work.

What emotional toll do you face during an AMBER Alert?

I get so motivated because I have such a personal connection and that drives me to put everything I have into these AMBER Alerts. I never want it to end like it did for my family. That’s what’s driven me all these years. All but one Wisconsin AMBER Alert has resulted in a safe recovery.

Please share details about your most memorable success story in working a missing child case.

It’s hard to identify one story from all of the successful AMBER Alerts in Wisconsin because each one carries a unique memory. Whether it is the safe recovery of ten-month-old twins who were abducted during a car theft; the eight-year-old boy who was safety returned after his abductor saw the AMBER Alert and turned himself in; or Jayme Closs, where a citizen saw Jayme after escaping from her captor and recognized her from the AMBER Alert.

In each case, we learn valuable lessons about our AMBER Alert process, how to continually improve upon our AMBER Alert activations, and how our CART can enhance investigative efforts during an AMBER Alert.

How have your career and life experiences strengthened your commitment to helping endangered, missing and abducted children?

Having a child in the family go missing and never return shapes my commitment to missing and abducted children. My work in the ICAC task force, AMBER Alert program and CART has only strengthened my commitment through various child exploitation and missing child investigations I have worked throughout the years.

Does being a parent make a difference in what you do at work?

Being a parent really does impact me a lot. Even when I see an AMBER Alert in another state, I always worry and hope they find the child. I have a 17-year-old daughter and two stepsons, ages 10 and 12.  Having a child of your own hits home, especially when the missing child is the same age and gender.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?

The AMBER Alert program is robust, with a long history of success in finding missing children, both in Wisconsin and throughout the United States. I think continued funding is needed to support the AMBER Alert programs and Clearinghouses in each state.

How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?  

AMBER Alert and CART training have helped me, as well as members of our AMBER Alert program and CART. The training has been integral to maintaining proficiencies and remaining abreast of current investigative trends and technologies.

AMBER Alerts and CART activations are low-frequency, high-risk events. Continual training is necessary for our teams to be the best of the best when looking for a missing child. Perhaps my cousin could have been found alive if an AMBER Alert program and trained CART personnel were available to provide the necessary investigative, analytical and family liaison support that we have in place today.

What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?

Always evaluate each and every activation to learn from them and improve or enhance your efforts. Make sure your personnel are trained and receive continued training to evaluate and activate any AMBER Alert. Bringing your AMBER Alert and CART programs together is the most effective way to respond to a missing child. Those efforts are not only critical in the investigation, they are important and meaningful to the family of the missing child.

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Detective Sergeant Patrick BeumlerDetective Sergeant Patrick Beumler is the Family Violence/ Missing Persons Supervisor for the Glendale, Arizona, Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division Special Victim’s Unit. He has served with the Glendale Police Department for more than 19 years. Beumler is an Arizona POST Domestic Violence Investigations Trainer and recipient of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Distinguished Service Award for his assistance implementing the Domestic Violence Strangulation Program in 2013. In 2014, he received the International Association of Chiefs of Police Leadership Award for First- Line Supervisor Training on Violence Against Women.

Sgt. Beumler was one of the original founding members of the Arizona Child Abduction Response Team (AZCART) in 2011. He has been deployed across the state of Arizona on various abduction and at-risk missing child investigations as an AZCART investigator. In 2018 he became the State Coordinator for AZCART where he currently serves until the end of his term on July 1, 2019.

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR CART AND MISSING PERSONS PROGRAM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE YOUR PROGRAMS SUCCESSFUL?

Having a single overarching state coordinating agency for AZCART, with one Southern Branch coordinating agency and hopefully soon a Northern Branch coordinating agency. They are all under the same certification, which helps ensure training, investigative practices, forms and other protocols are uniform and consistent. This also helps large-scale deployments succeed because any certified employee can be assigned to any role needed. Each member is familiar with the documents, investigative techniques, software and other best practices being utilized so we are able to efficiently assist the jurisdictional agency requesting our help. Having branches allows for a quick response of personnel and resources for critical investigations.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?

I have three young children myself and that makes it easy for me to put myself into a parent’s shoes; I would want to know everything possible is being done to recover my child safely and quickly. I am also driven in abduction cases to see that offenders are held accountable. It is also key to ensure we are conducting lawful and efficient investigations that collect and preserve evidence.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR PROGRAMS?

Deployments rarely happen at an opportune time, so the location, time of day and the number of responders may be less than ideal for the investigation. Members belong to the team on a voluntary basis, so their primary duty can sometimes hinder the number of responders or the timing of the response.

We rotate the coordinating agency for the program on a yearly basis, so a new agency may find it challenging in getting organized internally for taking on the responsibility of preparing equipment and personnel. Another challenge can be maintaining an emphasis on training and skill building so current members remain ready for a deployment. It can also be difficult for the coordinating agency to balance its primary duties with the responsibility of growing the program and attracting new member agencies.

Turnover can also be a challenge as AZCART trained personnel transfer positions or promote out of a position. Trying to replace that knowledge base can be difficult at times.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR PROGRAMS IN THE FUTURE? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE PROGRAMS?

I would like to see our Northern Branch get established and off the ground. We do have some interested agencies, so I see it as an attainable opportunity. My vision for the program is that eventually we will have a state or federal funding source to facilitate dedicated equipment, training and other resources for certified child abduction response teams and their members.

PLEASE SHARE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SUCCESS STORY IN WORKING A MISSING CHILD CASE. HOW DID THE AMBER ALERT AND OTHER OPERATIONS SUPPORT THE OUTCOME? WHAT WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED?

Every safe recovery of a child is a success story for us. Unfortunately, one of the most memorable missing child cases we had is one where there never was a recovery. The Jhessye Shockley investigation started as a reported abduction which resulted in an AMBER Alert being activated; however, it soon transitioned into a FACA (false allegation of child abduction) case to cover up the homicide of Jhessye.

AZCART, Team ADAM from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI and other partners assisted with various aspects of the investigation that included a landfill search lasting several months. This investigation was a great accomplishment because of the team work between agencies and in the end a successful “no body” homicide investigation which resulted in a life sentence plus 20 years for Jhessye’s mother. Many lessons were learned which led to the formulation of timeline/checklists and standardizing the information we now use on any at-risk missing or abduction case.

HOW HAVE YOUR CAREER AND LIFE EXPERIENCES STRENGTHENED YOUR COMMITMENT TO HELPING ENDANGERED, MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?

My commitment to helping endangered, missing and abducted children has been strengthened by the connections I have made with the people I met in this position. I have a strong network of people I can count on for assistance and information. I also know the people I have trained are ready to do the job when called upon.

HOW HAS TRAINING HELPED YOU IN AMBER ALERT CASES?

Uniform training has helped keep responders on the same page with protocols, practices and expectations for an AMBER Alert case all across the state.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS?

Ensure training and oversight committee meetings occur at least quarterly so you see each other’s faces, practice working through issues together and so that everyone stays up-to-date on what’s going on elsewhere in the state. This allows you to take that information back to your agency and improve your responses.

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Nona BestNona 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.

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William “Bill” Smith has been the Kansas AMBER Alert coordinator since 2013. He is the Special Agent in Charge at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI), managing field investigations spanning 36 counties in Northeast Kansas. Smith has been with KBI since 2001, and also served with the Dallas Police Department. His KBI duties have included Special Operations, Cyber Crimes, and Field Investigations. Smith graduated from Kansas State University and is an alumnus of the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command. He holds a Lean Six Sigma certification in Performance and Process Improvement from the University of Kansas.

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE IT SUCCESSFUL?

The KBI started the Kansas AMBER Alert program in 2002 and the blueprint for success has steadily evolved. The Kansas program is unique in how it harnesses available technology. We focus on using a robust, flexible and mobile-friendly system for the AMBER Alert. The Kansas Information Consortium (KIC) developed a custom-built program that allows us to rapidly load important information and pictures from any internet capable device anywhere. This allows us to swiftly deliver the alert to the media and public. During a child abduction, minutes matter and we seek to save them by using technology, strong executive leadership, continuous process improvement and resilient partnerships. Leadership is the backbone in the collaborative success between law enforcement, media, technical partners, advocacy groups and citizens. KBI Director Kirk Thompson and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt spearhead an executive committee that facilitates the success of the Kansas AMBER Alert Program. We continually implement changes to improve each AMBER Alert activation and our training by measuring and mapping everything involved in the alert. Our formalized evaluation strategy increases speed, eliminates waste, reduces error and cultivates efficiency. Partnerships with all stakeholders are key to the program’s success. From the patrol officer to the IT professional, thoughtful engagements and training increases their response, participation and assistance. This approach leads to better outcomes when it counts.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?

When the call comes in about an abducted child, I know KBI special agents and our AMBER Alert program can make the difference in saving a child’s life. It is very motivating, emotionally intense and yet empowering to feel the responsibility to act decisively and concretely during a chaotic event, to striving to achieve a positive outcome.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM?

The number one challenge facing all AMBER Alert programs is the rapid evolution of how the public is receiving media and messages. Looking back sixteen years to 2002, we were using flip phones and no one used text messages. Now we carry computers in our pockets with amazing capabilities. We need to prepare for where technology and communication are headed in the next 16 years and decide where to invest in order to move the program in a similar direction.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE PROGRAM?

I would like to see the Department of Justice AMBER Alert initiative evolve nationally in new ways to broaden and deepen support for the states. A properly-funded national initiative could build a “plug-and-play” infrastructure for all programs. A nationwide program could evolve far more rapidly than 50-plus separate programs.

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?

In 2016, a local Police Department contacted KBI and requested an AMBER Alert. They shared that two children were removed from school by their father. The children had been in the custody of their mother, and the father was reported to not have custody. Prior to that day, the father allegedly made a series of very threatening statements to the mother about harming the children. This combination of facts led KBI to approve and launch an AMBER Alert. KBI and other law enforcement agencies moved swiftly to locate the children. The alert was launched 31 minutes after the request, and 16 minutes later the father and children were located safely. This alert was memorable because of the speed of the request and subsequent speed of the AMBER Alert and investigative response.

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?

Everything I have seen and done in the last five years as an AMBER Alert Coordinator has strengthened my commitment to children. I know timely actions of law enforcement, media, technical partners, advocacy groups, coordinators and citizens can make the difference-–and the AMBER Alert leads from the front.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS?

Be introspective. Learn about everything that occurs within your realm of control as it relates to AMBER Alert. Understand how to continuously evolve. Be a statesperson, and build meaningful bridges with all partners because an AMBER Alert cannot succeed if the message does not proliferate through all technology and media allies.

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Faces-Feature-round-i19-2Joshua H. Kean is a senior investigator and has been a member of the New York State Police (NYSP) for 15 years. He is the supervisor of the Special Victims Unit and the NYS AMBER Alert Coordinator. Kean has assisted the NYSP Community Narcotics Enforcement Team with undercover operations involving drug sales and human trafficking. He is responsible for law enforcement training in the areas of child abuse and sexual offense investigations, elder abuse and the AMBER Alert. Kean also serves on the NYS Children’s Justice Task Force, Sex Assault Response Team, Committee for Coordination of Police Services to Elderly Persons, Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, and other advisory groups related to special victims.

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE IT SUCCESSFUL?

New York State is unique because it is a very large state. We worked with our dedicated partners to split the state into 12 alert activation regions to ensure residents do not become desensitized. We want the people of New York to feel a sense of urgency with every activation. We attribute our success to team work. We work very closely with the NYS Broadcasters Association, Office of Emergency Management, Sheriffs Association, Association of the Chiefs of Police, Missing Persons Clearinghouse, Lottery, Department of Transportation, and Thruway Authority. After every AMBER Alert, we have a review of that case with the investigating agency and our partners to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of our response and operations, and how we can do better. The NYS AMBER Alert program is shaped by and continues to improve because of these after-action reviews. We also have annual meetings with our partners to discuss past and current practices, as well as what we would like to see in the future. A major contributor to the success we’ve experienced in New York is that we have a strong partnership with surrounding states. We have an agreement in place that if AMBER Alerts have been activated in surrounding states and they request us to activate, we activate.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?

My children are my motivation. I am a father of four; ages 18, 12, 11 and 9. I look at each case thinking, “If this was my child how would I want it handled?” I have always had a passion for helping and working with children. One of the first jobs I had as a teenager was a youth counselor. I strived to provide a safe and fun environment for the neighborhood children. I was a varsity high school baseball coach for a local high school and I am currently the head coach for my daughter’s traveling softball team. The children I have worked with know they can come to me with anything without any judgment. When I joined the NYSP I wanted to be the voice for those who didn’t have one. I started working child abuse and child sexual assault cases in 2008 and became a certified child forensic interviewer to better serve child victims.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM?

I have noticed in my short time as the AMBER Alert Coordinator that there is a need for training regarding the criteria for an AMBER Alert and how to utilize this tool.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE PROGRAM?

I would like to provide training around the state on New York’s AMBER Alert criteria and how to request an activation. In a child abduction, every second counts. I would like to see all of the state AMBER Alert systems connected. Although we have a great working relationship with each state, activating an alert in another state requires us to contact that AMBER Coordinator and provide information. Then the other coordinator has to import all of the data into their system and send out the alert. If our systems were connected, we could just send the information electronically so they can review it and send the alert. This would cut minutes off of the process, which is so important when every second counts.

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?

We had a case with 16- and 18-year-old suspects who took a 12-year-old child early in the morning, stole a gun, and a vehicle that contained another gun. We activated an AMBER Alert and recovered the child within a few hours. Because of the AMBER Alert, the suspects hid in a vacant house in the woods near one of their homes. When one suspect attempted to go home to get supplies, the police were contacted by his mother and subsequently located the child and suspects.

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?

I have more than 15 years of law enforcement experience and more than 11 years dealing directly with children who have been physically and sexually abused and/or neglected and maltreated. There is no greater feeling than being part of a case that brings a child home safe.

HOW HAS TRAINING HELPED YOU IN AMBER ALERT CASES?

Training has helped our unit prepare for cases involving abducted children. We regularly practice weekly by giving each other different scenarios and working through a mock activation. We do this so that in real cases, when the criteria to activate are present, we can execute the AMBER Alert process with ease and accuracy.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS?

Get to know your bordering states AMBER Alert Coordinators and Missing Person Clearinghouse Managers. One of the most valuable events since becoming the NYS AMBER Alert Coordinator was attending the National AMBER Alert Symposium. I could put names with faces, develop lasting relationships, and learn from their experiences. I look forward to the next one.

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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.

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Jolene Hardesty: Michigan Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager

She fights to help missing and abducted children–and the fight is never over

Jolene Hardesty has been the Missing Persons Clearinghouse manager for Michigan since 2017. She has been involved in law enforcement for 18 years and started as a police dispatcher because she thought “it would be cool to be on the good guy’s team.” Seven years later she became a dispatcher for the Michigan State Police and was promoted to an analyst, working with the state’s Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN). Hardesty volunteered to help with the 2011 Missing in Michigan Day and developed a passion for missing children from that experience.

What is the best part of your job?

Getting babies back safe and getting them to someone who won’t hurt them and will care about them. I will use any resource possible to bring children home and make them safe. When I think of everything I’ve done in my career, I have had some great moments as a dispatcher. But nothing fills my cup like working with missing persons, working with law enforcement, and social workers to let children know someone cares. Each child is a human being who means something. I just love my job.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The cases where despite our best efforts it doesn’t seem to have that big of an impact. We recently had a 15-month-old boy who tested positive for cocaine at birth. Child protective services wanted to put the infant into protective care but the judge didn’t want to take the baby away from his biological mom and dad. The mom didn’t want to be in the child’s life. The dad was struggling with alcoholism. He just couldn’t provide safe care for the child. The child was allowed to live with his mother and father but he didn’t have a stable, consistent home environment. I just felt like the boy was being lost and we couldn’t do anything about it because the judge said we need to allow the parents to parent their child. You have to go forward and continue in your work, knowing you did your best, but that it likely will not change things.

What do you think is the value of the AMBER Alert?

I couldn’t put a value on AMBER Alert. To me it’s like asking ‘How much is my child worth?’ You can’t put a price tag on these babies. They’re precious and worth more than anything.

The AMBER Alert is an invaluable tool. I have seen it in action and it is really awesome. It creates a lot of work for officers, but at the same time gives them leads to follow up on that they would not have otherwise. Social media also provides lots of leads and we love our media partners because they are often the difference in making or breaking a case. We try to give as many stories as possible to the media to help find missing people.

Do you have an AMBER Alert that stands out for you?

Probably my first one. Our AMBER Alert Coordinator was on maternity leave; our unidentified remains analyst had gone home. I tried to figure out who gets what information and how to get it to them. Sarah still helped me even though she was on maternity leave. I was able to follow the process and effectively handle the alert, even though it was my second month on the job.

The best part of this AMBER Alert was when the police pinged the suspect’s cellphone and it came up in Ohio. I called Ohio and asked for an alert in their state. When they issued their AMBER Alert, the suspect, who was originally headed southbound on I-75 away from Michigan, must have received the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) because his phone started moving northbound back towards Michigan. Police saw his vehicle and apprehended him. It was a great feeling to get the Michigan and Ohio AMBER Alerts issued, and to catch the suspect and safely recover the child. It was a great day, and an awesome reward.

Michigan recently changed their criteria for the AMBER Alert - what impact has that made?

Educating the public about the differences between an AMBER Alert and the Endangered Missing Advisory (EMA) has been so important. We wanted to be more in line with the national AMBER Alert criteria. A few of our community partners, especially the autistic community, found it difficult to learn we were removing autism as a sole factor for issuing an AMBER Alert. It was negatively viewed initially, but in reality it has strengthened the effectiveness of both alerts, because we can issue the most appropriate alert based upon each case’s circumstances around the reasons for endangerment of the missing child. The EMA has become better understood as an effective alerting tool for endangered missing children who have gone missing for reasons other than an abduction; such as those who wander or go missing and have autism.

Reaching out to the public about the importance of more tightly defined criteria for AMBER Alert, and having an alternate alerting plan and tool in the EMA, has been key in our success. We used to issue an AMBER Alert for just about anything. We’ve tightened up that criteria, and are now more careful with the use of the alert, having issued just one AMBER Alert so far in 2018.

To understand the power of social media, just consider what we have done with sharing information through various platforms on missing persons cases. People share information about missing persons; and they know things and share that with others on the sites. If you share a post, you are helping because someone else will see it and say, ‘I saw that car at a gas station or that person at a grocery store.’ The word spreads like wildfire.

What other initiatives have you taken to help find missing and abducted children?

My first year I was involved with organizing the poster contest. I put the contest out on social media and contacted our media partners with a press release. I spoke to different TV and radio stations and we had the most participants ever that year. We had first, second and third prize winners in the contest. The first prize winner, whose parents are also Michigan State Police Troopers, also won the national contest. When I told her mom, she was so happy, she started crying. It was so great. It was fun to go with the winner to Washington, D.C., to see her honored.

We also try to do juvenile sweeps, where we go through a list of juveniles who are missing in a particular area—a city, county or tri-county area. We try to recover as many missing children as possible and talk with them carefully as part of the recovery process. We look for human trafficking elements or abuse at home to find out why the child is running away. Children don’t runaway for ‘no reason’ so we try to find out the ‘why’ behind their decision to run.

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?

Just knowing how important it is for every child to have a safe home, and to feel safe in his or her own bed every night. I’m a parent so I want my kids to feel safe and loved. I do my best, so that even if these children never know people care about them, we can do everything in our power to make sure they feel safe. We hope the children will see or sense the passion we have to make sure they have a safe home, and even a bed, toys and clothes all their own. They shouldn’t be scared to be where they live.

What advice would you give to other partners who work with the AMBER Alert program?

Networking has been one of the best things I have done for my career. I like to meet new people and see how their roles and work fit into the larger criminal justice system of which we’re both a part. It’s easier to call someone when you have a relationship. I can say ‘It’s Jolene in Michigan and I need your help.’

I had to call Alabama about a missing three-month-old girl whose mother had substance abuse issues. Trying to avoid drug testing, the mother fled the state in an attempt to avoid having her child taken away from her. I was able to track the mother to Huntington, Alabama. I contacted Alabama’s clearinghouse manager for help in rescuing the baby and getting her out of harm’s way. The field investigator went to Wal-Mart where the mom was shopping with her baby. The investigator got her license plate number as well as a lead that the car had been seen at a trailer park. A deputy located the mother sitting in her car in the driveway. The case workers recovered the baby and the mother returned to Michigan. She later died of a heroin overdose. I feel like we helped save that child, and it means so much to me that I had a helping hand in finding that baby and getting her to safety.

During another investigation we found out a baby was missing from state care and it was believed she was the product of sexual abuse between the 27-year-old mom and a 15-year-old male victim.  I used the EMA to broadcast to the area where the baby lived in Michigan. Within hours after the advisory went out on social media, the sheriff’s office received and followed up on numerous tips. The baby was hidden, carted around in a laundry basket in the backseat of a family member’s vehicle as they fled authorities. We recovered the child and the suspect was later apprehended.

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Sarah Krebs: Michigan AMBER Alert Coordinator

She never gives up in making sure missing and abducted children are found

Sarah Krebs has been the Michigan AMBER Alert Coordinator since 2014. At that time, she also served as the Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager and the Unidentified Remains Manager, which have since been reorganized into three different positions. Krebs began as a Michigan State Police Trooper in 2000 and took on additional duties as a forensic artist in 2002. She later became an investigator before transferring to the Missing Persons Unit. Krebs still offers investigative training and assists with cold cases.

What is the best part of your job?

The AMBER Alert is special. It’s for those cases that really need it. I hold this position very dear to my heart because I know how harmful an abduction can be and the AMBER Alert is the nation’s most powerful tool to bring an abducted child home. I take this job very seriously because I am the one person responsible for the AMBER Alert in my state.

What is the hardest part of your job?

It is very difficult when you tell law enforcement and a family that their child will not get an AMBER Alert. There is a lot of pressure because they know this is such a powerful tool, but the situation doesn’t always fit our current criteria. The AMBER Alert notifies so many people and we have to protect it so we are not overusing it.

We do use our Endangered Missing Advisory for cases that don’t meet the AMBER Alert criteria. The advisories have been very helpful.

Michigan recently changed its criteria for the AMBER Alert - what impact has that made on the program?

When Michigan created our policy in 2001 we were the fourth state to have an AMBER Alert. Our criteria were extremely broad and included all endangered children. So many cases fit that we would put out 40 or more AMBER Alerts each year. However, no one complained about the high numbers because a lot of the alerts were regional. The public didn’t notice the high number of alerts, but they thought any child who was missing and endangered was eligible for an AMBER Alert.

The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) changed the AMBER Alert and made it a more powerful tool because you are waking up people with alerts on their cell phones. We wanted to change the criteria to meet the national standards. For instance, the alert would go out for child who is missing with a sex offender, even if the parent was the sex offender.

We couldn’t send out WEAs 40 times a year. So in 2017, we changed the criteria to be for child abductions only. We went from 15

AMBER Alerts in 2016 down to three in 2017. It was really eye-opening. Only legitimate abductions have AMBER Alerts issued for them now. There is still some public confusion because we previously issued alerts for endangered children. We just had a missing autistic child and people on social media were asking ‘Where’s the AMBER Alert?’ The community is starting to answer those questions and letting others know that the criteria doesn’t fit.

We never had a secondary alert and that’s why the AMBER Alert initially included everything - because it was our only option. We added the Endangered Missing Advisory; and that alerting tool still depends on public involvement and help. The advisory can be used for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, children with autism or children who are endangered for another reason not related to an abduction. The new program is really working flawlessly. We still have some pushback, but we can now offer another alerting option even when we do not issue an AMBER Alert. However, it doesn’t reach everyone’s cell phones.

Social media can also be used to help get the word out, and that approach is really working well. Social media is a great partner for the AMBER Alert and Endangered Missing Advisory. We recover more children from tips and leads generated by Facebook than anything. Social media is the ‘milk carton’ of the 21st century and utilizes the internet to reach large numbers of people rapidly. I do wish I had someone who could work full-time with a focus solely on maximizing and managing the use of social media with endangered missing and abducted person cases.

What other initiatives have you taken to help find missing and abducted children?

We created a movement with an event called Missing in Michigan Day that started in 2011. Based upon its growth, we started a non-profit to support it and handle all of the donations. It’s started a revolution across the country. We now have similar events across the country, such as ‘Missing in Arizona’ or ‘Missing in California.’ The public comes together to remember the people who are missing. We also continue to work year-round collecting DNA and making reports. It’s a proactive law enforcement event where people can meet each other to talk about their missing loved ones. We have gathered more than 100 missing unidentified cases since the event began in 2011.

We also just passed a law that makes Michigan the first state in the country to require all law enforcement to immediately enter missing person information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS).

What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?

I think my work as a forensic artist and working with unidentified remains was the start. These cases are terrible. I’ve seen the agony families have gone through when a loved one is missing. I am a parent of a six-year-old girl, a one-year-old girl and a baby boy on the way. No one is more vulnerable than a missing child.

What advice would you give to others who work with the AMBER Alert program?

I think coordination between the states is essential. At the National

AMBER Alert Symposium, we had representatives from all 50 states. It was so important to be able to connect faces with names; and to meet and network with other AMBER Alert Coordinators, Missing Person Clearinghouse Mangers and CART program members from each state, especially when you have cross-state abductions. It’s important to know people and to trust them.

For instance, we had an AMBER Alert and an officer in Colorado ran a plate and saw the alert in Michigan. The AMBER Alert program is powerful and I’m proud to be a part of it.

What was your most memorable AMBER Alert?

Probably the multi-state alerts stand out the most for me because of the coordination between all of the states. The first AMBER Alert I did was for children who were abducted in Indiana and found in Detroit. An FBI agent told me the Indiana children were in Detroit. I called the Indiana AMBER Alert coordinator and we were able to issue an AMBER Alert swiftly and effectively; this was helped by us knowing one another and having that personal relationship. The alert ended with a car chase and both children were recovered safely. So, my first AMBER Alert involved multiple states, two children and a gunman taking the children during the middle of the night and asking for a ransom. It literally sounds like something that could have been made into a movie. But we work hard for the best possible outcome – safe recovery of the children.

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Brent Currence is the Education Coordinator for the Ohio Missing Persons Unit and serves on the Ohio AMBER Alert Steering Committee.  He is also an Associate for the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College. Currence retired as a Trooper and helped create the screen for dispatchers and local law enforcement officers to enter an AMBER Alert into the state’s system.

How does your local AMBER Alert program work?

Local law enforcement responds to investigate, and based on the circumstances of the investigation they determine if the case meets the AMBER Alert criteria. If they know right away it is going to meet the AMBER Alert criteria, they flag the NCIC entry using the AMBER Alert code, which notifies several different agencies of the requested AMBER Alert. The Ohio State Highway Patrol, who issues the alert in our state, would call the requesting agency and make sure the criteria are met; and if so would then issue the alert. Our agency is notified and our state Child Abduction Response Team offers support services and personnel to augment the investigation.

Who are your key AMBER Alert partners and who is on your advisory committee?

Our committee is made up of many different entities including local law enforcement, police chiefs, the sheriff’s association, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Ohio Broadcasters Association, Ohio Department of Transportation, emergency communications, the FBI and others.

We all work very well together. That is one of the nice things about our committee, we get along very well; nobody tries to dominate the conversation. We are all working towards the same goal and work well together in addressing issues.

What are the two biggest lessons you have learned that you would want to pass on to other AMBER Alert coordinators?

The biggest thing is training. So many people change positions, especially in law enforcement; you have people coming in new, others being promoted or transferred, and this all affects knowledge and effective operations when time is of the essence in these missing child cases. It is important that local agencies know how to activate the AMBER Alert; and if they do not, they know who to call to get the process started.

Too often time is wasted just trying to figure out who issues the alert or who has what responsibility in the process. Just knowing a simple thing like ‘How do I get started?’ or ‘Who do I call to get assistance?’ can make all the difference. Training, which should include making people aware of all the resources that are out there to help them, is the most important thing. AMBER Alerts are so time-sensitive, and there are people out there willing to help in a case with an abducted child. These resources can be at the handling agency’s fingertips if they just know who to contact.

What role does social media play in AMBER Alerts in Ohio?

Social media is awesome in reaching a tremendous amount of people very quickly. We obviously use Twitter and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children administers our Facebook page. I was recently looking at some of the people who follow us on Twitter and many of them are reporters for television and other media. One of the local reporters had 87,000 followers, so when he retweets something he is immediately reaching 87,000 people quickly. When I look at the system just around Central Ohio, with the number of reporters in that area who are retweeting an alert, they are reaching nearly 300,000 people very, very quickly.

In terms of concerns with social media, the main issue we have encountered is when an alert has been canceled yet is still being circulated on Facebook or Twitter. In those cases, we have been able to get them canceled, or to get others to stop sending the alerts fairly quickly.

What is your vision or primary goals for your AMBER Alert Program? What is next on your list?

Our primary focus of concern in issuing AMBER Alerts is technology and the software to issue them. It is expensive. It would be nice to be able to see the different systems talk to each other. When we do cross-state alerts, much of it is done by phone and we are taking time to email pictures, pass on information, etc. If there was a system that could be used by everybody that would be as simple as looking up and transferring information relating to the alert, it would save so much time, which is obviously essential in these types of cases.

The other issue is training and awareness. I worked in law enforcement for years and the agency I worked for was thankfully very big on training. I can see such huge differences in training when working with local law enforcement across the state, in terms of how agencies react to certain situations and how they do or do not prepare for these through training. Every year in Ohio our law enforcement officers are required to do various types of training, often twice a year - such as use of force training, firearms qualifications, and pursuit driving; yet AMBER Alert training is not required at least annually. I would like to see that happen.

Is there an AMBER Alert case that had a big impact on you and your Ohio AMBER Alert partners?

We had an AMBER Alert occur while we were at a conference. The alert was in Northern Ohio in a very rural community. The suspect abducted a 14-year-old girl and killed her younger brother, murdered her mother and the mother’s friend.

The agency initially requested an AMBER Alert but at the time we did not have a witnessed abduction. We require a witnessed abduction, so it took a several of us on the phone working together to be able to support the local sheriff the best we could. We ended up issuing an Endangered Missing Child Advisory and providing the sheriff with many resources. The sheriff was willing to accept the assistance and help because he had never experienced anything like this.

We were able to recover the girl safely; the suspect’s intention was to kill the child. We were able to find her alive in his basement before he was able to do that. Reflecting on that case, it was amazing how everybody worked so quickly and effectively together, because this incident spanned a large area and different entities from the county in which it occurred. The AMBER Alert helped generate a lot of tips and leads based on things the public saw. These tips led us to the suspect, allowing us to arrest him and safely recover the female child involved.

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Jennifer Viets

Jennifer Viets has been the Montana AMBER Alert Coordinator since 2012. She has been the state’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager since 2009. Viets started as a training officer for Montana’s Criminal Justice Information Network in 1994. She also worked as a 911 public safety dispatcher and supervisor for five years.

WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR AMBER ALERT AND CLEARINGHOUSE PROGRAM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE YOUR PROGRAMS SUCCESSFUL?

I am not sure I would use the word unique, but I think there are two keys to our successful programs: 1) the relationships we have built with Montana’s law enforcement agencies and Montana’s AMBER Alert partners; and 2) the passion and dedication of our staff.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT AND CLEARINGHOUSE PROGRAMS?

No budget, very small staff, duties and “other duties as assigned” affect our ability to have the time to practice and stay as sharp and current as we would like. Also managing contact lists for media, high turnover, getting timely information when we have an alert, and delay in reporting parties contacting us; these are all challenges we face and work to improve.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT AND CLEARINGHOUSE PROGRAMS IN THE FUTURE?

It would be great to use a national AMBER Alert program so states could more quickly share alerts.

PLEASE SHARE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SUCCESS STORY IN WORKING A MISSING CHILD CASE.

It was amazing to be a part of the February 2016 AMBER Alert for four-year-old Maci Lilley. She was abducted from a playground by John Lieba. The whole community responded to the AMBER Alert. A citizen, aware of the alert, saw Lieba and gave him a ride to the nearest law enforcement officer. The suspect initially refused to cooperate, but later told investigators he had strangled Maci. He drew a map to where he left her body in an abandoned vehicle parked within an old grain silo. Officers found the vehicle and were relieved to discover she was alive. Lesson learned—never give up!

PLEASE DESCRIBE ANY WORK WITH TRIBAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AND TRIBAL CHILD PROTECTION PROGRAMS IN YOUR STATE.

Every child is important to us. We do not treat tribal children any differently. The same applies to tribal law enforcement agencies. They are treated with the same respect as any other law enforcement agency in Montana. If a tribal agency requests an AMBER Alert or Missing Endangered Person Advisory, and the circumstances meet the alert criteria, the alert is issued. Our strongest relationships with tribal law enforcement agencies occur when that agency has a Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN) terminal. Tribal agencies without a CJIN terminal often work with us through a local sheriff’s office, but we will take the call from any of them at any time. We are very fortunate because some of our tribal law enforcement agencies cross-deputize with the sheriff’s office and have strong partnerships. We have found it is important to visit tribal agencies in person when you can. One of the challenges we face is staff turnover at tribal agencies and changes in management control (Bureau of Indian Affairs vs. tribal). It can be hard to keep current contacts. My goal would be for tribal agencies to know the state AMBER Alert program is here to serve them and all they need to do is call if they need us.

HOW HAVE YOUR CAREER AND LIFE EXPERIENCES, INCLUDING YOUR WORK AS AN AMBER ALERT COORDINATOR AND CLEARINGHOUSE MANAGER, STRENGTHENED YOUR COMMITMENT TO HELPING ENDANGERED, MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?

I have been very fortunate that every missing child I have done an alert for has been located, although sadly four of them were deceased. I am driven to ensure when we issue an alert that the public gets it quickly and it has the most accurate and complete information possible.

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Stacey Pearson

Stacey Pearson has been with the Louisiana State Police for 18 years and works out of Lafayette. She has been the manager of the Louisiana Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children (LACMEC) since 2012 and the state AMBER Alert Coordinator since January 2015.

Pearson is a third generation law enforcement officer, and has served as a uniform trooper, narcotics agent, and criminal investigator. She was also the supervisor on a task force investigating the deaths of the “Jeff Davis 8,” the unsolved murders of eight women in Jefferson Davis Parish.

Pearson conducts and coordinates crimes against children investigations and works as a police composite sketch artist. In 2016, she founded The Pelican Project, a charitable foundation working with families of missing, abducted and exploited children who are in need of reunification assistance.

HOW HAVE YOUR CAREER AND LIFE EXPERIENCES, INCLUDING YOUR WORK AS AN AMBER ALERT COORDINATOR AND CLEARINGHOUSE MANAGER, STRENGTHENED YOUR COMMITMENT TO HELPING ENDANGERED, MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?

My work on the Jeff Davis 8 case and my duties as Clearinghouse Manager and AMBER Alert Coordinator are instrumental in my commitment to help children. It is my goal to continue to develop and provide training in Louisiana and nationally to move this good work forward.

WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR AMBER ALERT AND CLEARINGHOUSE PROGRAM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE YOUR PROGRAMS SUCCESSFUL?

Our Clearinghouse and AMBER Alert programs are not unique; however, we do strive to provide any and all assistance needed to law enforcement agencies conducting missing child/person investigations. Through a vast network of contacts, the LACMEC and the Louisiana Fusion Center are able to communicate and coordinate the response to critical missing children as well as child trafficking investigations.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION AND WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT AND CLEARINGHOUSE PROGRAMS IN THE FUTURE?

My vision for the future is to have a website dedicated to the LACMEC and the Louisiana AMBER Alert programs with photographs of missing children available to the public for viewing, searching and sharing. I would also like to provide links to National Center 

for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) training resources on this website as well as safety tips. I also have a goal to create a Louisiana Missing Persons Day.

PLEASE SHARE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SUCCESS STORY IN WORKING A MISSING CHILD CASE.

Two cases stand out the most:

  • An alleged California sex offender and a woman were found in Louisiana with four missing children, ages four, six, seven and eight. The suspects were arrested at a convenience store and the children were found inside his car dirty and hungry. The couple fled California to help prevent the man from being arrested for sexual acts involving a minor.
  • A couple from Shreveport, Louisiana, were arrested in Arizona after allegedly abducting two boys, ages seven and two. The couple allegedly committed a bank robbery after they took the children.

Sometimes our “successes” on the surface are in reality very tragic. The elation that is felt when a child is recovered can quickly be replaced with anger, grief and disgust at the circumstances the children were taken; how they lived and the circumstances they were rescued from. The reality that no one person can “fix” the situation takes its toll. There is no magic wand.

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Shea Reliford has overseen the Indiana Clearinghouse for Missing Children & Missing Endangered Adults since September 2016. He is also a First Sergeant with the Office of Intelligence and Investigative Technologies and serves as the Administrative Officer for the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center. He began his career with the Indiana State Police in 2006. Previous duties include serving as a state trooper, police academy counselor and instructor, human resources sergeant, field training officer, recruiter, emergency vehicle operations instructor and background investigator.

What is unique to your AMBER Alert and Clearinghouse program, and what do you think helps make your program(s) successful?

The Indiana Clearinghouse is a section of our Fusion Center. When an AMBER Alert is requested, all resources necessary are deployed whether or not an AMBER Alert is actually activated. This includes analytical support from the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center, Public Information Office, Cybercrime & Investigative Technologies Section, Indiana Crimes against Children, K-9 and additional investigators and officers.

Our success is due to close relationships between the personnel involved with the decision making around an AMBER Alert. Our procedures and request forms are on our website for quick access. We educate law enforcement to call the clearinghouse as soon as possible and we can assist them with an AMBER Alert or any missing person situation.

What challenges do you face in maintaining the effectiveness and strength of your Clearinghouse program?

Our number one issue is missing persons not being entered into NCIC immediately. Because AMBER Alerts do not occur frequently, agencies, officers and dispatchers are likely finding themselves involved with an alert for the first time; this inexperience with AMBER Alerts can sometimes cause a delay. We prefer agencies call us as soon as possible so we can assist them from the start to speed up the process.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert and Clearinghouse programs in the future?

I would like to see a nationwide platform where other states can communicate with each other, and with a push of a few buttons all processes needed for an AMBER Alert to happen can be performed at the same time. Currently we use about five different entities to carry out all of the functions, including emails, phone calls and other software programs.

Please share details about your most memorable success story in working a missing child case. How did the AMBER Alert and operations of the Clearinghouse support the outcomes? What were the most important lessons learned?

We activated the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) for the first time in September 2016, and law enforcement and the public were energized and very supportive in finding missing children. We also learned there would be backlash no matter what you do. We received questions such as whether it is necessary to activate AMBER Alerts statewide or in the middle of the night. However, our goal is to bring missing children home safely and we have better success if we notify the public by all means available.

How have your career and life experiences, including your work as a Clearinghouse Manager, strengthened your commitment to helping endangered, missing and abducted children?

With the first AMBER Alert in which I was involved, both of the children were killed. I am committed to doing everything within my power to prevent that from happening again.

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Nicole Morell has worked for the Massachusetts State Police for 21 years and became the state’s AMBER Alert coordinator in 2007. Sergeant Morell also worked with the Missing Persons Clearinghouse for three years. She previously worked as a detective for the Worcester County State Police Detective Unit and investigated major crimes, including the disappearance and murder of Molly Bish. Sergeant Morrell also worked as an undercover narcotics detective.

What is unique to your AMBER Alert and Clearinghouse program, and what do you think helps make your programs successful?

One of the unique aspects of our program is the cohesive partnership between the New England states and the importance these states place on holding annual meetings to build and maintain strong relationships among the coordinators. They allow each agency to gain knowledge and experience through past issued alerts and review of AMBER Alert plans and criteria.

Due to the cohesiveness of the Northeastern states; all states agreed that when an alert is confirmed or credible evidence exists that a suspect has crossed into another state, there will be no time delay in issuing the alert.

In terms of our partnership with media, our program met with the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association a few years ago to discuss best practices for an activation. As a result of the communication and understanding built from that effort, the media has not prematurely announced an alert and waits for our office to send them a press release advising them an alert has been activated.

Since the passing of the Missing Person/AMBER Alert legislation, I have been a sitting member of the Missing Persons Task Force Committee. The task force discusses ways to improve missing person (juvenile) investigations.

What challenges do you face in maintaining the effectiveness and strength of your AMBER Alert and Clearinghouse programs?

Funding and lack of manpower.

What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert and Clearinghouse programs in the future? What is your vision for the programs?

Combine all AMBER Alert and Clearinghouse programs. When the agencies are unified, they have so much more potential in helping to resolve missing children cases.

Please share details about your most memorable success story in working a missing child case. How did the AMBER Alert and operations of the Clearinghouse support the outcomes? What were the most important lessons learned?

A homicide occurred in July 2011 in upstate New York. The New York State Police did not activate immediately but requested Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut to activate, which they did. During the after-action meeting, we discussed the importance of the requesting agency agreeing to activate as well. While an alert is not normally activated to locate a suspect wanted for fleeing from a crime scene, the requesting agency should issue an alert for several reasons: the abductor is the suspect in a homicide; the chance of a child being harmed or murdered is heightened; and the child is considered to be in danger due to the police search, which could result in a motor vehicle pursuit or violence when the suspect is located.

How have your career and life experiences, including your work as an AMBER Alert Coordinator and Clearinghouse Manager, strengthened your commitment to helping endangered, missing and abducted children?

Since the Massachusetts AMBER Alert program’s inception in 2002, we have maintained a 100 percent success rate. I credit this to the investigative knowledge of our team, which consists of one full-time and two part-time coordinators with 30 years of collective investigative experience. Our team also has seven detective captains and majors from our Division of Investigative Services. Our team understands the importance of acting quickly but effectively to recover our most vulnerable population.

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Craig Burge works for the Illinois State Police (ISP). He has been the state AMBER Alert Coordinator and Missing Person Clearinghouse Manager since 2011. He started his career with the ISP working on sex offender registration and management. His experience with providing sex offender information with the legislature and the public prepared him in his mission to promote child safety.

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE YOUR PROGRAM SUCCESSFUL?

Our AMBER Alert program is simple and effective. Law enforcement, broadcasters and the public want a program that is easy to comprehend. We have one alerting system with the same criteria since its inception so everybody is familiar with how it works. What makes our program so successful is our AMBER Alert partners and their dedication to child safety. We have an AMBER Alert Task force that is made up of various agencies, entities and associations that really want to help with spreading the word about an abducted child. We have a tremendous relationship with the people at the Illinois Broadcasters Association who dedicate their airwaves for AMBER Alert messages and child abduction safety issues. The support the AMBER Alert program receives from these partners is what makes our program a success.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM?

As the AMBER Alert program evolves, it must grow and change with the times. People are always finding new ways to get their information. The AMBER Alert program must utilize the newest social networks and technologies to provide the public with information through the platforms they are using to access their news and alerts. It is always a challenge to find the appropriate funding and resources necessary to stay on top of the technology advances. Our AMBER Alert program is a privately funded program. No state resources are appropriated for its use. That makes building relationships with private agencies and organizations extremely important.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE PROGRAM?

I would like to see the AMBER Alert program be connected in every state. I would like to see a day when an AMBER Alert is issued in Illinois, and if we need that Alert to be released in another state, it can be done in a matter of minutes. Child abductions are not bound by geographic borders and neither should AMBER Alerts. The hope is one day all states will be connected to the same system which will allow AMBER Alerts to be sent out seamlessly across state lines. When time is of the essence, we need this quick connection with other states.

PLEASE SHARE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE AMBER ALERT SUCCESS STORY.

It was September 2012. A 3-week-old child was discovered by a farmer and his wife because they heard the AMBER Alert and decided to go out and look for the child. The child was left on the side of the road in a rural area, but the farmer was able to hear the faint cries of the child as he was driving along in his diesel pickup truck. It is a truly amazing story with an outcome that still brings a smile to my face.

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?

I have been in law enforcement for almost 18 years, mostly dealing with child safety issues. I can tell you there is no better feeling you can have in your law enforcement career than to return a child home safely. It is a feeling that makes everything worth it.

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Margie Quin was promoted in 2007 to Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) which included duties as the state AMBER Alert Coordinator and Missing Person Clearinghouse Manager. She also began working on human trafficking cases in 2010. Quinn specialized in electronic surveillance for drug cases when she started with TBI in 1998. Prior to joining TBI, Quinn served for 5 years with the Cobb County, Georgia, Police Department.

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE YOUR PROGRAM SUCCESSFUL?

The Tennessee AMBER Alert program has been successful from its inception because of the great partnerships that were formed at the beginning. The Tennessee broadcasters, Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service were instrumental in building a great partnership that elevated the credibility of the initiative statewide. For the last 10 years, Tennessee has tried to stay on the cutting edge of child abduction response. We certified our Child Abduction Response Team (CART) program in 2009, the fourth team in the country to achieve certification. We have re-certified every year since. We also continue to train and work with local agencies to improve the immediate and initial response to missing children incidents. The state has gone from averaging 10-12 activations per year to 5-6 per year over the last 2 years. We believe this is because of the efficiency in response at the local level.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM?

The challenges in maintaining the effectiveness of the AMBER program are technical and environmental. The technical challenges continue to evolve as technology improves. The quick notification to the public is still the key to recovery in so many cases. That being said, AMBER, along with other alerts, must compete for the attention of the American public. In this technology age, peoples’ attention is often divided between numerous things and across a wide array of devices. Capturing the public’s undivided attention is the great challenge in 2017 and beyond.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE?

The program should continue to evolve and change with “the times.” I would like to see the program devote more time to training and awareness in 2017.

PLEASE SHARE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE AMBER ALERT SUCCESS STORY.

In 10 years, there have been so many cases. One stands out recently that was a case out of Knoxville, Tennessee. A woman was murdered by her estranged husband and he took their 3-year-old child. He used her ATM card in Ohio, and within 45 minutes, Ohio activated its system and a citizen quickly called about being behind the suspect’s vehicle. In that case, the AMBER Alert activation directly resulted in the recovery of the child. It worked in the exact way it was designed to work.

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?

How has it not? That might be easier to answer. If we aren’t out here working for the kids, who are we working for? There is no more vulnerable population than children. They are also our most precious resource. We must continue to do all that we can to protect kids in this country.

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Janet Turnbull

Janet Turnbull is doing her best to make sure borders never get in the way of finding an abducted child. Since 2013 she has been working in Mexico City, Mexico, as a legal advisor for the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development and Training (OPDAT). Her focus is on human trafficking, which puts her at the center of making sure AMBER Alerts work in all countries.

“When a child goes missing across the border we do not want to think that is the end of the effort,” said Turnbull. “The challenge is there is not a lot of communication between the AMBER Alert coordinators in the U.S. and in Mexico.”

In May, Turnbull worked with the U.S. AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and its Southern Border Initiative to organize the Trinational Forum in Mexico City. The 2-day forum included AMBER Alert Coordinators from the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Turnbull is also supported by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, with funding from the Merida Initiative.

“What we are going for is to get AMBER Alert coordinators in Mexico, U.S.A. and Canada to see themselves as a single group of North American AMBER Alert coordinators. No borders,” said Turnbull.

At the time of the forum, investigations remained open for 75 children taken from the U.S. to Mexico, and 183 children taken from Mexico to the U.S.

The AMBER Alert began locally in the U.S. in 1996 and later developed into a nationwide initiative. Mexico’s Alerta AMBER began in 2012 when it was launched by that country’s president and attorney general. So far the Alerta AMBER has led to the safe recovery of more than 350 children in Mexico.

“One is not better but they are slightly different,” said Turnbull. “We want the training to be consistent in the U.S .and Mexico and knowing the differences between each system. Training keeps everyone on the same sheet of music. It also helps people make a connection.”

Turnbull said Mexico coordinators still rely heavily on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to confirm the right jurisdiction(s) in which to issue an AMBER Alert in the U.S. NCMEC can be reached by calling 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678).

She said it is easier for U.S. law enforcement to use Mexico’s child abduction alert because it can be done with one contact with the National Mexico Alerta AMBER Coordinator Blanca Margarita Niebla Cárdenas at 011-521-555-346-2510 or via email at blanca.niebla@pgr.gob.mx. “It is one call shopping for them,” she noted.

Turnbull’s career began as a Special Agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Her investigation into drug smuggling in Columbia even uncovered an unfinished submarine in Bogota. She then got her law degree at the University Of Virginia School Of Law and began prosecuting drug traffickers and corruption cases involving public officials and police officers.

Today, Turnbull is immersed in finding trafficking victims and abducted children. This year she has been involved with solving cross-border abductions including a Florida girl found in Cancun, a baby taken from San Diego, California, to Sinaloa, Mexico, and a Brownsville, Texas, girl who was recovered after Mexico issued an Alerta AMBER at the request of U.S. authorities. All 3 cases illustrate that much can be accomplished when countries work together.

“Do not give up just because the child has gone across the border,” said Turnbull. “There are things that can be done to bring a child home.”