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Angel Cruz is a Project Coordinator with the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College. Angel leads program efforts funded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Angel previously worked as a Domestic Violence Shelter Coordinator for the Gila River Indian Community, where she managed the overall operations of a 30-bed shelter for domestic violence survivors and their children. Prior to that, Angel served as a Sexual Assault Program Coordinator with Gila River. In this position, Angel coordinated, developed, and monitored training plans for Sexual Assault Advocates in order to increase staff competency. She also helped develop and establish healing support groups for survivors of sexual violence. In 2011 Angel worked as a Chemical Dependency Counselor Aide at the Desert Visions Youth Wellness Center, and later, in 2012, a Social Worker II/CPS Investigator with Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

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In this issue:

Our second issue of 2024 reflects our collective mindset, “One team, one fight” (a phrase coined by Hawaii AMBER Alert Coordinator Amanda Leonard at our recent National AMBER Alert & AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium.) We share highlights from the productive and inspiring two-day event in New Orleans. We also talk with Michigan AMBER Alert Coordinator Jolene Hardesty about her work on the Not Invisible Act Commission, which focused on finding solutions to the key problems faced by Indigenous communities. We delve into the high-profile abduction and rescue of a 9-year-old girl in New York—a case that underscores the importance of prudent alerting decisions. And we provide the latest AMBER Alert-related news you can use.

Photo of two women hugging at the Symposium. AMBER Alert Coordinators and child protection professionals from across the nation and abroad reunited for the annual learning event. {Photo credit: AATTAP}

Hundreds of child protection professionals strengthen knowledge and bonds at the 2024 AMBER Alert & AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium in New Orleans.

Detail of art quilt made by Pamela Foster for Derek VanLuchene. It memorializes Derek's late brother, Ryan, and his dog, Herschel.

A handmade quilt connects two family survivors of child abductions via an 'invisible thread.'

A high-profile search for an abducted 9-year-old girl puts New York AMBER Alert Coordinators and investigators under intense scrutiny.

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.

Following her service on the Not Invisible Act Commission, Michigan’s Jolene Hardesty is dedicated to bringing Native American partners to the table as ‘advisors and equals.’

SafetyNet bracelet helps find missing child in Florida

Short news posts about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from the United States.

Iowa sisters Trisha Rivers and Jessica Lopez-Walker of the Winnebago Tribe work with the Great Plains Action Society

Short news posts about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from Indian Country.

Short news posts about about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from around the world.

Trusted, timely & actionable information is at your fingertips: Simply focus your smartphone camera on these QR codes to access the latest training & networking opportunities for child protection professionals. (And keep this downloadable file handy for future needs.)

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By Denise Gee Peacock

Hundreds of state and regional AMBER Alert Coordinators, Missing Person Clearinghouse Managers, Tribal law enforcement officers, public alerting/emergency management experts, and federal officials gathered in New Orleans February 27–28 to attend the 2024 National AMBER Alert and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium.

A sidebar column with the title: 2024 Symposium workshops in focus. The remainder of the columns reads: “The Symposium offers attendees the chance to learn best practices, meet with peers to discuss current issues, identify gaps in service, recognize trends in technology, and improve integration between state and regional AMBER Alert communication plans with federally recognized Tribes from across the nation,” said AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen. Discussion points included the following, along with numerous case studies as well as regional/Tribal breakout sessions: Missing child alerts: Decision-making & processes • AMBER Alert: To activate or not activate • Family-member abductions and false allegations • Dispelling myths: Effective use of the NCIC database • Leads management Child Abduction Response Teams (CARTs) • Creating & sustaining a CART • CART callouts & volunteer management Investigative resources • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children forensic resources for missing and unidentified children • Unsolved child abduction  cases: Tools & resources • Child sex trafficking: Law  enforcement & advocacy  partnerships AMBER Alert in Indian Country • The Alaska Perspective • Resources: Searching for an unresolved missing person • Providing culturally sensitive  support Southern Border Initiative • Current trends in southern border abduction cases The no-fee training and collaborative learning event, funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and administered by the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP), engaged attendees in discussing developing trends and case studies, sharing best practices, and training with other child protection partners to better respond to endangered missing and abducted child cases.

Held at the historic Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the Symposium featured 26 workshops led by dozens of subject-matter experts as well as three keynote speakers. It also included six regional and Tribal breakout sessions that allowed for in-depth discussions on issues of importance to their states and Tribes.

Amanda Leonard, Coordinator for the Missing Child Center-Hawaii/Department of the Attorney General, flew more than 4,200 miles to attend the Symposium with Honolulu Police Department Detective William “Billy” Oku.

“The survivors and trainers at this event give us the needed reminder of why we serve as AMBER Alert Coordinators,” Leonard said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to excel in our important collective work. One team, one fight!”

AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen welcomed hundreds of participants representing nearly every state in the nation, as well as the program’s Northern Border Initiative partner, Canada.

In crediting the grant support that the AATTAP and its AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) Initiative receives from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Rasmussen recognized two OJJDP attendees—AATTAP Grant Manager Alex Sarrano, and Lou Ann Holland, Grant Manager for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), “for their dedication to protecting children, and their passion for the work being done” by those at the Symposium.

Rasmussen praised attendees’ “hard work—work most people could not do—on behalf of missing children. Many of them are home today, but some are not. Let’s remember Elijah Vue in Wisconsin, Morgan Nick in Arkansas, Mikelle Biggs in Arizona, and Navaeh Kingbird in Minnesota. These children and so many others deserve to be found, to be reunited with their families, and to grow up in a safe environment.”

Training ‘for you, by you’

The AATTAP team develops and delivers training opportunities crafted “for you, by you”—and each Symposium is the standard bearer of that.

“ ‘For you, by you’ isn’t just a catchphrase—it’s our guiding principle,” said Byron Fassett, AATTAP Deputy Administrator. “Everything on the agenda is the result of our team asking everyone at last year’s Symposium—and everyone who participated in hundreds of our classes since then—‘What do you want to see?’ and ‘What are your needs?’”

Additionally, Symposium-goers had a digital, interactive tool for planning, collaborating, and providing feedback: the event app Whova. The platform let participants review the agenda, plan for sessions they wished to attend, map out class locations, check into sessions, weigh in on discussion topics, connect for lunch or dinner, share photos, and much more. Attendees also could suggest topics and locations for next year’s Symposium.

Guest speaker Brad Russ, Executive Director of the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) of Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC), said he was proud to see how far training topics and techniques have advanced from what he experienced during his early days in law enforcement in New Hampshire.

Russ’s respected work would ultimately lead the OJJDP to seek his involvement in nationwide training that began more than 30 years ago. During that time, missing child advocate Patty Wetterling of Minnesota “helped open the eyes and hearts of stoic police officers with her powerful insight into what parents face when their child goes missing,” he recalled.

Russ also commended an early mentor—OJJDP/FVTC instructor and retired Pennsylvania Police Sergeant Gary O’Connor—for advancing traditional training techniques that historically involved staid presentations full of statistics into curriculum and instructional design employing more dynamic approaches, such as engaging participants through robust discussions, knowledge checks, and tabletop exercises. Russ has ensured such effective strategies have carried forward since the NCJTC’s creation in 2009.

The power of family perspectives

Cover of the resource guide "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" with link to website: https://www.amberadvocate.org/families
Visit the Family Survival Guide website: amberadvocate.org/families.

Symposium attendees received copies of the newly updated resource, When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide. They also learned about its companion website, which gives caregivers and law enforcement instant access to the Guide’s multimedia content, including videos of the parent-survivors sharing powerful stories and advice.

“When we released the Guide on Missing Children’s Day 2023, the families involved in its production joined us for a meeting with OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan and her team,” said AATTAP Administrator Rasmussen. “The parent-authors were adamant that law enforcement needed more guidance on how to best work with, and understand, families of missing children. They also emphasized that missing child cases, and relevant training, should be a priority for law enforcement.”

As a result, Ryan asked the AATTAP to help update the resource guide, What About Me? Coping With the Abduction of a Brother or Sister. “Siblings of missing children often suffer in silence, but need so much support,” Rasmussen said.

Two family members who are helping produce the new sibling guide served as keynote speakers for the Symposium.

Kimber Biggs spoke about the devastating loss of her 11-year-old sister, Mikelle Biggs. On January 2, 1999, Mikelle was abducted while riding her bike near her family’s Arizona home—and never seen again. Biggs was 9 years old when that trauma took place, but she has spent 25 years advocating on her sister’s behalf. She now works as an Associate with the AATTAP-NCJTC.

Photo of young girl with her bicycle.
Mikelle Biggs is shown shortly before she was abducted near her Arizona home in 1999. She is still missing. {Photo: Courtesy Biggs family}

Biggs shared several distressing interactions with law enforcement “that I hope you all can learn from.” The biggest blow, she said, was set in motion after detectives learned that her father was having an affair at the time of her sister’s disappearance.

“And instead of looking at other suspects—including a registered sex offender on our street—they fixated on my dad and the affair. That was a huge setback for the case,” Biggs said. “Their thinking that he was guilty of harming my sister only added to our family’s trauma.”

While it’s taken more than two decades to see renewed interest “in what was a very cold case,” a new detective has been assigned to it, Biggs said. “That’s a great relief. It’s nice to have someone now who is trustworthy and proactive. We communicate at least weekly. And the fact that he’s eyeing a significant suspect in the case makes it feel like something is finally happening.”

On the Symposium’s second day, Pamela Foster shared her powerful story. Foster is the mother of the late 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, whose May 2016 abduction and murder on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico led to Foster becoming a self-described “warrior mom”—not only for her daughter, but for all children in Indian Country.

“Words cannot describe the brokenness I felt when I learned Ashlynne had been murdered,” Foster said. “Words cannot describe the sheer anguish my family and the community felt at the sudden death of our precious little girl. A deep heartache followed.”

Graphic with this text and URL: ‘Warrior Mom’ Pamela Foster speaks directly to Tribal leadership about the need for AMBER Alert training: bit.ly/WarriorMom-AMBERAlertsHer anguish would be further heightened after learning that the Navajo Nation—the nation’s largest Indian reservation, spanning three states—was not equipped to quickly issue an AMBER Alert. And confusion by outside law enforcement over who had the proper jurisdiction to issue the alert created a major delay in finding Ashlynne.

“Within weeks, I started petitions to bring the AMBER Alert to Indian Country,” she said. “I called for action from my friends, the Navajo Nation, and the federal government. And though I was physically exhausted and spiritually broken, I poured my heart into effecting legislative change.”

With the support of late U.S. Senator John McCain and Representative Andy Biggs, both of Arizona, by 2018, the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act was signed into law—and ultimately lead to the creation of AATTAP’s AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative. “I’m always reassured whenever I see an AMBER Alert doing what it’s supposed to do,” Foster said.

Photo of Derek VanLuchene and Pamela Foster holding quilt.
COVER STORY EXTRA: Parent-survivor/2024 Symposium keynote speaker Pamela Foster surprised sibling-survivor/AATTAP Project Coordinator Derek VanLuchene with an art quilt that she made in tribute to VanLuchene’s late brother, Ryan, and his dog, Herschel. Read “Healing Through Comfort.” https://www.amberadvocate.org/amber-feature/aa58-healing-through-comfort-quilt/

After Foster’s talk, AATTAP Administrator Rasmussen and AIIC Program Manager Tyesha Wood presented her with a gift “in recognition of her ongoing bravery, generosity, and never-ending commitment to moving AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiatives forward in memory of Ashlynne—and all missing children,” Rasmussen said. “Pamela’s tireless work has changed the way we respond to missing children in Indian Country. Today, the Navajo Nation has an AMBER Alert Plan, and many other Tribal nations are working with state and regional partners to ensure that what happened to Ashlynne never happens again.”

“As painful as Kimber and Pamela’s experiences are to hear, it’s important that we do hear them to help improve our response,” said keynote speaker Marlys Big Eagle. A member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, Big Eagle serves as the National Native American Outreach Services Liaison for the U.S. Department of Justice, and has worked in criminal justice for more than two decades. Her work centers on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Initiative and other public safety issues in Indian Country.

Over and out—and energized

At the conclusion of the Symposium, Rasmussen reminded attendees of what family members of missing children said after finalizing their work on the Family Survival Guide. “When we asked them, ‘If you could tell law enforcement what they need to hear, what would you say? ’ One of the parents mentioned earlier, Patty Wetterling, said, ‘We know the work that you do is hard; that you have families to go home to; that the work you’ve done during the day remains with you. But remember: We’re suffering the most horrific event of our lives. So we’re counting on you to do everything possible to bring our child home. But also know that we thank you for everything you do.’”

These and other words of advice and encouragement bolstered conversations long after the Symposium ended. Using the Whova app, attendees could continue discussing how to fund new technology; start and sustain a CART; improve leads management; navigate the changing social media landscape; adapt to the growing number of emergency alert classifications; develop ways to capture data; and keep people properly trained during staffing shortages. They also used the Whova platform to provide important feedback for next year’s Symposium.

Calling the conference “one of the most outstanding ones to date,” Hawaii’s AMBER Alert Coordinator Amanda Leonard also shared this: “On my way home to Honolulu via Houston, as soon as the plane landed, I received an AMBER Alert for a 12-year-old girl abducted in the city. I felt so connected to the Texas law enforcement team working her case and helping her terrified loved ones. The work never ends—and abducted children need us to be prepared to issue a lifesaving AMBER Alert for them.”
Display quote: “I appreciated that Kimber Biggs and Pamela Foster took the time to share stories about the worst possible days of their lives. It adds human emotion to the subject, which law enforcement sometimes doesn’t see.” Symposium participant (via Whova)

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AATTAP Project Coordinator Derek VanLuchene and Pamela Foster show the quilt Foster made for Derek.
AATTAP Project Coordinator Derek VanLuchene and Symposium keynote speaker Pamela Foster show the art quilt Foster made for VanLuchene—and gave him during the Symposium. {Photo: AATTAP}

By Denise Gee Peacock

For those fortunate enough to witness it, one of the Symposium’s most moving moments came in the guise of a small package—one that guest speaker Pamela Foster quietly handed to AATTAP CART Project Coordinator Derek VanLuchene.

Both share a unique bond: Foster is the mother of Ashlynne Mike, who was abducted and murdered on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico when she was 11. And VanLuchene is the brother of Ryan VanLuchene, abducted at age 8 (in the presence of Derek, then 17) and later found murdered not far from his home in rural Montana. Like Ashlynne, Ryan was sexually assaulted before being killed. “The trauma of knowing that can be unbearable,” Foster says.

Foster and VanLuchene first met in 2019 at a Montana training conference with the Blackfeet Nation. “That’s when I heard his story,” she says. “I had no idea he and I were going through such similar emotions. And since then, our talks have given me such comfort.”

Around the time of their meeting, Foster was trying her hand at designing and sewing textile art.

“Quilting gave me an outlet to disappear from the world,” she says. “I started giving the quilts to others I’d befriended who were also going through grief.”

Quote from Pamela Foster: "A lot of healing comes from friends. And now, through that quilt, there's an invisible thread that connects us. We are both survivors."But she kept thinking of VanLuchene. What could she create for a former police officer “who’d pretty much seen it all—but also was a gentle soul,” a sibling-survivor of a violent crime?  “I wanted to give him something from my heart—especially because he’s doing such good work to help others find missing children,” she says.

She pondered the possibilities until last fall, when she learned VanLuchene’s beloved dog, Herschel, had died.

“That’s when the image came to me. I worked up the courage to design a quilt showing Ryan and Herschel together.” Whenever she found time, she worked on the gift, but only finished it the night before leaving her Southern California home to fly to New Orleans.

Detail of art quilt made by Pamela Foster for Derek VanLuchene. It memorializes Derek's late brother, Ryan, and his dog, Herschel.
The quilt depicts Derek VanLuchene’s late dog, Herschel, watching over Derek’s late brother, Ryan VanLuchene, during a fishing outing. {Photo: AATTAP}

VanLuchene was deeply moved by the gesture. “What a special gift,” he says. “Herschel and I always shared a special connection. It was devastating when he passed this last October. In so many ways he was my comfort dog. So it gives me great peace to see him comforting my brother, Ryan, near the water, which they both loved.”

Derek VanLuchene has given the quilt pride of place in his home office. Pamela Foster is happy to know he will look at it often there. “I hope each time he sees it he’ll know just how much love it holds for him,” she says.

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Illustration of abandoned bicycle, law enforcement searchers, AMBER Alert poster for Charlotte Sena, and this quote from Erika Hock, Senior Investigator/AMBER Alert Coordinator for the New York State Police: “They thought she’d wandered into the woods and gotten lost. Nothing pointed to an abduction.”
By Jody Garlock

As the disappearance of 9-year-old Charlotte Sena from an Upstate New York park in the fall of 2023 began to garner national media attention, the parallels to another case flashed through the mind of Victoria Martuscello, Investigator/Assistant AMBER Alert Coordinator for the New York State Police (NYSP).

Photo of the law enforcement group involved in the search for Charlotte Sena in Upstate New York.
New York State Police Senior Investigator and AMBER Alert Coordinator Erika Hock (center) was among the relieved authorities at the command center during Charlotte’s safe recovery.

Shortly before Charlotte was reported missing by her family, her bike had been found abandoned on the side of a road at Moreau Lake State Park. For Martuscello, the report evoked a familiar sense of doom. “It felt like we had a classic case of Amber Hagerman playing out right in front of our faces,” she says, referencing the 9-year-old Texas girl whose 1996 abduction and murder led to the creation of our nation’s AMBER Alert program.

Meanwhile, as the critical window of time for the best odds of recovery loomed, Erika Hock, Martuscello’s supervisor and the NYSP Senior Investigator and AMBER Alert Coordinator who issued the AMBER Alert for Charlotte, couldn’t help but feel hope was waning.

Conversely, Hock and Martuscello were uplifted to see the hundreds of law enforcement professionals engaged in Charlotte’s search, as well as public interest in the case—heightened by the rallying call of New York Governor Kathy Hochul.

After an expansive search lasting nearly two days, the words “We got her! We got her!” bellowed through a speaker phone at the Saratoga County command post. The fact that the fourth-grader was alive and well brought cheers throughout the post and community at large.

Charlotte’s rescue was nothing short of a miracle. Her case had defied the odds. But it would also test the fortitude of New York’s AMBER Alert plan—and offers lessons for other agencies. (See “Five key takeaways” at the end of this story.)

Saturday, September 30, 2023, was a beautiful autumn day in the foothills of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. The Sena family was enjoying the weekend with friends in two wooded camping spots at Moreau Lake State Park, about 45 miles north of Albany (and 20 minutes from the Sena’s home).

Throughout the day, Charlotte, clad in a tie-dye T-shirt, had been riding her green and blue mountain bike with her siblings and friends around the camping loop, a tree-canopied road ringed with campsites close to the park’s entrance. By dinnertime, most of Charlotte’s group were ready to call it a day, but she wanted to make one final loop on her own. When she didn’t return as expected, her parents began searching for her, as did other campers—all of them calling out for the girl in the forested park.

Within 20 minutes (about 6:45 p.m.), Charlotte’s dad and a friend found her bike on the side of the camping loop road, but she was nowhere in sight. That alarmed her mother enough to call 911.

Photo of New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at a press conference related to Charlotte Sena's abduction
During the search for Charlotte, “I promised her parents we’ll find their daughter,” said New York Governor Kathy Hochul. “She’s all of our daughters.”

New York State Police Troopers arrived on the scene to canvass for information. They soon learned that shortly before Charlotte went missing, a couple at the campground had come across a bike blocking the middle of the road where they were driving. With its kickstand down, they assumed the rider had parked there temporarily, so the driver beeped the horn, hoping its owner would come back and move it. But after several minutes without a response, they decided to move it to the side of the road and continue their drive.

Based on the bike’s orderly position, officers initially didn’t think foul play was involved, Hock explains. “They thought she’d wandered into the woods and gotten lost. Nothing pointed to an abduction.”

With nightfall looming, the search intensified. Around 11 p.m., the Missing Persons Clearinghouse issued a missing child alert and distributed a poster with Charlotte’s photo. Ultimately hundreds of searchers—including police officers, forest rangers, trained canines, drone operators, underwater recovery teams, firefighters, technology experts, volunteers, and the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation—joined in to try to find the missing girl.

Without any sign of Charlotte by early Sunday morning, a NYSP lieutenant and support staff updated Hock, who agreed there was “reasonable cause” to conclude she was in danger, and likely had been abducted, thereby meeting New York’s criteria to issue an AMBER Alert.

At 9:30 a.m., Hock issued an AMBER Alert geo-targeting two regions skirting the park. At that pointin the investigation, an FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) team joined the investigation. (New York’s statewide Child Abduction Response Team (CART) was in development at the time.) The governor put out a plea for the child’s safe return. Major news outlets began reporting the story, and hundreds of tips poured in. Still, the 9-year-old’s whereabouts remained a mystery.

As word of Charlotte’s disappearance circulated, the Sena home in Greenfield received a steady flow of traffic from well-wishers—known and unknown—who dropped off messages of support. While the distraught family remained at the park, their house was under police surveillance. Nothing seemed unusual until around 4:30 a.m. Monday, when a dark F-150 pickup truck pulled up to the mailbox and placed something in it.

Text in graphic: From 2021 to 2023, 3 out of 548 missing child alerts* (.5% of all cases) were known to involve ransom requests.//*Excluding alerts that were classified as unfounded or hoaxes.//Source: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

The trooper watching the home, unable to record the license plate, immediately retrieved the item, and saw it was a crudely produced ransom note—and a critical piece of evidence. As authorities began a search for vehicles matching the truck’s description and conducted other analytical data, they also expedited a fingerprint analysis on the ransom note. Then came a lucky break: A fingerprint was found on the note. And what’s more, it matched that of 46-year-old Craig N. Ross Jr., who had been arrested in 1999 for driving while intoxicated.

By then, the state’s Cellular Analysis Response Team had verified that Ross’s cellular device was in the vicinity of the park when Charlotte disappeared, so authorities obtained search warrants for addresses linked to Ross.

Around 6:30 that evening, tactical teams swarmed a ramshackle camper on Ross’s mother’s property. Ross briefly resisted arrest, but ultimately Charlotte was found safe in a bedroom closet. Ross was arrested and charged with kidnapping, and later would be charged with sexual assault. In February 2024, he pleaded guilty to those charges.

Photos of Charlotte Sena's abductor, Craig N. Ross, and Ross' camper the 9-year-old girl was discovered in.
Craig N. Ross Jr. was booked at the Saratoga County jail shortly after tactical teams found Charlotte concealed in his camper.

As Ross awaits sentencing, Hock and Martuscello continue to field questions about how the case was handled. While there are lessons to learn from every case, the key takeaway for both investigators was that adhering to the state’s protocol for issuing AMBER Alerts worked.

Quote from Joan Collins, AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program Region One Liaison: “The New York AMBER Alert Coordinators did an outstanding job of monitoring the investigation and ultimately activating the alert with little to go on other than Charlotte had simply vanished. The lessons learned will be beneficial for all who handle missing child alerts.”From the outset, their investigative team worked quickly to find Charlotte using comprehensive investigative strategies and tools. The public was alerted once the criteria had been met—and only in a specific area where the 9-year-old was likely to be. The goal is to provide the public with information that can help, rather than confuse, efforts to locate a missing child. Strategic, targeted alerting helps prevent people from becoming de-sensitized to AMBER Alerts, which can be a deadly consequence of public indifference.

Both Hock and Martuscello remain confident in their roles and the established protocols.

“I have friends ask why AMBER Alerts aren’t issued for every missing child, but if you get an AMBER Alert every time a child goes missing, your phone would be going off all day long,” Martuscello says. “I ask them what they think they would do because of that. They say, ‘You’re right, I would turn off that alert.’”

Graphic with the words "Five Key Takeaways"

“This case had so many aspects that defied the odds,” says Erika Hock, New York State Police Senior Investigator and AMBER Alert Coordinator. Here she shares insights on what she learned—with lessons other Coordinators can apply.

  1. Be prepared for scrutiny and criticism. Any case—but especially a high-profile one—underscores the need to meticulously follow protocols. Members of the public and media often don’t understand how and why AMBER Alerts are issued, Hock explains, so “as an AMBER Alert Coordinator, you can’t have a weak spine. These cases aren’t cut and dried—each one has a gray area. It’s not easy to make the decisions but you have to [using the information you have at the time].”
  2. Act without delay on the information you have. Having critical details—a license plate number or description of the suspected abductor—helps find missing children faster, but sometimes AMBER Alert Coordinators must alert the public using only a photo and description of the missing child. Geo-targeting focuses the information on the people most likely to see the child, and prevents citizens within a large area from receiving alerts that might prompt them to disable their cellphone’s AMBER Alert function.
  3. Understand that cases are fluid. Some New Yorkers questioned why there wasn’t an immediate AMBER Alert, or why they didn’t receive the notification in their region—which prompted a New York legislator to begin pushing a bill to allow parents or guardians to request early activation. New York’s criteria for an activation specifies “reasonable cause”—defined as an eyewitness account or the elimination of other possibilities—to believe a child has been abducted. Without an eyewitness, Hock knew to let the initial search rule out possibilities, such as Charlotte being injured from falling down an embankment. She was also prepared to expand the alert to other activation regions in the state if new information warranted.
  4. Make it a team effort. Hock advises AMBER Alert Coordinators to loop in their Public Information Officer as soon as the decision to activate is made. That person or team can then help the media and public understand the criteria.
  5. Cultivate relationships with state law enforcement. In the Sena case, some officers had previously worked in Hock’s unit, and thus were familiar with the activation criteria. “In the past we’ve had demands to activate an AMBER Alert when it’s not even close to meeting our criteria,” Hock says. “But we have these criteria for a reason, and take the time to explain it to agencies [and the public] so they can understand.”

 

 

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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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SafetyNet bracelet helps find missing child in Florida

GPS bracelet helps Florida deputies find child

It was nearing dusk one Sunday evening last November when Hillsborough County deputies in Tampa, Florida, were notified about a missing 9-year-old child with autism. With weather conditions worsening, deputies could not use an air unit to help search for the child, but a SafetyNet bracelet he was wearing allowed them to pinpoint his location. SafetyNet works by allowing law enforcement agencies access to GPS information from bracelets worn by those with cognitive conditions when they go missing. The child, who was hiding behind an air conditioning unit, was found about 20 minutes after the signal was detected.

Photo of Chinese exchange student being rescued after cyber-scam

Exchange student rescued after online scam

When Chinese exchange student Kai Zhuang was reported missing in December from his host high school in Riverdale, Utah, authorities traced his location by analyzing call data and bank records. Police found the 17-year-old alone in a tent in rural Utah, amid freezing temperatures and with limited food and water, the apparent victim of a cyber-kidnapping scam. Zhuang was unharmed, but the damage was done—his parents in China had already paid “kidnappers” an $80,000 ransom. Zhuang’s case represents a growing type of fraud where cybercriminals target exchange students, particularly Chinese students, tricking them into believing their families are being threatened. They force terrified victims to take photos of themselves bound and gagged, which are then used to coerce the family into paying ransom. The cyber kidnappers continue to extort the family by using photos and voice recordings of the victim that give the impression the kidnappers are with the victim and causing them harm, Riverdale police said. With the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), experts believe the crimes will continue.

Photo of John Walsh promoting the new "America's Most Wanted" TV series

John Walsh partners with NCMEC, returns to TV

In the aftermath of his son Adam’s kidnapping and murder in 1981, John Walsh became a victim’s rights activist, political lobbyist, and creator of the TV program, “America’s Most Wanted,” which he hosted until 2013. The popular show was credited with helping solve missing child cases, including the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, featured on one of its episodes. In January, Walsh returned to “America’s Most Wanted,” this time with son Callahan Walsh as co-host and co-producer. To help find more missing kids, “America’s Most Wanted” is also working directly with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). “Partnering with NCMEC is so vital to the return of ‘America’s Most Wanted,’” said Callahan, who is also the executive director of NCMEC’s Florida office. “By featuring these cases on the show, we’re putting these missing children in front of a national audience...It’s going to be such a powerful tool to help bring kids home.”

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Illustration depicting DNA strand

New DNA tests can help identify missing Native Americans and solve crimes

Advances in rapid DNA sequencing are helping to solve missing persons cases long gone cold, such as that of 20-year-old Ashley Loring Heavyrunner, who disappeared from Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation in 2017. New testing kits can extract thousands of genetic markers from unidentified human remains, making it easier to link them to missing persons. Because few genetic data are available for Native Americans, Hopi Tribe member Haley Omeasoo, a classmate and distant relative of Heavyrunner, decided to pursue forensic anthropology to help locate missing Indigenous people. As a Ph.D. student at the University of Montana, Omeasoo and her graduate advisor, anthropologist Meradeth Snow, are working with the Blackfeet Tribe to create a DNA database of tribal members that can be compared with unidentified human remains. More than 4,000 sets of human remains are found in the U.S. each year; about a quarter remain unidentified, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly 5,500 reports of missing Indigenous women and girls were filed in 2022 alone. Omeasoo is hopeful Ashley Heavyrunner will be found alive, but she knows that her DNA work could ultimately identify her friend’s remains. If that happens, she hopes it will at least give the family closure.

Red dress in Ottawa to promote the "Red Dress Alert" for missing Indigenous women and girls

Ottawa begins work on ‘Red Dress Alert’ for missing Indigenous women and girls

Leah Gazan, a member of Canada’s Parliament, is leading discussions on a proposed “Red Dress Alert” system for missing Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit (gender-diverse) people, who face a murder rate six times that of other females. Similar to AMBER Alerts for children, Red Dress notifications would be sent to the public on their phones. Ottawa, which recognized the crisis as a national emergency, included funding for an alert system in the federal budget in March 2023. Calling it a matter of life or death, Gazan is urging the federal government to implement the Red Dress program before the next election.

Iowa sisters Trisha Rivers and Jessica Lopez-Walker of the Winnebago Tribe work with the Great Plains Action Society

Two Iowa sisters become a voice for missing and murdered Indigenous people

Despite being separated during childhood, two Sioux City, Iowa, sisters and members of the Winnebago Tribe reunited as adults and set out to learn more about their Native American heritage. While digging into their family history, Trisha Rivers and Jessica Lopez-Walker learned of an aunt, Paulette “Paulie” Walker, who left Iowa for California in 1984, and shortly afterward was murdered. The sisters struggled to understand why no one reported the young woman missing, and now aim to have her remains returned to Iowa for burial near family. Their aunt, whose case remains unsolved, is one of the countless Indigenous women who suffer disproportionately higher rates of violence, sexual assault, and murder compared to the rest of the U.S. population. The sisters’ work with the nonprofit organization Great Plains Action Society involves helping find missing or murdered Indigenous people (MMIP) and providing support for other issues Iowa’s Indigenous population faces. Native Americans made up 1.5 percent of missing persons cases in Iowa, despite the state’s Native American population accounting for less than one half of 1 percent, according to an Iowa Public Radio report. “Native women and girls, our relatives, are not expendable,” Rivers said, adding that they’re seeking better treatment for Native communities.

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Chinese student shows AI face-progression image made by AI that can help find missing children

New photo technology helps find missing kids

A novel use of technology is helping to locate missing children around the world, including 9-year-old Phillista Waithera, who vanished in Nairobi in 2021. Two years later, she was reunited with her immediate family with the use of Face Age Progression (FAP) technology, which utilizes an Artificial Intelligence (AI) app to create photos of the child to show what they would look like now. In 2021 alone, the Kenyan nonprofit Missing Child Kenya Foundation located 298 children using AI, according to CEO and founder Maryanna Munyendo. And in central China’s Hubei Provence, a group of students at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) developed an AI system to restore and enhance old blurry photos of children who went missing decades earlier. More than 1,000 photos have been restored to improve clarity, helping reunite 11 missing children, like Sun Zhuo, a 4-year-old abducted in 2007 from his daycare in Shenzhen Province and rejoined with his biological parents in 2021 at age 18.

Image of little girls and little shoes during protest in support of "Bring the Stolen Children Home" in Ukraine

Ongoing efforts return ‘stolen’ Ukraine children

Ukraine officials have identified more than 19,000 children illegally removed from their homes and taken to Russia or Russia-controlled territory since the war began in February 2022. In some cases, Russian authorities took hundreds of children from Ukrainian orphanages and schools, according to Russian documents gathered by Lyudmyla Denisova, a former Ukraine human rights official. Many children were removed on the pretext of rescuing them from the war zone, or lured with the promise of attending camp. Others were taken from hospitals. Russian authorities have placed children with foster families, and President Vladimir Putin opened the way for Russian families to adopt Ukrainian children. The Russian strategy is deliberate, premeditated, and systematic, according to evidence collected by Ukrainian and international human rights and war crimes organizations. In March 2023, The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Putin and another official, a move that has made it easier to return children. Charities such as Save Ukraine and SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine have taken up the cause, and in recent months have tracked down and returned 387 children to their families.

Report: Migrant children still missing in Ireland

Dozens of migrant children who sought protection after fleeing war-torn countries have vanished in Ireland since 2017. A 2023 report published by University College Dublin’s (UCD) Sexual Exploitation Research Programme (SERP) indicates some of the children were victims of organized sexual exploitation. Of the 62 who are missing, 44 have reached their 18th birthday and, because they are no longer minors, child welfare has ceased searching for them. MECPATHS (Mercy Efforts for Child Protection Against Trafficking with the Hospitality and Services Sectors), a nonprofit group raising awareness of child trafficking and exploitation in Ireland, said the report confirmed what frontline workers have been telling the organization for years. “Sexual exploitation, forced labor, forced begging, criminal exploitation, forced marriage, the removal of organs, and domestic servitude—it is all happening in Ireland,” said Ann Mara, the organization’s education manager. “So, the fact that these children are missing, and there is a kind of a shrug of the shoulders, is just mind-boggling.”

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Photo of AATTAP-AIIC Program Manager Tyesha Wood talking to a class during a 2023 event. Included is this quote from her: It's an honor to be recognized by a truly amazing organization. I'm also thankful to be working with so many other people who provide resources for victims of crime—and find solutions to making our communities safer."

By Denise Gee Peacock

Photo of Tyesha Wood, AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program Manager of the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative
Tyesha M. Wood

Tyesha M. Wood—a Program Manager for the AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) who oversees the AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) Initiative—is one of five public servants selected by the End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) organization as a 2024 “Champion of Change.”

EVAWI operates as a catalyst for justice and healing, “so that every survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence gets the right response, every time,” the non-profit group says. “Champions of Change work on a state or national level, to create system-level reforms in the way we respond to sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and other forms of gender-based violence.”

Wood was chosen as a “Champion of Change” because she is a “powerful advocate with an unwavering commitment to justice for children and victims of interpersonal violence in Indian Country,” the EVAWI notes.

Photo of Janell Rasmussen, AATTAP Administrator, with this quote from her: "Tyesha works tirelessly to protect Indian Country youth through her work with our AIIC Program, so this recognition is well deserved. She truly is a champion at brining Tribal communities together to protect children."

Crediting Wood’s 17-year career in law enforcement—during which she was a detective specializing in domestic violence cases and crimes against children—EVAWI notes this about her:

Ms. Wood, a member of the Navajo Nation, is revered for her expertise in helping communities develop strategic, cross-jurisdictional responses to safely recover missing or abducted children. … A national speaker on issues of protecting Native youth from human trafficking and abuse, Wood works directly with communities, traveling to remote villages and Tribal lands around the country. Because culturally specific responses are crucial to protecting Indigenous children, she helps communities apply relevant solutions and implement comprehensive child recovery strategies.  …

Wood’s leadership in promoting culturally and trauma-informed responses also extends to survivors of sexual assault. As a detective with Gila River Police Department, she helped launch the first “Start by Believing” campaign in Indian Country. 

Wood’s personal dedication and professional effectiveness in strengthening responses to sex trafficking, aiding missing and exploited children, and driving implementation of culturally sensitive approaches make her an inspiration to all. 

AATTAP’s AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative was established in 2007 by the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs with the goal of creating and expanding child recovery practices, capacity, and resources in Tribal communities. For more details about the AIIC’s training opportunities and outreach, visit https://bit.ly/AIICinfo or its website, amber-ic.org.

The EVAWI was founded in 2003 by Sergeant Joanne Archambault of the San Diego Police Department. During her decades of work with victims, Sergeant Archambault saw a critical need for training law enforcement in how to investigate sexual assault and domestic violence. Criminal justice practitioners simply did not have the training and support they needed to conduct thorough investigations guided by best practices. EVAWI was created to fill this void. For more details about the 2024 “Champions of Change,” visit https://evawintl.org/creating-change/.

 

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DNA test helps U.S. man, stolen at birth, reunite with mother in Chile after 42 years

General Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year reign of terror resulted in tens of thousands of Chileans killed, tortured, and imprisoned—and an estimated 20,000 newborns were stolen and put up for adoption abroad. Pinochet was deposed in 1990, but the thousands of families whose babies were illegally taken still feel the pain. To help them and their missing children find answers, the Chilean nonprofit group Nos Buscamos has partnered with online genealogy platform MyHeritage to provide free at-home DNA testing kits for Chilean adoptees and victims of child trafficking. The effort is paying off: One American man has been given his birthright back. In late summer 2023, Nos Buscamos helped Jimmy Lippert Thyden locate his biological mother in Chile after 42 years. Thyden’s DNA test matched him to a first cousin who connected him with his birth mother, Maria Angelica Gonzalez. Thyden soon traveled to Chile with his family to meet her. The NGO has orchestrated over 450 such reunions between adoptees and their birth families in the last decade.

Brazilian government signs deal with Meta to track down missing children

Digital powerhouse Meta has joined forces with Brazil’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security to help locate missing children and adolescents up to age 18. In an agreement signed on the International Day of Missing Persons this past August, two of Meta’s platforms—Facebook and Instagram—have begun issuing emergency alerts for Brazil’s missing children. Emily Vacher, Meta’s Global Director of Responsibility and Safety, says the technology has been used in 30 countries since 1990 and resulted in locating more than 1,200 children. Meta hopes to expand the program to other platforms, including WhatsApp and Threads.

American Samoa and Guam delegates propose legislation to increase jail time for traffickers

United States congressional delegates High Chief Uifa’atali Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen of American Samoa and James Moylan of the District of Guam are co-sponsors of a bill to raise mandatory minimum jail time from 15 to 25 years for convicted child traffickers. The bill, known as the Combating Human-Trafficking of Innocent Lives Daily (C.H.I.L.D.) Act of 2023, also requires uniform sentences for traffickers who exploit victims under the age of 18. The toughened law is expected to send a strong message to those who engage in child sex trafficking. “Human trafficking is one of the greatest crimes imaginable, yet it is a sad reality that we must defeat,” said Congresswoman Radewagen. “Thank you to Congressman Moylan for his leadership on this important issue as we fight for the lives and futures of vulnerable children.” Representatives Don Davis of North Carolina, Diana Harshbarger of Tennessee, and Don Bacon of Nebraska also co-sponsored the bill, which was introduced last September.

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Photo depicting how to spot fake missing child posters from NCMEC

NCMEC: How to spot fake missing child posters

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) warns about a new clickbait scam: bogus missing child posters. Learn how to recognize a fake by looking for these red flags: The poster doesn’t come from NCMEC, an official law enforcement agency, or credible news source; it may contain misspellings, syntax errors, or improperly used words; and it doesn’t note how you can take appropriate action.

Photo showing images depicting Florida Missing Children's Day

Florida Missing Children’s Day brings healing

The 25th Florida Missing Children’s Day event honored citizens, law enforcement officers, and K-9 teams for their exemplary efforts investigating missing persons, rescuing missing children, and preventing abductions. The September 11 ceremony in Tallahassee included a moment of remembrance for all the children who vanish each year. One of them was 14-year-old Demiah Appling, reported missing from Dixie County in October 2022. Her body was found two months later in neighboring Gilchrist County. Her uncle, David Appling, told Tallahassee’s WCTV that the ceremony was a moment of healing: “The people here, they understand. And they know, they explained to us it is OK to be sad, it’s OK to cry and show your emotions and not be ashamed of it.”

Photo showing police officer looking at surveillance footage

59 missing children rescued during FBI sting

More than 200 sex trafficking victims, including 59 missing children, were rescued by the FBI during a coordinated two-week campaign last summer that involved federal, state, and local agencies across the country, working in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “Operation Cross Country,” now in its 13th year, also led to the identification or arrest of 126 suspects of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses; 68 suspects of trafficking were also identified and arrested.

Photo of Florida K-9 competition winners

Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit nabs first in manhunt trials

The Santa Rosa County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office K-9 Bloodhounds Unit and K-9 “Zinc” took top honors this past September at the 2023 Southeastern States Manhunt Trials, Single Leash Division. The field trials, which are hosted by the Escambia County Road Prison, simulate conditions that law enforcement K-9 teams experience when searching for a suspect or lost child. The county’s K-9 Unit is comprised of 17 highly trained canines supervised by Sergeants Chrystal Bozard and Robert Lenzo.

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Photo collage showing someone pointing to the words "2024 trends" emanating from his laptop; a circle with "AI"; a police officer using the Flock Safety system; an illustration of a "connected" city; and a guy using a cell phone that's surrounded by graphic depictions of all its apps

"As 2024 unfolds, here are our tech experts' top 5 'game-changing' innovations for law enforcement"Happy (Tech-Savvy) New Year

By Jody Garlock

Each second felt like an eternity as Eddie Bertola stared at the blank screen in front of him. While composing an AMBER Alert for the California Highway Patrol, then-Sergeant Bertola was all too aware that a child’s life depended on him getting the procedure right. That’s why he dedicated himself to learning everything he could about alerting technology—and became very good at his job.

We recently caught up with Bertola, and fellow AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) Associate Instructor Tony Godwin, to find out what new or emerging technological tools are on their radars for 2024—and think they should be on yours too.

Image reads: "Scroll down for even more tech advances!While Eddie Bertola and Tony Godwin have taken different paths in law enforcement, both nationally respected professionals embrace the significant role that technology plays in helping prevent, and find, missing and exploited children.

After 15 years with the California Highway Patrol, Bertola now serves as an Associate with the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) and AATTAP, helping train law enforcement to use the latest technological tools and resources to operate better and faster. He’s also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to test new software that can generate exacting emergency messages with just a few clicks.

NCJTC-AATTAP Associate Godwin is a veteran detective with the Garland Police Department in Texas, and a member of the North Texas Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. He remembers when “high tech” meant the ability to send emails. Now he’s a certified cellphone and computer forensics examiner who investigates child exploitation and other crimes against children that occur in areas where young people may be lured into a false sense of safety, such as a gaming app’s chat room. The combined knowledge of Godwin and Bertola is invaluable for law enforcement trainees.


Polaroid-style photo of Eddie Bertola1) Message Design Dashboard: Building a better WEA

New message-writing software is in development that will allow for more effective Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs)—not only to spur the public into action, but also to lessen the pressure on officials tasked with writing and disseminating the alerts.

The Message Design Dashboard, developed by the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany in New York, creates a common structure so that alerting authorities can compile consistent messaging via easy-to-use dropdown menus and prompts.

The Dashboard stems from a FEMA-funded project to support the agency’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which powers and authenticates the nation’s emergency alerts. The Dashboard project used research to develop the software, which factored in social science to form clear, actionable messaging.

Display text reads: "It's very new, very needed, and it’s going to have a really big impact,” says Bertola, who’s been involved in the Message Design Dashboard’s beta testing. “Message creation will be a lot faster—and empowering for the public that receives the alert.”The software should be ready for use with AMBER Alert messaging in early 2024 says Jeannette Sutton, a University at Albany professor who heads the project and specializes in disaster and risk. Bertola and Sutton emphasize the ease of using the Dashboard, where users can click desired descriptors from dropdown menus. As answers are selected, the message is automatically built in a preview box at the side of the screen, with all content remaining editable. “We believe a common structure will improve messaging and get people to follow a consistent set of information and style of writing,” Sutton says.

The software tracks the character count, building a 90-character message that IPAWS requires, along with a 360-character message that most of today’s devices can receive. Hyperlinks are also checked to ensure they don’t go to an invalid page, which can erode public trust in the process.


2) Flock Safety: Real-time vehicle intelligence

Photo of Flock Safety vehicle monitorPhoto of Flock Safety software on computer screenOne product that’s making a marked difference in how police officers do their jobs is Flock Safety, a system with high-quality cameras, video, and other technology (shown at right) that reads license plates in order to provide real-time actionable intelligence.

“It’s been the biggest game-changer for us,” Godwin says. “It’s really altered how we work in law enforcement.”

Thirty years ago, the process of running tags and finding a vehicle was “almost like trying to catch a unicorn,” he says. With Flock Safety, officers receive alerts when a wanted vehicle passes by a camera. The notifications give the reason for the alert, date/time, and which camera the vehicle drove past. The alert also sends a picture of the vehicle, the license plate, and a map location.

In September 2023, Flock Safety equipment helped Elizabethtown, Kentucky, police safely recover a toddler caught up in a carjacking.

“Of all the years I’ve been doing this, I can’t think of … a more game-changing piece of technology for law enforcement,” said Elizabethtown Police Chief Jeremy Thompson when asking the city council for more Flock cameras to be added to the system installed six months earlier. “I’ve heard council members say that if we recover one kidnapped child, it was worth it. And in my opinion, no truer words have been spoken.”

Flock gathers only open source data, such as car tag information. The cameras read license plates only; they don’t identify motorists (there’s no facial recognition) or record speeds. The system, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, sends an alert to law enforcement only if the vehicle has been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, such as if it’s a stolen vehicle or wanted in connection with an AMBER Alert, or if an officer has entered it as a follow-up on an investigation. Data collected is deleted after 30 days.

At $2,500 per camera per year, the system is decidedly an investment. But if such a cost is prohibitive, Godwin says traditional license plate recognition (LPR) technology is still beneficial.


Screengrab from Ring doorbell: In 2022, a Ring doorbell camera documented the attempted abduction of a 6-year-old Ohio girl who was taking out the family’s trash. A man grabbed her and started dragging her down the sidewalk, but released her due to her screams. The video helped authorities apprehend the abductor.
In 2022, a Ring doorbell camera documented the attempted abduction of a 6-year-old Ohio girl who was taking out the family’s trash. A man grabbed her and started dragging her down the sidewalk but released her due to her screams. The video helped authorities apprehend the abductor.

3) Doorbell cameras: Public-engaging technology

Crime-fighting technology is branching beyond expensive equipment in patrol cars and computers in the office. Everyday consumer technology, such as doorbell cameras available for as little as $60, has emerged as a valuable resource to help law enforcement piece together investigations and prosecute cases.

“The growing public engagement in this area is one of the things I’m most excited about,” Bertola says.

He expects a continued increase in the public’s proactive sharing of video from doorbell, security, car dashboard, and cellphone cameras when they think it may help—rather than officers having to knock on doors and ask for the information.

“This type of rapid exchange of information is huge,” Bertola says. “Law enforcement seems to be starting to focus on harnessing that.” Some agencies have begun mapping subdivisions and other areas to note places with doorbell or other security cameras.

“Doing little things like that is going to help with trust in the community,” he says. “And as the community sees this, they’re going to become even more willing to share and become a partner.”


Graphic showing iceberg depicting Open Source Intelligence--what is most visible and, beneath the ice, all the murkiness of the deep, dark web4) Open Source Intelligence: Digging deep for answers

“Any investigation into a child’s disappearance should include Open Source Intelligence (OSINT),” Godwin says. He considers it “one of the most crucial law enforcement techniques in the digital world.”

OSINT is an umbrella term for collecting and analyzing data from publicly available sources, much of it via the Internet, for intelligence purposes. Its origins date to World War II, when William Donovan began using it for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“It’s an important tool as we are looking into investigations, especially reactive ones where we don’t know much about our person,” Godwin says.

Screengrab of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) research site recommended by AATTAP tech expert Tony Godwin
Godwin suggests investigators use the multiple layers of research tools available at OSINTFramework.com.

Most crimes today leave digital traces, and OSINT picks up those fragments of data. The information is vast, so an OSINT framework provides links to the best resources to easily find information about a target and browse various OSINT tools.

The main types of OSINT resources are mass media (such as print, digital, TV, radio); “gray literature” (such as documents and reports from charities, census data, and academic publications); and social media.

Web searches encompass three categories:
Surface web, which is the traditional method/platform;
Deep web/dark net, which requires a specific URL or IP address; and
Dark web, which requires special tools, such as the anonymizing browser Tor.

The OSINT cycle starts with planning to ensure there’s a clear understanding of the types of information needed. It then proceeds to collecting, processing, and analyzing the data before the intelligence is ultimately disseminated.

The process is time-consuming, which is why Godwin is encouraged to see departments hiring full-time crime analysts to lead the charge and ensure information is gathered effectively and ethically.


5) Artificial intelligence: Growing & evolving

Illustration showing "AI" for "artificial intelligence"No technology has exploded more in recent times than artificial intelligence (AI). It’s considered the next big thing, even though machine learning dates to the 1950s. “AI is not yet widely used internally, but it will be,” Godwin says.

Police departments around the United States already use a form of AI in image recognition technology that reads license plates and other vehicle information. Similarly, Godwin expects facial recognition technology to become a “more powerful and more important” tool in improving efficiencies in law enforcement and getting criminals off the streets.

“There are so many cameras everywhere you go,” he says. “I think that’s where the future will go for us, making it much easier to solve crimes.” (Facial recognition technology helped authorities identify some of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. More recently, authorities in the United Kingdom used it to investigate child exploitation cold cases, which led to the arrest of a Missouri man.)

Analytically, AI is being used in criminal investigations to help sift through vast amounts of data. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) uses Logikcull to filter, gather, and package information for law enforcement and prosecutors. The AI tool has saved NCMEC thousands of hours, allowing its legal staff to operate more efficiently.

The downsides of AI include deepfake technology that can convincingly mimic a person’s physical appearance and voice. Last year, federal officials even issued warnings about virtual kidnapping fraud that uses AI to clone a loved one’s voice.

Display text: The DOJ’s Emerging Technology Board, recently established to govern AI, aims to monitor its complexities while also promoting its ethical, responsible use. The Board also plans to share best practices with law enforcement.Godwin expects deepfake detection apps and tools to make strides, though they are evolving.

Detection tools already available include Google’s SynthID and Meta’s Stable Signature, which embed digital watermarks in video and audio; Pindrop and Veridas, which examine details such as how sounds of words sync up with a speaker’s mouth; and AntiFake, which scrambles an audio signal to make it harder to be cloned by AI.

As deepfake technology becomes more sophisticated, some experts are calling on the federal government to regulate it. Additionally, critics claim that law enforcement’s use of AI technology could infringe on privacy and civil rights, leading to false arrests. And there’s concern that “automation bias”—a person’s propensity to trust automated systems over their own judgment—could have authorities failing to look at the information critically.

Godwin knows that organizations will need to balance the risk and rewards of AI, which U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco calls one of “the most important issues we face in law enforcement, national security, the protection of privacy, and civil liberties.”


Be on the Lookout: More Tech Advances

Image depicting a Native American using technologyBetter Equipping Indian Country

FEDERAL WINS:

  • On November 30, 2023, the U.S. Department of the Interior established a new Office of Indigenous Communications and Technology (OICT) to assist Tribal Nations in managing, developing, and maintaining broadband infrastructure, new electromagnetic spectrum easing mechanisms, and in providing technical assistance for the establishment of wireless, digital, and technological projects on Tribal lands.
  • The Biden administration has pledged nearly $3 billion to expand access to broadband on Tribal lands. The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, part of the White House’s “Internet for All Initiative,” has so far awarded $1.86 billion in grants to 226 Tribal communities to build highspeed Internet infrastructures, establish affordable Internet access programs, and support digital inclusion projects.

AMBER ALERT IN INDIAN COUNTRY:

  • The AATTAP’s AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) team is continuing to distribute Technology Toolkits to Tribal law enforcement agencies from Alabama to Washington. Equipped with a rugged portable case, Toughbook tablet, digital camera, and more, the toolkits provide Tribal authorities with additional resources to best respond to cases of missing and abducted children. “Tribal communities have long lacked access to high-speed Internet, limiting their ability in the field—especially in remote areas where rugged terrain makes it difficult to build infrastructure,” says AIIC Program Manager Tyesha Wood.
  • The AIIC has partnered with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to offer high-speed, wireless Internet service to select Tribes. Congress established the independent authority to develop a nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety. More than 70 Tribal nations use FirstNet, and in the last two years, coverage (through AT&T) has increased more than 40 percent on federally recognized Tribal lands.
  • The Navajo Nation—the largest Indian reservation in the U.S., spanning three states—is building a vast modern communications system. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority earmarked its $50 million grant to fund 11 new telecommunications towers, install more than 200 miles of fiber and cable/wireless broadband equipment, and increase or connect high-speed Internet to more than 20,000 Native American households. It also aims to enhance mobile broadband connectivity for first responders.

NCMEC’s QR Code to the Rescue

NCMEC QR codeThe National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is confident one of its newest tech-smart initiatives—using a QR code on missing child posters—can revolutionize the search for endangered missing children.

By scanning the poster’s QR code with a cell phone, the user can get much more information than what a poster typically would allow. Users can also access photos and descriptive details for all missing children reported within a 50-mile radius. “Instead of sharing one missing child poster, the public can view all missing children in their immediate area, whether they are at home or traveling,” said Dr. John E. Bischoff, Vice President of NCMEC’s Missing Children Division, at the 2023 AATTAP-AIIC National Symposium.

NCMEC’s posters will also have larger photos of the missing child and eliminate extraneous details, such as date of birth, when the child’s age will suffice.

Policing Bad Apps

Image illustrating dangerous apps on a cell phoneA tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is identifying risky apps concerning child exploitation. The App Danger Project, a website designed to create a safer online environment and help parents determine what apps are safe for their children to use, lists more than 180 apps across Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store that meet its criteria for being considered dangerous. The website also includes a search tool to easily analyze user reviews of specific apps. As a result of the initiative, Apple has removed 10 apps to date that violated the company’s guidelines.

Data Mining is Gold—But Tricky

With the amount of data law enforcement can leverage through technology, it’s crucial to have a strategy to mine the information efficiently and ethically. According to a recent article in Police Chief Magazine, the data should be stored in a single platform that can be accessed by everyone in the department, while ensuring the public’s trust is maintained. Some agencies are innovating to effectively create real-time crime centers (RTCC) that bring together data from various sources to improve efficiencies and enhance public safety.

For Searches, the Heat is On

Drones with thermal cameras are becoming a must-have tool in missing persons searches. The drones, which can be deployed quickly and cover vast areas, are able to detect body heat, even if the person reported missing is in thick brush or dark conditions. The heat signature from the thermal camera provides real-time intelligence to direct searchers to the location.

Forensic Genetic Genealogy Cracks Cold Cases

Even as the debate about DNA-related privacy issues persists, forensic investigative genetic genealogy (“FIGG”) is solving high-profile cases previously thought to be unsolvable. The emerging practice combines DNA analysis with traditional genealogy research to identify suspects and the remains of missing persons. Using FIGG, law enforcement can search ancestry databases containing DNA profiles of consenting people who are tracking family history. FIGG took hold in 2018 after authorities used GEDmatch to identify the Golden State Killer; and one researcher estimates more than 500 cold cases have been solved since.

Geolocation Finds Favor

Police in Pennsylvania have an iPad to thank for the swift recovery of an abducted 11-year-old girl—and the case serves as an example of how geolocation has become a proven investigative tool. Authorities were able to ping the location of the girl’s tablet to track her whereabouts, and ultimately arrest a man on luring charges. Geolocation uses GPS, cell phone towers, and WiFi signals to track a device (such as a cell phone, tablet, or computer), and the pings have become a key part of searches. More recently, geolocation satellite data is being integrated into artificial intelligence to enhance data analysis.

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Photo of Carlos Morales Rojas, Mexico’s Alerta Amber National Coordination Liaison. At a regional conference, he showed faces of missing children—even as he was working a developing case that prompted issuance of a national AMBER Alert.
Carlos Morales Rojas, Mexico’s Alerta Amber National Coordination Liaison, showed faces of missing children—even as he was working a developing case that prompted issuance of a national AMBER Alert.

By Rebecca Sherman

On the morning of August 29, 2023, as AMBER Alert Coordinators from northern Mexico gathered in a Monterrey hotel ballroom for a three-day child protection training conference with top U.S. officials, a real-life child abduction
emergency was unfolding behind the scenes.

Hours earlier, and some 230 miles away, 15-month-old Angela Chávez had been taken from her home in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, by armed criminals during a home invasion that left her parents and another adult dead.

Angela was discovered missing by her distraught grandmother, who arrived at the home with local authorities after the murders. Realizing the infant was in grave danger, officials immediately notified Yubia Yumiko Ayala Narváez, Regional Coordinator of the Gender-Based Violence Unit of the Regional de la Fiscalia del Estado de Chihuahua, or Chihuahua North Prosecutor’s Office. But like many of her colleagues in Mexico, Narváez was at the conference, organized by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) team (based in Mexico City’s U.S. Embassy) and attended by leaders of the AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP).

Even while at the event, Narváez discreetly sprang into action, issuing a regional Alerta Amber, Mexico’s version of a U.S. AMBER Alert. Posters of Angela—a cherubic girl with large brown eyes—were circulated on social media, and alerts buzzed on cellphones throughout the region.

Narváez also briefed fellow conference attendee Carlos Morales Rojas on the situation. As Alerta Amber National Coordination Liaison, Rojas works with Mexico’s 32 state AMBER Alert Coordinators while based in the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes of Violence Against Women and Human Trafficking for the Fiscalía General de la República (FGR), or Office of the Attorney General.

A view of conference attendees.
A view of conference attendees.

Amid intense and hushed conversations, Narváez and Rojas exchanged information on the abduction during the conference presentations taking place. “Given the seriousness and urgency of the case, we knew we had to work quickly to activate the (national) AMBER Alert, but we also maintained a certain confidentiality of the information,” Rojas recalls.

The effort to rescue baby Angela quickly became a real-time case study that had officials drawing from a deep well of collective experience and training. “That allowed us to disseminate the alert with urgency, encouraging the media to reach as many people as possible,” Rojas says.

Several hours after the first alert was issued—and still with no sign of baby Angela—Rojas elevated the alert to the national level, an expanded presence that would no doubt heighten public awareness of the child’s case. Then, once the national AMBER Alert was activated, Rojas and Narváez informed conference attendees about the developing situation.

Fortuitously, the room was filled with experts on missing and endangered children who collaborated to ensure a swift response in the emerging case. They included: AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen; Yesenia “Jesi” Leon Baron, AATTAP’s Project Coordinator of International and Territorial Programs (including the Southern Border Initiative) and Certification Manager for Child Abduction Response Team (CART) training initiatives; and top officials with the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, including Gigi Scoles, Gabriela Betance, Flor Reyes, and Oswaldo Casillas.

Display text: Since its launch in 2012, Mexico’s Alerta Amber has led to the safe recovery of more than 350 children.“All of them facilitated our work, allowing us to carry it out right there at the conference,” Rojas says.

Media and public response came swiftly. Kidnappers, likely aware the case was receiving national attention, abandoned Angela in a doorway in Ciudad Juarez. A woman spotted the infant and promptly called 911, helping authorities to safely recover her 30 hours after the first AMBER Alert was issued.

“Those who took baby Angela definitely felt pressure due to the wide dissemination of the AMBER Alert,” Rojas says. “They knew that many people were looking for her.”

Mexican authorities had baby Angela in their caring hands 30 hours after the first Alerta Amber wasactivated.
Mexican authorities had baby Angela in their caring hands 30 hours after the first Alerta Amber was activated. The toddler is now living with relatives.

With Angela’s rescue occurring on August 31—the last day of the OPDAT conference—Narváez and Rojas were offered the opportunity to present what had just unfolded as a successful case study, “one that was the result of excellent coordination between Mexican authorities and the public,” Rojas says.

“With the conference focused on sharing AMBER Alert success stories, the case of baby Angela was significant. Training is the most important aspect of our work; that’s why we constantly share our experiences.”

AMBER Alerts, along with media reports and the public’s help in searching for a missing child, are powerful tools in the effort to recover endangered missing children, as conference attendees witnessed in real time. “Without the support of our citizens, our work would essentially be futile,” Rojas says. “We would simply be spectators of what happens.”

Display text with photo of Yesenia "Jesi" Leon Baron, AATTAP Project Coordinator for International and Territorial Programs, and Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Training and Certification: “This is one of many examples of the incredible importance of regional events and cross-border collaboration.”

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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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Group of law enforcement and AATTAP staffers during presentation of AMBER Alert in Indian Country Technology Toolkits in Oneida, Wisconsin
Members of the AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program /AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative team recently presented Technology Toolkits to six Wisconsin Tribal Nations during a quarterly Native American Drug and Gang Initiative Task Force Advisory Board meeting at Oneida Indian Nation Police Headquarters in Oneida, Wisconsin.

Oneida Nation Police Lieutenant Justine Wheelock with a Technology Toolkit in Oneida, Wisconsin
Oneida Nation Police Lieutenant Justine Wheelock shows off her agency’s new Technology Toolkit in Wisconsin.

By Denise Gee Peacock

The AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program’s AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) team recently provided Technology Toolkits to nearly two dozen Tribal nations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Each durable toolkit—containing a rugged laptop, webcam, digital camera, scanner, and hotspot device with six free months of WiFi—can help Tribes work more quickly and efficiently during missing child cases.

Funding for the toolkits, offered to any federally recognized Tribe, is provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018.

In Wisconsin, the toolkits were provided during the quarterly Native American Drug and Gang Initiative Task Force Advisory Board meeting at the Oneida Nation Police headquarters in Oneida.

In Minnesota, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Holistic Health Spiritual Care CoordinatorGary Charwood blessed the event with a smudging ceremony.
In Minnesota, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Holistic Health Spiritual Care Coordinator Gary Charwood blessed the event with a smudging ceremony.

In Minnesota, the toolkits presentation occurred during a quarterly meeting with leaders from state Tribal law enforcement as well as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).

The event was held at the Cedar Lakes Casino and Hotel, owned by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Display quote: "We are relatives. We all do the work to take care of one another" — from Gary Charwood, Holistic Health Spiritual Care Coordinator, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota

 

Law enforcement leaders from six federally recognized Tribes in Minnesota recently met with representatives from the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative, as well as the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Department of Public Safety.
In Minnesota, law enforcement leaders from six federally recognized Tribes recently met with representatives from the AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative, as well as the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Department of Public Safety, to accept Technology Toolkits.

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In this issue:

The first issue of 2024 looks at the top technological tools our experts believe should be on your radar. We also introduce you to Dr. Noelle Hunter, whose daughter, Muna, was abducted by her father to West Africa—a move that launched Dr. Hunter into international parental child abduction (IPCA) advocacy work (that was instrumental in Muna's safe recovery). We share the story of a toddler’s abduction in Mexico that unfolded during a conference on missing children—with U.S. government and AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance leaders present to experience the rescue of “Baby Angela” in real-time. The issue concludes with U.S., Indian Country, and International news briefs on other important AMBER Alert-related news.

As 2024 unfolds, consider our technology experts' top 5 “game-changing” innovations for law enforcement—from real-time license-plate readers to artificial intelligence. We also cover tech advancements in Indian Country and at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and highlight the latest trends in forensic genetic genealogy, policing dangerous apps, and more.

Mexican authorities had baby Angela in their caring hands 30 hours after the first Alerta Amber was activated.

After her parents were murdered, a missing infant is found safe thanks to Mexico’s media, the public, and AMBER Alert Coordinators—who acted while a conference on protecting children was in play with U.S. DOJ and AATTAP leaders in Monterrey.

After years of advocacy—and fighting to get her daughter home safely from Mali, West Africa—Dr. Noelle Hunter is turning to research to further highlight the harrowing issue of international parental child abduction.

Oneida Nation Police Lieutenant Justine Wheelock with a Technology Toolkit in Oneida, Wisconsin

Dozens of AATTAP/AIIC Technology Toolkits are now in the hands of Minnesota and Wisconsin Tribes.

Photo depicting how to spot fake missing child posters from NCMEC

Short news posts about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from the United States.

Short news posts about about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from around the world.

Trusted, timely & actionable information is at your fingertips: Simply focus your smartphone camera on these QR codes to access the latest training & networking opportunities for child protection professionals. (And keep this downloadable file handy for future needs.)

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Don’t delay—register today! The 2024 National AMBER Alert and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium is set for February 27-28 in New Orleans!

Registration for the no-fee training and networking event—and getting a discounted room rate at the event’s venue, the historic Hotel Monteleone—closes January 29, so click here to ensure your spot. 

The 2024 Symposium will bring together hundreds of professionals—state and regional AMBER Alert coordinators, missing persons clearinghouse managers, law enforcement officials, emergency management/public safety personnel, and Tribal community officials—to collaborate, discuss developing trends and case studies, share best practices, and train with other child protection partners to better respond to cases involving endangered missing and exploited children.

The two-day event will be hosted by members of the AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) and feature leading subject matter experts. Sessions will focus on the following topics:

  • Endangered missing and abducted child case studies, including Tribal cases
  • Decisional considerations for AMBER Alert/Endangered Missing Advisory activations
  • The importance of CART development, preparedness, and certification
  • The significant rate of, and complications stemming from, family abductions
  • Technology and information system best practices
  • AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiatives and collaboration opportunities
  • Discussions about current trends in Cross-Border/Southern Border abductions
  • Tools and resources to bolster long-term/unsolved child abduction cases
  • Mental health awareness/support for professionals working to combat and respond to crimes against children

The Symposium will also offer regional breakout sessions to foster collaboration among partners and inform future AATTAP outreach and course/event planning. Tracks will provide participants with a self-curated choice of sessions to attend.

We look forward to seeing you in person at the 2024 Symposium. For questions, contact askamber@fvtc.edu, or call (877) 712-6237.

Training is made possible through the AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program provided by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

 

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In this issue:

Our special double issue offers an in-depth look at the issues most important to the eight parents of missing children who helped us create the new multimedia Fifth Edition of When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide. It not only highlights their advice for other parents navigating chaos, but also what law enforcement can learn from their experiences. And we spotlight the new memoir of one of the Guide’s parent-authors, Patty Wetterling (Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope). Patty is a longtime advocate for missing children and who has advised countless law enforcement officers on how to best work with families of missing children. We also talk with Chitimacha Tribal Police Chief Jada Breaux of Louisiana. And we look at a complex case, spanning from New York to Mexico, that was resolved by quick and effective collaboration.

Woman holding copy of the new "Family Survival Guide"

Eight parent-authors want families of missing children to know 'you are not alone.' They also ask law enforcement to 'hear our truth.'

Photo of Jacob Wetterling in the hands of his mother

The new memoir of Patty Wetterling—one of our eight Family Survival Guide parent-authors—reflects on the loss of her son, Jacob. It's been called 'a must-read for anyone working on unsolved abduction cases.'

The parent-authors shared advice for searching parents and law enforcement during video filming sessions earlier this year in Salt Lake City.

Learn about the eight parents who helped us update the new multimedia fifth edition of When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide.

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

The Family Survival Guide parent-authors—and subject matter experts who work daily to protect children—want law enforcement to weigh these points when working cases involving missing children.

Photo showing blurred images of walking college students

The swift action to locate a missing New York college student, who was found unharmed in Mexico, proves the importance of connections and collaboration.

The new Chitimacha Tribal Police Chief is looking out for children in Louisiana's Indian Country.

Photo of young woman being recovered safe during the U.S. Marshals' "Operation We Will Find You"

Short news posts about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from the United States

Image of poster promoting new "Feather Alert" in California

Short news posts about about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from Indian Country

Image of poster from Missing Child Kenya's "Have You Seen Me?" campaign

Short news posts about about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from around the world

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Collage of images showing the eight "Family Survival Guide" parent-authors and their children, along with a candle during a vigil
>>Click here to learn more about the parent-authors and their children.

“I remember standing in the middle of chaos, wishing I had a book to tell me what to do.”
Colleen Nick
Mother of Morgan Nick, abducted at age 6 while catching fireflies with friends during a Little League baseball game in 1995

 

Thankfully, there is such a resource: When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide. And its new multimedia format—with updated, actionable information—is more relevant and accessible than ever.

The Guide’s advice reflects the hard-won lessons of eight parents, including Colleen Nick, who have faced “the worst thing any of us could ever imagine—and no parent ever wants to think about: having their child go missing,” says parent-author Patty Wetterling.

Organized with numerous checklists and resources, the fifth edition of the Guide is a compass for parents in the midst of chaos. Its new iteration is fully digital, with a website offering a downloadable, printable guide, plus searchable online content and more than 100 videos covering the myriad of issues a parent may face during the search for their child.

Officially released on National Missing Children’s Day in May 2023, the Family Survival Guide was a labor of love for its parent-authors, who worked with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) publications team and others for nearly two years to bring it to fruition. Reliving their experiences “is never easy; in fact, it’s agonizing—but it’s important for us,” Patty says.

Sidebar titled: "What’s in the Guide?" Copy reads: When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide [[LINK]] (Fifth Edition) is a multimedia compendium of peer-reviewed best practices, helpful checklists, and supportive insight from families who have endured missing child incidents. Each aspect of the resource—in print, digital, or video—walks parents with a missing child through the process of working with law enforcement, the media, search and rescue professionals, volunteers, and others. It also addresses how to manage finances and safeguard well-being. And it provides numerous resources that will be updated and expanded in the years ahead. Here are its key sections: • “Steps to take when your child is missing” provides a checklist of things to do or know before, when, and after law enforcement arrives to the missing child’s home. • “The search: Understanding the work of law enforcement and volunteers” outlines actions to take during the first 48 hours and beyond; how to best collaborate and communicate with law enforcement; and how to effectively enlist and manage volunteers. • “The media and public engagement” focuses on maintaining public awareness of a missing child’s case, strategically working with the media, effectively producing and sharing missing posters, and enlisting the help of public officials. • “Financial considerations” covers offering rewards plus accepting and managing monetary donations. It also offers advice on handling family finances throughout the missing child case. • “Personal and family well-being” suggests ways to regain and retain emotional and physical strength; care for the siblings of the missing child; and shares important considerations for reuniting missing children with their families. • “A framework for understanding missing children” explains the different types of missing persons cases and their unique dynamics, including family and non-family abductions, endangered missing cases, international parental child abductions, and children lured from home or missing from care. • “Resources and readings” highlights the best resources for specialized assistance and insight.

Cover of "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" (Fifth Edition)
>> Visit the “Family Survival Guide” website to download the publication or browse its searchable content and videos.

When first published in 1998, When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide was the first comprehensive resource of its kind, offering parents of missing children guidance on effectively working with law enforcement, the media, and volunteers; managing rewards and donations; and “simply surviving to fight another day in the search for their child,” Colleen says.

She and Patty were among a small group of families that Ron Laney of the U.S. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) invited to work on the project with help from Helen Connelly, then a senior consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)—and later a Program Administrator for Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC), home to AATTAP and the National Criminal Justice Program (NCJTC).

Quote from OJJDP/AMBER Alert veteran Ron Laney: "This Guide is one of the most important resources ever developed by the Department of Justice."The Guide quickly became the go-to source for people who “speak the language of missing”—not only in this country, but also abroad, where agencies from the United Kingdom to Australia include it on their websites. “But a lot has changed in 25 years,” Patty says. “It was time for a new look, both in its content and design.”

Patty and Colleen rejoined Helen to work with six other parents to produce the Guide’s update with the AATTAP publications team—an initiative funded and guided by the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and the OJJDP.

“Though there have been several prior updates to the Guide, this one is especially important,” Helen says. “It incorporates the most current information on a wider range of missing child situations. It also gives families immediate access to information via its online format. And there they can hear the parents’ advice and encouragement from the parents themselves, who speak directly to them through powerful videos.”

The parents share these goals: To give voice to children who have been forever silenced. To give hope to parents of missing children when life is at its lowest point. And to help law enforcement best work with parents who desperately want to find their missing child.

Photo of cell phone and computer desktop showing content from the new "Family Survival Guide"

For 18 months beginning in fall 2021, the parents worked with the AATTAP project team to begin analyzing every aspect of the Guide: deciding what needed revision, what information needed emphasis, and what new resources and guidance should be added.

Getting the Guide to completion took numerous virtual meetings, independent work spanning weeks, and multiple rounds of peer review that included input from top law enforcement professionals with expertise in finding missing children. The parents aimed to highlight more advanced technology, new and helpful laws, better ways of investigating, and expanded resources. Another goal was to speak more directly and clearly to parents.

Beyond being able to download a PDF of the document, they wanted to ensure parents could access its content from any place with WiFi. They worked diligently to develop information on topics relevant to today: broader classifications of missing children; the impact of social media and communication apps; ever-growing concerns about trafficking; increased public alerting options; and “how to work with law enforcement who may not be trained on new laws, or know how to access specialized resources,” says parent-author Jeffery Morehouse.

The parent-authors shared advice for searching parents and law enforcement during video filming sessions earlier this year in Salt Lake City. See highlights of their advocacy work by visiting [ADD HERE]
The parent-authors shared advice for searching parents as well as law enforcement during filming.

In January 2023, a week of filming took place in Salt Lake City. The parents flew in from New York, Washington, Minnesota, Tennessee, Arizona, Colorado, and Alabama to help contribute to what would become a vast library of video segments for the Guide’s website. (Colleen was unable to attend the session due to her work on the documentary “Still Missing Morgan.”)

The film crew and AATTAP team worked carefully and compassionately with families to capture the parents’ heart-wrenching stories and invaluable guidance available only from those who have survived what they have and been left resilient. Tears flowed. Hugs were plentiful. Connections were electric.

On the final day, parents were asked to speak directly to law enforcement to share advice that could be used for both the Guide and AATTAP training events. And at the end of the session, not a dry eye was visible.

AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen was in attendance—and awe. “The strength in this room is so powerful,” she said. “The wisdom you’ve shared inspires me to share a quote [from Saint Augustine] that I think is appropriate for this moment.”

Parent-author Dr. Noelle Hunter replied, “As Ahmad says, ‘This is the club that none of us ever wanted to be in.’ But we’re in it. And, oh, my goodness—the power of solidarity you feel with people who get you exactly is transformative. It’s one of the reasons I never gave up working to see my child returned, and why I stay in this cause to help parents reunite with their children. There is no substitute for the new family that we have built through this work.”

For parent-author Yvonne Ambrose, “this process has been like going to counseling,” she said. “We all had a support system in place until our child went missing. Then we lost people who didn’t understand what we were going through. But even though we’ve lost them, we’ve found each other. That gives us the strength to keep fighting—and be there for others.”Graphic reads: "OJJDP Administrator Elizabeth Ryan announce the new Family Survival Guide and commend its authors for their “tremendous efforts and unwavering commitment” to the project for National Missing Children’s Day 2023: bit.ly/FSG-DOJ"

Parent-author Dr. Noelle Hunter replied, “As Ahmad says, ‘This is the club that none of us ever wanted to be in.’ But we’re in it. And, oh, my goodness—the power of solidarity you feel with people who get you exactly is transformative. It’s one of the reasons I never gave up working to see my child returned, and why I stay in this cause to help parents reunite with their children. There is no substitute for the new family that we have built through this work.”

For parent-author Yvonne Ambrose, “this process has been like going to counseling,” she said. “We all had a support system in place until our child went missing. Then we lost people who didn’t understand what we were going through. But even though we’ve lost them, we’ve found each other. That gives us the strength to keep fighting—and be there for others.

Graphic with the words: WATCH “The Power of Support”—Hear the parents discuss how they find strength by helping other searching parents: bit.ly/FSG-SupportFour months after filming, the Family Survival Guide “family” (or “FSG power team,” Yvonne calls them) reunited in Washington, D.C., to attend this year’s National Missing Children’s Day—where the completed Guide was first announced May 23. They also were invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with OJJDP Administrator Elizabeth Ryan and her team.

Prior to the DOJ-hosted Missing Children’s Day event, the FSG family gathered at their Alexandria, Virginia, hotel for a reception hosted by AATTAP staff. They held the first bound copies of the 96-page Family Survival Guide and previewed the new companion website. They also watched “The Power of Support,” a video encapsulating some of their most powerful messages shared during the Family Survival Guide filming sessions.

Display text: The eight parents graciously provided their time, ideas, emotions, and advice to help update the Guide. They relived the anguish and challenges of having their children abducted by a stranger, kidnapped overseas by a parent, lured by a sex trafficker, or killed by an adult they trusted. But as parent-author Nacole Svendgard explains, “We feel it’s our duty to make things better for the next person—the next parent who has to navigate the same minefields we did.”

“You all embody incredible courage,” Janell said, “and your wisdom and candor will be immensely valuable to both parents and law enforcement, who can learn from it and share it with others.” The parents said they plan to continue helping train law enforcement by working with the AATTAP and NCJTC of Fox Valley Technical College. They also want to continue advocating for legislative changes that support parents facing situations similar to theirs.

They also emphasized the value of volunteering with Team HOPE, a cornerstone program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). The group is made up of trained parent and family volunteers who have experienced the trauma of having a missing or exploited child. Counseling is offered 24/7 to families coping with all the complex issues surrounding the search for their missing child.

Parent-author Ahmad Rivazfar tends to the "Family Survival Guide" table during the 2023 National Missing Children's Day event at the U.S. Department of Justice
Parent-author Ahmad Rivazfar tends to the Family Survival Guide table during the 2023 National Missing Children’s Day event at the U.S. Department of Justice.
The parent-authors joined members of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance team during National Missing Children's Day 2023 in Washington, D.C.
The parent-authors joined members of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance team during National Missing Children’s Day 2023.

The parents were front and center when the Guide was announced at the 40th annual National Missing Children’s Day event at the U.S. Department of Justice Great Hall in Washington, D.C. “The terror felt by a parent when their child has disappeared is overwhelming,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “I have great respect for the brave and resourceful professionals who work every day to protect children from harm, reunite missing children with their families, and provide support in the aftermath of a traumatic event. There is no cause more worthy of honor.”

Following the event, the FSG team gathered at the OJJDP office to talk with Administrator Elizabeth Ryan and OJJDP Program Managers Lou Ann Holland and Alex Sarrano. The parents thanked the OJJDP team for inviting them to participate in the project, and discussed ways to increase awareness of the Guide and further help searching parents.

One conversation addressed the need for parents and law enforcement to understand what types of financial support are available for crime victims. “The criteria around accessing these funds is not clearly defined or understood,” Ahmad said. Patty then described hardships that her son, Trevor—who witnessed is brother’s abduction—has experienced while trying to receive victim resource support as an adult.

Administrator Ryan assured the parents that her team would help address such obstacles, and assist families of missing children in every way possible. Yvonne expressed her gratitude.

Group photo. Shown at the OJJDP "Family Survival Guide" meeting in D.C. are, front row from left: Lou Ann Holland (OJJDP), Janell Rasmussen (AATTAP/NCJTC), and parents Nacole Svendgard, Elaine Hall, Yvonne Ambrose, and Patty Wetterling; shown back row from left: Denise Gee Peacock (AATTAP), Alex Sarrano (OJJDP), Brad Russ (NCJTC), parent Ahmad Rivazfar, Liz Ryan (OJJDP), Bonnie Ferenbach (AATTAP), and parents Dr. Noelle Hunter and Jeffery Morehouse.
Shown at the OJJDP Family Survival Guide meeting in D.C. are, front row from left: Lou Ann Holland (OJJDP), Janell Rasmussen (AATTAP/NCJTC), and parents Nacole Svendgard, Elaine Hall, Yvonne Ambrose, and Patty Wetterling; shown back row from left: Denise Gee Peacock (AATTAP), Alex Sarrano (OJJDP), Brad Russ (NCJTC), parent Ahmad Rivazfar, Elizabeth Ryan (OJJDP), Bonnie Ferenbach (AATTAP), and parents Dr. Noelle Hunter and Jeffery Morehouse.

“The fact that you all are supporting this new Guide, and allowing us to help others—and having us here today to talk about what families need—means the world to us,” she said. In response, Ryan told the group, “What you have built together is immensely powerful—and greatly needed.”

At the meeting’s close, Patty returned the focus on the parent-authors’ children—some of them found, but some still lost—as well as all children who remain missing.

“Why not get ahead of the problem?” she said. “How do we raise our kids to be the way we want them to be, and not cause harm to another human being? I can talk forever about how we want the world to be—the world that Jacob knew, that innocent world in St. Joseph, Minnesota. We refuse to let the man who took Jacob take that too.”

“One of my favorite quotes is by Pablo Casals, who said, ‘We must work to make the world worthy of its children.’ So why not do that?,” Patty proposed. “Let’s all work to build a world where kids can feel safe enough to follow their dreams.”
– Denise Gee Peacock

 


 

Photo of Jeffery Morehouse and Dr. Noelle Hunter outside the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. (May 2023)
>> Learn about the parent-authors’ advocacy work here. Shown above: Jeffery Morehouse and Dr. Noelle Hunter outside the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
Page showing various ways law enforcement can help share the new "Family Survival Guide"
>> Check out “So What Can You Do?” to learn how to best use and promote the Family Survival Guide by clicking here.
Unidentifiable man seated at computer screen that reads: "What should law enforcement understand about family needs and expectations when responding to missing child reports?"
>> Read the Family Survival Guide authors’ advice for law enforcement by clicking 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.
>> Click here to read about Patty Wetterling’s new memoir, Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of  Hope.

 

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Image of the words "So what can you do? Here's how to use the Guide to help families, colleagues, and yourself"

Photo of laptop with screen showing the "Family Survival Guide" website opening page. The language below reads: Promote the Family Survival Guide website (AMBERAdvocate.org/families) by providing a link to it on your agency website as a resource for parents of missing children; encourage other agencies to do the same.

Image of open "Family Survival Guide" spiral-bound edition with the information above: "Get advice on demand at AMBERAdvocate.org/families along with a pointer to words Download the Guide, Search online content, and Watch powerful videos

Image of 5x7 reference cards (information about the "Family Survival Guide") available to print and share with families in need of guidance.

Photo of printed copy of "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" (Fifth Edition) with spiral binding. Beneath it are the words: Download & print the Guide from our website to keep handy at your agency and at training academies. Also give copies of it to child- and family-advocacy partners, shelters, and hospitals. (Find our suggested printing specifications at bit.ly/FSG_print.)

Image of blocks spelling out "CLASS" / Text below reads: Take or request an AATTAP class that provides the perspective of a parent of a missing child. Follow our class offerings at bit.ly/AMBERAlertTrainings or email us at askamber@fvtc.edu.

Access our Guide’s QR code at bit.ly/FSG-QR. Keep it on your cell phone or laptop to easily text or email it to the family member of a missing child—or anyone else in need of the resource.

Image of four of the eight parent-authors shown on a computer monitor screen, with the wording "Watch the videos on our website, especially those that focus on how law enforcement can best interact with, and help, parents of missing children. Visit bit.ly/FSGvideos."

Photo of a computer keyboard with a blue "news" key. The text reads: Share the updated Guide with your Public Information Officer (PIO), who in turn can share it with their local and regional media contacts—using it as a springboard to discuss how your team handles missing child reports, decides/issues public alerts, and deploys its Child Abduction Response Team (CART).

Image showing the documentaries "I Am Jane Doe" and "Still Missing Morgan" along with the book "Dear Jacob: A Mother's Journey of Hope." Text reads: "Watch the videos on our website, especially those that focus on how law enforcement can best interact with, and help, parents of missing children. Visit bit.ly/FSGvideos."

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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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"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Yvonne Ambrose

Yvonne Ambrose is the mother of Desiree Robinson, who was lured away from home, then exploited and enslaved through sex trafficking. Desiree was murdered December 24, 2016, as she fought to escape the perpetrator to whom her trafficker first sold her, primarily via the now-defunct Backpage site. Yvonne vowed to be her daughter’s voice, in support of all victims of child sex trafficking, and has been instrumental through her work with law enforcement and congressional testimony to strengthen federal laws against traffickers. Yvonne describes her daughter as “a beautiful girl born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, with a smile to brighten any room. She had a bright future with hopes of being a physician in the U.S. Air Force.” For more, visit the Desiree Foundation Against Sex Trafficking page on Facebook.

 

 

Cover of "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" (Fifth Edition)
>> Visit the Family Survival Guide website to download the new edition and review its searchable content and videos.

"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Elaine Hall

Elaine Hall is the mother of Dylan Redwine, 13, who was murdered by his biological father in November 2012. After a relentless search effort driven by the steadfast commitment of his mother, Dylan’s remains were found in La Plata County, Colorado, in June 2013, just miles from the home of Dylan’s father. Elaine’s work with local and state law enforcement and district attorney’s offices in her home state of Colorado has resulted in better awareness and understanding of, and training on, endangered missing children for law enforcement and search personnel. See the Dylan Redwine: Journey to Justice page on Facebook here.

 

 

 

"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Dr. Noelle HunterDr. Noelle Hunter is the mother of Maayimuna “Muna” N’Diaye, who in December 2011 was abducted internationally by her noncustodial father. Noelle’s Mission4Muna campaign led her to rally local, state, federal, and international resources; stage protests in front of the Embassy of Mali in Washington, D.C.; plead with the United Nations to help return her daughter; and work with a Kentucky congressional delegation to pressure the Mali government to return Muna. (“Until she’s home, I won’t sit down, I won’t be quiet,” she attested.) Noelle was able to bring Muna safely home in July 2014, and founded the iStand Parent Network.

 

 

"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Jeffery Morehouse

Photo of Jeffery Morehouse and Dr. Noelle Hunter outside the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. (May 2023)
>> Learn about the parent-authors’ advocacy work by clicking here.

Jeffery Morehouse is the father of Atomu Imoto “Mochi” Morehouse, who was abducted internationally by his noncustodial mother on Father’s Day 2010. Since that terrible day, Jeffery, an award-winning filmmaker, has worked relentlessly to find Mochi and bring his son home through complex and discerning work with local, state, federal, and international law enforcement. Jeffery is a founding partner and executive director of the nonprofit organization Bring Abducted Children Home, working for the return of abducted children wrongfully detained in Japan. Every day for him is filled with painful reminders of his son—“a familiar phrase, a look, or smell can remind me of life before my son’s abduction. Then I realize he’s still missing.”

 

 

"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Colleen Nick

Colleen Nick is the mother of Morgan Nick, who at age 6 was kidnapped from a Little League baseball game while catching fireflies with friends. Since that day (June 9, 1995), finding Morgan has been a steadfast priority for her and her family. In 1996, Colleen became CEO of the Morgan Nick Foundation, which has assisted thousands of families in crisis, successfully providing intervention, support, and reunification assistance to missing children, missing adults, and their families. She is also a nationally recognized advocate for missing children and adults; the co-founder of NCMEC’s Team HOPE, a peer support mentoring program for families of the missing; and the embodiment of unwavering hope. Learn more via the documentary, “Still Missing Morgan. 

 

 

"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Ahmad Rivazfar

Ahmad Rivazfar is the father of Sara, brutally murdered by her custodial mother’s boyfriend on September 22, 1988. Sara’s older sister, Sayeh, was badly beaten in the incident, but miraculously survived. Ahmad emigrated to the U.S. from Iran in 1976, joining the U.S. Navy and becoming a decorated pilot. He believes his heritage played a key role in the girls’ reported abuse not being taken seriously, and for “being treated like I was the criminal during the investigation.” Since Sara’s death, Ahmad has served other families of missing children through NCMEC’s Team HOPE and the Surviving Parents Coalition. Read more about Ahmad’s family tragedy here.

 

 

"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Nacole SvendgardNacole Svendgard is the mother of Jessika, who was lured away from home and trafficked in 2010. Nacole struggled with navigating the law enforcement process; not knowing her daughter’s whereabouts; and later, how to appropriately handle the family’s reunification with Jessika. Through the journey of recovery, Nacole and Jessika have become powerful advocates for victims of sex trafficking and have been instrumental in the passage of legislation to increase victim rights, issue harsher punishments for sex offenders, and shut down websites that facilitate sex trafficking. Nacole recently told her daughter, “I could not be prouder of the woman, mother, and advocate you’ve become. Your resiliency is inspirational.” Learn more via the documentaries “I Am Jane Doe” and “The Long Night.

 

 

"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Patty Wetterling

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.
>> Click here to learn about Patty’s new memoir, Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope.

Patty Wetterling is the mother of Jacob Wetterling, abducted at age 11 on October 22, 1989, by a masked gunman near their home in St. Joseph, Minnesota. She and her husband, Jerry, would later create the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, dedicated to ensuring child safety. Patty co-founded and is past director of NCMEC’s Team HOPE, and has shared countless victim impact sessions with law enforcement across the United States. On September 1, 2016—almost 27 years after his abduction—Jacob’s remains were found, and his abductor charged with murder. Jacob’s zest for life is embodied in “Jacob’s 11,” which promotes 11 of his most endearing traits.

– Denise Gee Peacock

 


Unidentifiable man seated at computer screen that reads: "What should law enforcement understand about family needs and expectations when responding to missing child reports?"
>> Read advice to law enforcement from the Guide‘s authors 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: Learn how the parent-authors and others helped update the Guide—and made lasting bonds in the process. 

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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.
President Bill Clinton meets with Family Survival Guide parent-author Patty Wetterling following passage of Megan’s Law in 1996.

1994

Patty Wetterling championed passage of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, the first U.S. law to mandate that each state maintain a sex offender registry.

1996

Patty Wetterling helped accomplish:
• President Bill Clinton’s executive memorandum requiring federal agencies to receive and post missing children’s fliers in their buildings.
• The passage of Megan’s Law—which amended the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It requires sex offender registration and public access to the offender’s name, picture, address, incarceration date, and conviction.

"Family Survival Guide" parent-author Ahmad Rivazfar, right, with Ed Smart (father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart) during their annual cross-country bike rides to raise awareness about missing children.
Family Survival Guide parent-author Ahmad Rivazfar, left, with Ed Smart (father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart) in 2010.

2008

Ahmad Rivazfar and Ed Smart (father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart) lobbied for passage of the PROTECT Our Children Act (aka the Providing Resources, Officers, and Technology to Eradicate Cyber Threats to Our Children Act).

2010

Ahmad Rivazfar and Ed Smart embark on the first of many annual cross-country bike rides (from Rochester, New York, to Los Angeles—about 3,500 miles) to raise awareness about keeping children safe.

Nacole Svendgard, top left, with fellow parent-author Yvonne Ambrose, top right, during a Family Survival Guide filming session.

2018

Nacole Svendgard and Yvonne Ambrose helped champion two bills into law: The FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act), which make it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking, and amend the Section 230 safe harbors of the Communications Decency Act (which makes online services immune from civil liability for the actions of their users) to exclude enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws from its immunity. The effort led to the shuttering of Backpage.com, which generated millions of dollars annually through advertisements of innocent women and children forced or coerced into sex trafficking—including Yvonne’s late daughter Desiree and Nacole’s daughter, Jessika.

2019

Backed by the Morgan Nick Foundation, Arkansas became the first state in the nation to achieve multi-agency certification for its Child Abduction Response Teams (CARTs). The certification recognizes that Arkansas’ CARTs were developed according to standards set by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) after they completed numerous training sessions. The teams consist of school personnel, victim advocates, and emergency management personnel, among others.

2020

After the death of her son, Dylan, Elaine Hall joined forces with the mother of another murdered child to make tampering with a dead body a more severe crime. After lobbying and publicly addressing Colorado politicians, Elaine and Laura Saxton succeeded in elevating the offense from a misdemeanor to a Class 3 felony. (The charge is usually added to a more serious crime, such as murder, and carries a sentence of up to 12 years in prison.) The new law was first used in the case of Chris Watts, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters.

Photo shows "Family Survival Guide" parent-authors Jeffery Morehouse, left, and Dr. Noelle Hunter outside the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
Parent-authors Jeffery Morehouse, left, and Dr. Noelle Hunter enter the U.S. Department of Justice for the 2023 National Missing Children’s Day event.

2023

A day before the National Missing Children’s Day event (May 23, 2023) at the U.S. Department of Justice, Dr. Noelle Hunter and Jeffery Morehouse spoke before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing “Bring Abducted Children Home,” which was televised on C-SPAN. “We called for greater transparency in understanding why cases are closed without the victims being located or returned, and prescriptive responses in using existing laws and tools,” Jeffery said. Both have testified numerous times individually and jointly on international parental child abduction (IPCA) cases, advocating for improvements in federal and state legislation. “There’s been a groundswell of advocacy and awareness regarding children and families who are the victims of IPCA,” Noelle said. “Parents are standing together to hold leaders accountable.”

— Denise Gee Peacock

 

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Photo of young woman being recovered safe during the U.S. Marshals' "Operation We Will Find You"

U.S. Marshals’ innovative search operation recovers 225 missing children

“Operation We Will Find You” has safely located and recovered 225 endangered missing children, including a 6-month-old infant. Led by the U.S. Marshals Service, which worked with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the 10-week initiative was the first of its kind to involve state and local agencies in 15 areas with large clusters of critically missing children. Searches were conducted in Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County areas from March 1 to May 15. According to law enforcement, more than 40 cases involved trafficking, and of the cases closed, 86 percent were endangered runaways.

Mother with daughter who reported artificial intelligence (AI) kidnapping scam to the FBI

Artificial intelligence increasingly makes kidnapping scams more believable

Imposter scams have been around for years, such as ones involving callers claiming a grandchild has been in an accident or robbed—and needs money. In those cases, would-be kidnappers pose as the grandchild or use generic recordings of someone screaming in the background. These attempts to extort money weren’t always successful, but federal officials are now warning about a new virtual kidnapping fraud that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to clone a loved one’s voice. AI programs are inexpensive, easily accessible, and can create good voice likenesses from just a few seconds of dialogue taken from social media posts. The FBI reports that most scam calls involving AI originate from Mexico and target Latin communities in the southwestern U.S. These sophisticated ruses can be successful, with fake kidnappers stealing an average of $11,000 from each victim. To avoid getting scammed, families are advised not to mention upcoming trips on social media or to give financial information to strangers on the phone. They also should create a family password or phrase that can help identify whether a kidnapping is legitimate.

Close-up of the electronic device used for "Project Lifesaver"

Wisconsin police find missing child in 11 minutes with new ‘Project Lifesaver’

Police in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, were training to use a new technology called “Project Lifesaver” when an opportunity to effectively use it in real-time came with the report of an endangered missing child with a medical condition. Officers ended their training session and immediately began a search for the child, who to their relief, had previously been enrolled in the nonprofit Project Lifesaver program. The child was found in just 11 minutes using radio technology that tracks signals from a transmitter worn on the child’s wrist or ankle. The technology was developed to protect and locate “at risk” individuals with cognitive disorders and relies on specially trained search and rescue teams to use it. Beaver Dam police have been using the program since 2018, and the officers involved in locating the child are certified as electronic search specialists by the Project Lifesaver International organization.

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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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Collage of missing Native American women to illustrate the newly released “2022 Missing American Indian and Alaska Native Persons: Age 21 and Under” report from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

OJJDP releases statistics on missing youth

According to a newly released “2022 Missing American Indian and Alaska Native Persons: Age 21 and Under” report from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), of the more than 10,000 cases of American Indian and Alaska Native youth reported missing in 2022, 65 percent were between the ages of 12 and 17; girls represented 4,000 of those cases compared to 2,500 males. Additional statistics from the report, based on data from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), showed that 190 of the case entries (about 4 percent) were for males under age 12, compared to 165 entries (3 percent) for missing girls under age 12. More detailed information can be found in the report.

Blurred photo of a young girl on a swing; she was found murdered on Tribal land in Canada

Official: More inclusive alert criteria needed

The death of an Indigenous girl whose body was found on Tribal land near Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, has prompted calls to expand AMBER Alert criteria. The 8-year-old’s body was found five days after authorities conducted a welfare check and began investigating her suspicious disappearance. A Canadian Centre for Child Protection official said that while AMBER Alerts remain “very, very important,” a process needs to be in place for those who don’t meet AMBER Alert criteria.

Image of poster promoting new "Feather Alert" in California

California introduces new Feather Alert

In response to the ongoing crisis of people missing from Tribal communities, California has  enacted a new Feather Alert. The statewide notification, similar to an AMBER Alert, can be issued for missing Indigenous people or Tribal members. “We’re hoping it’s beneficial, because we really need it,” said Keely Linton, who heads the Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition in Escondido. Linton noted that while much of the concern is for missing Indigenous women, some Tribes report more missing men.

Photo showing marchers, wearing red, to support more investigations into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Children (MMIWC)

Native American Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan cites ‘urgent and critical need’ for MMIP solutions

Native Americans who lost loved ones to violence, or experienced injustice, testified during a Not Invisible Act Commission field hearing in Minneapolis. As part of the federal government’s efforts to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis, Tribal members detailed their emotional losses and the apathy they experienced in trying to get cases investigated. They recommended more collaborative training between law enforcement and Tribes. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, a Native American, said there is “an urgent and critical need” to keep communities safe and support those who have lost loved ones. The commission will use information gathered at its hearings to recommend best practices for solving MMIP cases.

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Image showing Edgar Salvador Casian-Garcia and Araceli Medina, formerly on the FBI's 15 "Most Wanted List" with the word "ARRESTED" over their mug shots

'Most wanted' couple captured in Mexico

After an international manhunt, five missing and endangered children from the United States have been safely recovered in Mexico and their fugitive father and his girlfriend apprehended. Edgar Salvador Casian-Garcia and Araceli Medina—formerly on the U.S. Marshals Service’s 15 Most Wanted List—were charged not only with multiple counts of child sex abuse, but also for the murder of Casian-Garcia’s son, whose remains were found near the boy’s Pacific Northwest home. An official at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), which assisted law enforcement in the search, said the fugitives’ capture is testament to the importance of collaboration and community involvement in safeguarding children.

Photo of boy found safe in Vietnam after being kidnapped by his foster guardian Amanda Dinges and her mother, Amber Dinges of Washington State, U.S.

U.S. foster parent charged in boy’s kidnapping

After being kidnapped by his foster parent and her mother, a 5-year-old U.S. boy was found safe in Vietnam and returned to his biologicalmother in Washington State. Foster guardian Amanda Dinges and her mother, Amber Dinges, fled with the boy after it appeared he would soon be transitioning back to living with his birth mother. After Diplomatic Service Security personnel obtained custody of the boy at the U.S. Consulate in Hanoi, the abductors were charged with second-degree kidnapping and first-degree custodial interference. Brittany Tri, the birth mother’s attorney, said the boy is doing well; his mother is unsure how he was able to leave the U.S., since she had never applied for him to have a passport.

Image of poster from Missing Child Kenya's "Have You Seen Me?" campaign

Kenyan group using age-progression imaging

A child who goes missing at age 4 will look vastly different at age 10, and a Kenyan organization is helping the public see the physical changes. Missing Child Kenya has been using forensic imaging technology to age-progress last-known images of missing children. The group hopes the images used on posters will increase the chance of finding children who have been missing for years. Missing Child Kenya says it has helped locate more than 1,000 children since its founding seven years ago.

Photo of Aranza Maria Ochoa Lopez, safely located in Mexico after being last seen in a Vancouver, Canada, shopping mall four years earlier (2018)

Near 5-year search for U.S. girl ends in Mexico

The sweet face of 4-year-old Aranza Maria Ochoa Lopez in a “Stay Kind” shirt served as continual motivation for U.S. authorities who worked for nearly five years to find the girl, last seen in 2018 at a Vancouver, Washington, shopping mall. Earlier this year FBI agents got the long-awaited news that Aranza had been located in western Mexico, and shortly thereafter were able to escort the now 8-year-old back home. Though the girl’s mother, who had kidnapped Aranza, was taken into custody in Mexico in 2019, Aranza had remained missing. “For more than four years, the FBI and our partners [in the U.S. and Mexico] did not give up,” said Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office. What the girl had experienced while missing is unclear, but “our concern now will be supporting Aranza as she begins her reintegration into the U.S.”

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Image showing campus of the University at Buffalo in New York at dusk.

Lieutenant Kathy Zysek, above, was a key contact with the parents of the teen missing from the University at Buffalo, shown at top, where about 30,000 students are enrolled.

By Jody Garlock

Deputy Chief of Police Joshua Sticht has been with the New York State University Police long enough to know the ebbs and flows of student stress levels at the University at Buffalo (UB). The first six weeks of fall semester, and a few weeks toward the end of spring term, one is likely to find students either adjusting to their new environs or finalizing exams and often concerned about their grades. That’s when Sticht and his team are most likely to field missing persons calls, typically from a parent unable to reach their child.

“We get a fair number of missing persons calls, but usually find students reported missing within the first hour,” Sticht said. “It might be something like a student is at a friend’s house and no one has seen them for days.”

But a May 2023 call from a worried mother unable to reach her son before his final exams proved to be far from routine. The wide-ranging case would lead investigators south to Mexico and involve numerous law enforcement authorities, including New York State’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse (NYMPC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) of Fox Valley Technical College.

The case’s outcome was a positive one, with the teen swiftly and safely located, thanks in large part to a word all involved in the case mentioned: “Collaboration.” There was collaboration between the parents and UB police; between UB police, the NYMPC, and FBI; and between the NYMPC and AATTAP. Collaboration was also strong between AATTAP and contacts developed through its Southern Border Initiative (SBI), which works to support the seamless operation of AMBER Alert plans in cross-border abduction cases.

“We have access to a lot of technical tools here, but once someone is out of the state, we’re really stuck,” Sticht explained. “Collaborating early and bringing in a number of different resources was key.”

The case also reflects how AMBER Alert programs are used more broadly as a cornerstone tool to locate endangered missing youth. In this case, the missing student was 19—making him too old for an AMBER Alert. But his age, combined with facts uncovered by New York law enforcement, proved he was indeed vulnerable and perhaps in grave danger.

Image shows map of locations where the missing teen was discovered to be on various dates; a sign for the University at Buffalo; and images that pertain to this information: MAY 11 University at Buffalo Deputy Chief of Police Joshua Sticht and officers begin the search for the missing teen. MAY 12 Tim Williams of the New York State Missing Person Clearinghouse (NYMPC) offers assistance. MAY 12 NYMPC’s Cindy Neff reaches out to the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP). MAY 13 The teen is located in Mexico after AATTAP’s Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron helps accelerate the search. https://www.amberadvocate.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Second-grouping.png

The investigation unfolds

On May 11, a resident adviser—responding to a welfare check prompted by the boy’s mother— discovered the student had not been seen for two days. The adviser promptly reported the student missing to UB police, who in turn visited his dorm room. There they discovered two “red flags”: His cellphone had been left behind (“College students just don’t do that,” Sticht said) and his university-issued ID card— needed to access campus buildings and his meal plan—had not been used in several days.

“This ramped up our concern,” Sticht said. “Sometimes we have situations where everyone is in full-blown panic mode, and we find the person studying in the library. But this was different. No [electronic] devices were hitting the networks. And every tool we would normally use [to locate someone] was hitting a dead end.”

Photo showing blurred images of walking college studentsWithin hours, UB police added the missing teen to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database in accordance with Suzanne’s Law (enacted after another endangered missing New York college student was ineligible for an AMBER Alert; see related sidebar).

The following day, New York State’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse (NYMPC) received additional information from the boy’s mother that led them to consider issuing a Missing Vulnerable Adult Alert for him.

The mother had reported to NYMPC that her son was on the autism spectrum and had poor decision-making skills. Online luring seemed a possibility. The parents had learned their son had been communicating via the Discord app with individuals in Mexico and had used PayPal to send someone money.

Graphic with the following text included with a small photo of Suzanne Lyall's missing poster: Suzanne's Law: An alerting alternative for young adults The 1998 disappearance of another missing New York college student, Suzanne G. Lyall, prompted a federal law to help ensure that young adults who don’t qualify for AMBER Alerts will not fall through the cracks after being reported missing. With AMBER Alerts extending to age 17 or 18, depending on the state, concern arose about the safety of 18- to 21-year-olds. In 2003, President George W. Bush made Suzanne’s Law part of the national PROTECT Act, which established a nationwide AMBER Alert system that same year. Suzanne’s Law mandates that any missing youth between the ages of 18 and 21 be promptly added to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. The law is named for Lyall, a State University of New York at Albany student who has been missing since 1998. In addition to Suzanne’s Law, some states have missing college student alerts that can be activated when a student of any age is missing and deemed at risk.They also noted that on May 8—the last day their son had used his university meal plan—he had withdrawn funds from his bank account. What’s more, he had recently asked his mother for his passport, explaining he planned to visit Niagara Falls, which straddles the Canadian border.

After a review of his cell phone records showed he had made a 3 a.m. phone call to Delta Airlines, all indications pointed to his attempt to travel to Mexico. Meanwhile, UB officers were able to confirm the student had flown out of Buffalo to Shreveport, Louisiana, giving them “a lucky break” in the case, Sticht said. But with 1,200 miles separating the New York team from the boy’s last known location, collaboration with other law enforcement agencies would need to happen quickly.

Tim Williams, Missing Persons Investigative Supervisor at the NYMPC, contacted the New York State Intelligence Center (SIC) to inquire about getting help from U.S. Border Patrol, and together they learned the youth had flown from Shreveport to Dallas, and on to Mexico City. With confirmation that the teen was no longer in New York—or even the country—a Missing Vulnerable Adult Alert was nixed. Instead, after Williams briefed NYMPC Manager Cindy Neff on what was now a cross-border case, she decided to contact Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron, who coordinates AATTAP’s international and territorial training and outreach, including the Southern Border Initiative.

That proved to be a smart move, Neff said. Leon-Baron had FBI contacts at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and within an hour Leon-Baron was talking with the U.S. Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT). In turn, the OPDAT source was briefing the U.S. State Department’s American Citizen Services group on the case.

Surprisingly swift resolution

On May 13—roughly 48 hours after the teen was reported missing—Mexican authorities located him in Querétaro, about 135 miles north of Mexico City. The youth had begun using a different name and living in an apartment with two people close to his age. Local authorities and the FBI interviewed the teen, who said he was fine. But he wanted to stay in Querétaro. The parents confirmed his identity via photos and spoke with their son.

While the parents are exploring ways to best help their son, those involved in the search for him are proud of how quickly they were able to locate him in another country—and how relieved they were to know he was found unharmed.

Neff credits Leon-Baron for accelerating the search due to her connections in Mexico: “Once Jesi reached out, they got right on it.”

The case represents “the very essence” of AATTAP’s mission to build relationships and collaborate, Leon-Baron said. “The success of this investigation is due to the partnerships built with AMBER Alert Coordinators in the U.S., and Southern Border Initiative relationships established in Mexico,” she said.

Having solid relationships ahead of time was crucial, Leon-Baron says. “It’s being the bridge, if you will, to pass it on. Without that, it would have prolonged the opportunity to recover the teen quickly.”

Back on the UB campus, Sticht is pleased with the work of his officers, who remained the point of contact for the parents even after the case left his team’s jurisdiction. “Collaboration is really what got this done,” he said.

Display quote with this text: “Cases like these are the very essence of AATTAP’s border initiatives—to improve on and collaborate with other agencies in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. territories to ensure swift communication and action.” Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron AATTAP Project Coordinator for International and Territorial Programs, Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Training and Certification

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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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Group photo at the AMBER in Indian Country Toolkit Presentation in Wisconsin October 12, 2023
Shown at the October 12, 2023, AATTAP AMBER Alert in Indian Country Technology Toolkit presentation in Oneida, Wisconsin: FIRST ROW from left: Tyesha Wood, AATTAP-AIIC Program Manager; Valerie Bribiescas, AATTAP-AIIC Program Coordinator; Lieutenant Mary Creapeau, Stockbridge Munsee Tribal Police; Jenniffer Price-Lehmann, AATTAP Program Manager; Todd M. Otradovec Sr., Deputy Chief, Menominee Tribal Police; Chief Jessie Hall, Red Cliff Tribal Police; and Janell Rasmussen, AATTAP Administrator. SECOND ROW from left: Chuck Fleeger, AATTAP Region 3 Liaison; Chad Racine, Special Agent, Wisconsin DOJ/DCI; Chief Eric Boulanger, Oneida Nation Police; Chief Timothy DeBrot, Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Police; Dispatch Supervisor Nicole Reiter, Oneida Nation Police; Melissa Marchant, AMBER Alert Coordinator/Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager, Wisconsin DOJ/DCI; Detective George Hopfensperger, Lac Du Flambeau Tribal Police; Jim Hoffman, NADGI Intelligence Coordinator; and Chief Keith Tourtillott, Menominee Tribal Police.

By Denise Gee Peacock

The AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP)/AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) Initiative recently presented Technology Toolkits to six Wisconsin Tribal Nations during a quarterly Native American Drug and Gang Initiative Task Force Advisory Board meeting at the Oneida Indian Nation Police Headquarters in Oneida.

Each durable, portable Technology Toolkit—containing a rugged laptop, webcam, digital camera, scanner, a hotspot device with six free months of WiFi (in partnership with the FirstNet Authority and AT&T)—is geared to help Tribes work more quickly and efficiently in the field during missing child investigations. Funding for the Toolkits, offered to any federally recognized Tribe, is provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018.

The Toolkit endeavor was devised during the pandemic, “when we saw a significant need for tools and resources in Indian Country that would allow law enforcement to work remotely,” said AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen.

“Some Tribes didn’t have a webcam to participate in virtual meetings, or they had issues with broadband or Wi-Fi access, so we decided to put together a Toolkit that could help in any way possible when a child was missing in Indian Country.”

“Often when Tribal law enforcement go to a home to get a photo of a missing child, the picture they need may be the only one they have—and they don’t want to give it away because they might not get it back. The printer’s scanner feature helps to capture a digital image of the photo and allows the family to keep the photo.”

“And with the hotspot it provides, that photo can be immediately transmitted to whoever is creating the Alert to send out,” said AATTAP Program Manager Jenniffer Price-Lehmann, a Wisconsin native with decades of high-level law enforcement experience in the state. “That’s a major time saver, and we all know how critical time is when searching for a missing child.”

Rasmussen also highlighted the training provided by the AMBER Alert in Indian Country team led by AATTAP/AIIC Program Manager Tyesha Wood and AATTAP/AIIC Program Coordinator Valerie Bribiescas, who have so far provided more than 100 Toolkits to Tribal nations—and countless hours of training and assistance.

Wood told the group that “Indian Country training is completely customized to your needs, and all the trainings are free, whether they’re online or in person,” she said. “As for the in-person trainings, we also have travel scholarships available to help people attend any training session that would increase their agency’s response within their Tribal community.”

Rasmussen praised Wisconsin for its successful, proactive work to “build bridges of communication”—pointing out meeting attendee Melissa Marchant, the AMBER Alert Coordinator and Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager for the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ)/Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). “Not every Tribe or state has such a dynamic system or team in place to work seamlessly during a missing child crisis. That’s why we’ve been working with Tribes across the nation to ensure that those without ready access to the equipment or contacts needed to issue an AMBER Alert can be prepared before an Alert is needed.”

Detail of AMBER Alert lapel pin.As of today, 1,146 kids are back at home safe because an AMBER Alert was issued, the public saw the Alert, and someone helped law enforcement get that that child back home. So this program works. And it works because of everything you do to make it work.”
– AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen

 


Funding for the AATTAP’s AMBER Alert in Indian Country Technology Toolkit project is provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018—passed nearly two years after Ashlynne was kidnapped and killed May 2, 2016, near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation Reservation.

At the time, Navajo Nation law enforcement officers did not have an AMBER Alert plan to notify the people living in the 27,000 square mile reservation that stretches from Arizona to Utah. As Ashlynne’s case progressed, it brought to light gaps in public safety preparedness and coordination to best respond to cases involving missing and abducted children.

Ashlynne’s mother, Pamela Foster, lobbied legislators such as the late Senator John McCain of Arizona to pass the law, which provides funding and training for increased law enforcement coordination, new and expanded resources, and renewed hope for protection of children living on Tribal lands across the U.S.

“The Navajo Nation has worked very hard to put together an incredible alert system in Ashlynn’s memory,” Rasmussen said. After eliminating jurisdictional confusion and hurdles, the Nation now issue their own Alerts. And they have resulted in the successful recoveries of Navajo children. So this initiative is definitely working.”

“Traditionally the cooperation between federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement is not good. So kudos to my predecessors, who were able to lay the foundation for the solid relationships with have in this state, one we continue to build on. We wouldn’t be able to function properly without that.”
Oneida Nation Police Chief Eric Boulanger

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Brittni Farmakes is a Project Coordinator with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP), working primarily in support of the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative. Brittni is responsible for such tasks as coordinating delivery of training and technical assistance materials; identifying and assigning instructors; planning, developing, and coordinating project deliverables;  assisting in planning, budgeting, and allocating resources; preparing statistical project reports; and developing and implementing training calendars, agendas, and other program materials.

Prior to joining the AATTAP team, Brittni worked with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for more than 15 years—serving most recently as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst for homicide and missing persons investigations. Earlier in her BCA career, she worked as Training and Conference Coordinator and helped support the Minnesota AMBER Alert and Missing Persons Clearinghouse.

Brittni holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

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Panoramic image of a 2023 Symposium meeting


Collage of images from the 2023 National AATTAP-AIIC Symposium

By Denise Gee Peacock

“It’s fitting, these images,” said Pascua Yaqui Tribal Councilman Francisco Munoz, pointing to a colorful depiction of Arizona life—one of many created by Salt River Elementary School students that wafted across a giant screen. “Children view the world totally different than we do—through magical eyes. And they need our assistance.”

Munoz was speaking to more than 150 law enforcement professionals who came from nearly every state in the nation—plus Puerto Rico and Mexico—to attend the 2023 AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and AMBER Alert in Indian Country National Symposium.

The event, held April 19-20 at the Casino Del Sol Resort & Casino in Tucson, Arizona, was made possible by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. To support robust participation, lodging scholarships were made available to Tribal participants with funding from the McCain Institute. And hospitality was provided to attendees by the resort’s owners, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen quote: "We all know about the cases that have been solved, and children who've been found, because of the relationships formed here."Thank you for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our nation’s children,” said OJJDP Associate Administrator Jim Antal. “Your job is not easy, but it’s a worthwhile one.”

The occasion marked the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that law enforcement officers, AMBER Alert Coordinators, Missing Persons Clearinghouse Managers, Child Abduction Response Team (CART) leaders, and other key partners were able to meet in person for collaborative learning.

Attendees had their pick of 36 learning sessions presented by  more than three dozen subject  matter experts. They received  updates from U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, Gary N. Restaino, whose Office works with 22 federally recognized Tribes (including the  nation’s largest, the Navajo Nation). Participants also heard from Marlys Big Eagle, the DOJ’s first Native  American Outreach Services Liaison —and a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.

What follows is an overview of key topics addressed at the event, with participants’ compelling thoughts about them.

Alerting and Investigating

  • NCIC entry is essential. “Nothing is more important than nationwide accessibility to essential and timely records about the event, the child, and the abductor. That’s why NCIC entry is federally mandated,” said AATTAP Region One Liaison Joan Collins, a law enforcement telecommunications expert who recently retired after three decades with the Rhode Island State Police.
  • Follow the leads management system. After conducting a live polling session via participants’ cell phones, retired FBI Special Agent David Fallon found that  73% of attendees had not used a leads management system. “Without one, you’ll be behind the eight ball,” he said. The best systems have a lead assignment log; lead sheet with the lead number; the date information was received and assigned; its priority; the assigned investigator; the information source; related task(s), completion(s), and  their follow-up status.
  • “Don’t be in a homicide frame of mind.” That’s the important lesson El Paso Police Department Sergeant David Camacho learned from Mike Simonds, the on-call sergeant (since retired) who investigated the Amber Hagerman case in 1996. “Race to safely recover the children in peril; then focus on justice for the perpetrator.”
  • Ensure a recovered child returns to a safe environment. “Look at the big picture. How many 911 calls have come from the child’s house, or domestic violence reports that mention the child?” said Cindy Neff, Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager for the New York State Division of Criminal Services.
  • Neff shared an eight-question screening tool for use in beginning important conversations:
    1. What made you want to leave home?
    2. How long have you been away?
    3. Who have you been staying with?
    4. Did someone touch you?
    5. Do you have health issues?
    6. Has anyone hurt you or tried to hurt you while you were gone?
    7. Are you afraid for your safety or the safety of someone else?
    8. Do you have someone you can talk to at home or school?

Child Abduction Response Teams

  • Having a CART is smart. “By being CART-certified, you’re telling your community, the missing child’s parents, even the nation, that your team is ready,” said Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron, AATTAP CART Certification Manager. “Training and certification make child recovery much more successful.”
  • CARTs can deploy for any type of missing child incident, not only for abductions, which represent less than 1% of children who go missing, said Derek VanLuchene, AATTAP Coordinator for CART training.
  • CART training for Tribal law enforcement is a goal for many in Indian Country.Take 5: Tech-Savvy Takeaways Consider five overlooked research tools and techniques to use when seeking a missing child or suspected abductor-shared during the Symposium by retired California Highway Patrol Sergeant/emergency alerting expert Eddie Bertola: • Information databases, including LexisNexis Accruint, which offers a free phone number lookup tool and robust, multi-dimensional data for investigating people and companies (plus real-time alerts on specific subjects) and geolocation analysis; and credit score companies, which can tell you if someone has recently applied for a credit card or loan. • Vehicle manufacturers’ support­software data (e.g., OnStar, Honda Link). "Don't let OnStar tell you they can't find a vehicle because the owner hasn't paid for a subscription. They can find it," Bertola said. “Keep asking.” The vehicle's insurer and lien holder may also be able to provide assistance. • Subscription-based music/news streaming services such as Sirius XM, which can track a vehicle even if the owner does not subscribe to the service-using the embedded technology to do so. • Non-traditional banking companies (Venmo, Apple Pay, PayPal). "Unlike when people pay with cash, the use of these services leaves digital trails," he said. • Businesses’ facial recognition software used by Walmart, McDonald’s, Walgreens, Starbucks, and many others, to tailor advertisements in real-time to customers near to, or visiting, their stores.

Marlys Big Eagle—the first Native American Outreach Services Liaison for the U.S. Department of Justice—speaks to Symposium attendees.Indian Country

  • Savanna’s Act guidelines are being developed  and implemented for use in missing and murdered Indigenous persons (MMIP) case protocols training, said U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Gary N. Restaino. After conducting listening sessions with the state’s Tribes, Restaino and his team are focusing on respectfully preserving physical and cultural remains; involving a broader group of family members in investigation updates; and ensuring procedural due process.
  • AIIC Technology Toolkits, launched  in spring 2022 have been making their way to Tribal law enforcement agencies across the country. Funded by the U.S. DOJ and administered by the AIIC, the kits provide an array of portable devices allowing Tribal officers to quickly communicate data involving missing children while working in remote locations. And now, thanks to AIIC’s work with FirstNet (in partnership with AT&T), the toolkits include  a Franklin A50 WiFi hotspot device and six months of free AT&T service. And $75,000 has been allocated for select Tribes to receive additional toolkits.
  • PL280 challenges: Northern California’s Yurok Tribe is a Public Law (PL) 280 state, one of only six in the nation that puts criminal jurisdiction solely in the hands of state, or federal law enforcement. “This hinders a Tribe’s ability to directly respond to, or access data about, crimes that occur on their lands, such as abductions of Native American children or the sexual trafficking or exploitation of Tribal youth,” said Yurok Tribal Prosecutor Brie Bennett. But the  Tribe has found workarounds. It recently joined forces with the U.S. Marshals for  an MMIP-focused initiative.

Border/International Collaboration

  • Relationship building is key: El Paso  Police Department Sergeant David Camacho credits the strong partnership that Texas law enforcement and U.S. federal agencies have established with Mexican law enforcement and Mexico’s Office of the Attorney General, which oversees its Alerta AMBER. “We’ve established a healthy working relationship with Mexico when it comes to searching for U.S. citizens. “Their officers meet with us quarterly to bread together, and ensure contacts are current.”
  • So is swift communication: “Since many agencies can’t make international phone calls without permission, we’ve found the WhatsApp tool very helpful,” Comacho said. “You can plug in any number in the world and be instantly connected.”

Quote from U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona: "Arizona is committed to talking more about implicit bias. We need to overcome any obstacles to getting the word out about missing children—and focus on rescuing them."Bias in Alerting Decisions

  • Re-thinking the term ‘runaway’: Chitimacha Tribal Police Captain Jada Breaux of Louisiana noted that children categorized as runaways “should be seen as 1) missing and 2) at risk of exploitation,” adding, “Chronic runaways often get lost in the system—or not even put into the system.” Program Manager Byron Fassett agreed: “I would argue that we should no longer even use the term.”
  • “A lot of officers think sex trafficking victims volunteered to be abused,”  said Region 3 Liaison Sarah Krebs-Qureshi. “They’ll say, ‘She was making good money,’ or ‘She’s an entrepreneur.’ And I’ll say, ‘No, she’s a victim. And even if she did get herself into a bind, it’s our responsibility to rescue her.”

Outreach and Understanding

  • Trust is earned: Black communities have a lot of mistrust about law enforcement, said Texas AAC Mike Nixon. That leads them to try to solve a missing child incident themselves—with parents calling their child’s friends, other family members, the child’s school, pastor, or barber to ask for help. “We need to take more initiative to get into these communities, build trust, and educate them about the need to act quickly so we can help recover their child safe.”
  • Be OK with discomfort: In working with Tribal or minority communities, “You will be uncomfortable constantly,” said North Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Erin Quinn. “You’re showing up to meetings where you were not invited. You’re showing up to places where people will stare at you. So cultural liaisons should be outgoing enough to overcome that.”


Wellbeing

  • Mental health counseling should be “like an annual physical, which no one questions the need for,” said one participant. Though symposium attendees believe things are changing for the better, unfortunately some command staff see an officer who asks for help as unfit for duty. “Truth is, all the terrible things we’ve seen never leave our heads,” said Texas Region 2 AAC John Graham. “But if someone mentions they’re struggling, it can be a career-ender.”
  • This subject hits home, and hard, for one Symposium presenter. For Pete Bailey, the suicide of his Dallas Police Department partner led the DPD Sergeant to earn a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling after his retirement. “Everyone has different stress points; it’s important to be a ‘subject matter expert’ on yourself,” he said.

NCMEC Updates

Dr. John Bischoff, Vice President for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Missing Children Division (NCMEC), shared some alerting updates:

  • A redesigned poster will soon launch. Expect mobile design-friendly posters with bigger pictures and pared-down descriptive language; a QR code leading to their website, with more details about the child (such as height, weight, and eye color; and ways to make the poster easier to share on social media. “We want to make it clear what we want the public to actually do,” Bischoff said.
  • Watch for a streaming service. NCMEC is working with Walmart and others to have large monitors prominently display digital posters of missing children updated in real-time.

Leemie Kahng-Sofer, NCMEC’s Director of Case Management, shared several reporting trends:

  • Children missing from care comprised more than 75% of total endangered runaway reports to NCMEC from 2018-2022, representing a 250% increase.
  • Black and Native American children are disproportionately over-represented among missing children reported to NCMEC compared to U.S. Census data. Of all the NCMEC Endangered Runaway intakes from 2016 to 2020, 31% of the children were Black, despite 14% of the U.S. population being Black; 1.5% of were Native American, though only .8% of the population is Native American; and 10% were Multiracial, compared to 4% of U.S. Census representation.
  • Regarding missing children with autism, 2,496 cases were reported to NCMEC from 2013-2022, with 74% of them involving a male juvenile. And of those total cases, 3% were recovered deceased, with 83% of those deaths due to drowning.

Symposium-goers get preview of new Family Survival Guide

Cover of "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" with link to website: AMBERAdvocate.org/familiesAn updated and multimedia fifth edition of the U.S. Department  of Justice resource, When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, was officially announced on Missing Children’s Day, held May 24, 2023, in Washington DC. But during the Symposium, participants were shown  a video of the Guide’s parent-contributors, who spoke about the power of the resource—for them  and for others.

“This Guide is critical to the work each of you do in  the field,” AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen told attendees. “When you’re working with families, it’s nice to give them a resource explaining what they can expect, and what they do, to help in the search for their missing child,” she added.

Symposium participants also heard from a legend in the field of child protection: Ron Laney, a retired OJJDP veteran who was instrumental in not only creating the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, but also the national AMBER Alert initiative.

Quote from OJJDP/NCMEC/AMBER Alert veteran Ron Laney: "The Family Survival Guide is one of the most critical resources ever developed by the Department of Justice."Laney helped create the first edition of the Guide in 1998 by teaming up with Helen Connelly (retired FVTC Program Administrator and current NCJTC Associate) and a small group of dedicated parents, including Patty Wetterling and Colleen Nick, who also contributed to the new fifth edition.

The original Guide was the first of its kind, offering clear, actionable information on how parents of missing children could work with law enforcement, the media, and volunteers; manage donations and rewards; and simply survive to fight another day in the search for their child. It became a go-to source for parents needing guidance and strength.

The Guide’s new iteration, which has been peer-reviewed by leading law enforcement experts and child/victim advocates, will build on that legacy by offering updated advice and information in easy to navigate online and print formats.

>> Look for an in-depth feature about the Family Survival Guide to appear in the next issue of The AMBER Advocate.

 

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Line of Hernando County, Florida, law enforcement SUVs in rural setting.
Hernando County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office SUVs and other law enforcement vehicles line the verdant rural road near where 2-year-old Joshua “JJ” Rowland went missing.
Rescued toddler, JJ Rowland, in the arms of volunteer searcher Roy Link, Brooksville, Florida.
Search volunteer Ray Link found the toddler and carried him to safety. Photo: Tampa Bay10

By Rebecca Sherman

ON THE MORNING of February 23, 2023, toddler Joshua “JJ” Rowland was fast asleep. His grandmother, who had been caring for him, dropped him off at his parents’ house at 9:45 a.m. With JJ’s mother still asleep, his grandmother quietly placed the drowsy boy in his bed. And all was quiet when she left. But that peace would be broken within an hour, when JJ’s mother awoke to find the front door open, the family dogs in the front yard, and her son nowhere to be found.

JJ’s mother began a frantic search of their property in Brooksville, Florida. The Rowland home sits on an expanse of land surrounded by dense areas of trees and brush that characterize this rural region of west-central Florida. The land also has a deep pond, plus barns and sheds—all potential hazards and hiding spots for their lost 2-yearold. After an hour of searching for JJ, his mother called 911.

Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputies arrived and quickly combed the area for the blond curly haired toddler who was wearing a Batman T-shirt and space themed pajama pants. A witness reported seeing JJ playing in his front yard at 10:40 a.m., but he had not been seen since. By this point, JJ had been missing for nearly an hour. And time was not anyone’s side.

As a search operation got underway, law enforcement began canvassing the area. They interviewed family members and neighbors, and contacted registered sex offenders in the area, all of whom gave permission for their homes to be searched. But after five hours, there was still no sign of the toddler.

“As of now, we have no indication [whether] he was abducted, or if he just wandered off,” Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said during a roadside press conference near the Rowland home. “We’ve been scouring the woods with bloodhounds and our K-9s. Deputies have been coming back just covered in sand spurs looking for little JJ.”

Nienhuis described JJ as a “rambunctious” child and more mature than his age would indicate. “He might have gotten farther away than we might anticipate, and [may be] hiding in someone’s shed or garage,” he said, acknowledging that chances for a positive outcome were dwindling as the hours passed. “Our hope is to find him alive and well.”  (Story continues below)

Information about the Map My Tracks app: MapMyTracks.com

 

A massive search and rescue effort involved nearly 100 law enforcement officers from area agencies, including sheriff’s deputies from four nearby counties, members of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Highway Patrol, Department of Corrections, and Probation and Parole.Due to the vast and complex terrain involved, specialized search and rescue operations were deployed to thoroughly examine woods and water using drones, K-9 units, horseback patrols, dive teams, and all-terrain vehicles.

“It’s a difficult area to search,” Nienhuis told a gathering of reporters. “The woods make it difficult to see even a few feet—the grass is so high—and JJ is so small.”

At 6 p.m., as daylight faded and spirits waned, a statewide Enhanced Missing Child Alert was issued. Within hours the ground search for JJ would be called off due to darkness, but Hernando County deputies continued their desperate quest to find the boy from the air, using helicopters and drones equipped with heat-sensing infrared cameras. Then fog rolled in, hindering the air search. The long night ended without locating JJ.

At dawn the next day, nearly 100 Child Abduction Response Team (CART) members from five agencies arrived on the scene to assist. An amazing 500 volunteers also joined the search, led by a Volunteer Coordinator from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). Thanks to the voracity of the first day’s efforts, and the swift and comprehensive response with vast resources enlisted on day two, all those involved in the physically taxing search would see their efforts rewarded.

"Hey, I found him!" Hear Roy Link's 911 call, courtesy Fox 13 Tampa Bay. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyZX43Wq8-EVolunteer Roy Lick was well-suited for the task at hand. The former U.S. Marine and retired Hernando County Parks Department employee knows the area well, so when volunteers were needed in the search for JJ, he answered the call. His pre-planned fishing trip would have to wait.

By now it was about 11 a.m.—some 24 hours after JJ had disappeared. Link was crossing a field about a half-mile behind the boy’s house when he heard a soft whimpering. Link followed the sound about 100 feet into the woods. He then spotted JJ’s curly blond head. Standing barefoot in briars and covered in bug bites and scratches, the boy instantly held out his arms to be picked up. Link obliged.

“He then started hollering for his mom,” Link told local reporters. “I kept telling him, ‘Your mama’s comin’, your mama’s comin’.” Everyone involved in the search was elated to hear JJ had survived the 24-hour ordeal with only minor injuries. “Not many adults would want to be in that place at night … where who knows what’s out there? We have coyotes and other wild animals,” Link said.

Sheriff Nienhuis noted that JJ had crossed a residential road behind his house and crawled through barbed wire fences, “which was extremely unusual and unanticipated.”

After JJ was given water and treated by EMS for cuts and scrapes, he was reunited with his family—while the community cheered. “I’ve got to admit, I’m a little emotional. I thought we were going to have bad news,” Nienhuis told reporters. ”It’s a very good day in Hernando County.”

"This is an invaluable example of having a Child Abduction Response Team. When a CART was deployed to help find |), they knew what their roles would be going into the situation. The operation worked seamlessly. The CART team, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, and all the volunteers should be commended for their swift, coordinated, multifaceted response."

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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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Arina Yatsiuk, missing from Ukraine.

Ukrainian girl who vanished at start of war is one of thousands now missing

On March 3, 2022, 15-year-old Arina Yatsiuk and her family were trying to evacuate from Ukraine when Russian troops killed her parents and yanked her from their car. Now, the Ukrainian teen is the face of an alarming fallout from Russia’s invasion: She’s among thousands of Ukrainian children who have vanished. Ukrainian officials believe Russia has forcibly deported children and is attempting to “Russify” them. (And Ukraine’s Children’s Rights Commissioner reports more than 16,000 known cases of children who have been forcibly deported.) Some of the children are reportedly held in camps to be politically re-educated; others are put in institutions or orphanages, or quickly adopted and given citizenship, even as relatives search for them. Ukraine’s government, which is seeking help from the international community, has secured the return of about 300 children so far. Arina’s relatives remain hopeful. “We all believe she is alive, and we will soon find her,” her aunt said. “We are considering all options, including that she might have been adopted.”

Canada AMBER Alert sign

Canadian police credit AMBER Alerts for helping saving children’s lives

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) report that more than 90 percent of AMBER Alerts in Canada’s most populous province have resulted in the safe recovery of the missing child. The OPP has issued 21 Alerts since 2018, an average of about four a year. In noting the effectiveness of the program, the OPP credits the public with being the eyes and ears in the safe recovery of children. They also urge people to be vigilant in checking AMBER Alerts and reporting incidents, even if they may seem insignificant. “Without your help, we might be reporting very different statistics today,” a department official said.

Child Safety On illustration depicting more accountability needed for big tech companies

EU wants big-tech accountability in keeping children safe online

Fourteen European organizations have teamed up on a new campaign to help stop online child sex abuse and exploitation. The “Right in Front of Us” (#ChildSafetyOn) initiative aims to spread awareness of and seek support for legislation that would bring accountability to large tech companies such as Meta, Google, and TikTok. Under a new law the European Union is considering, the tech companies would be required to identify, remove, and report any child sexual abuse material on their platforms. “The proposed legislation is necessary and urgent to prevent and combat child sexual exploitation such as grooming,” said Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, president of Missing Children Europe. In addition to working with teachers and educators to strengthen the message, the campaign includes a website (childsafetyineurope.com) with videos and a petition supporting the proposed legislation.

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Yurok Tribe MMIP initiative, work with U.S. Marshals

Yurok Tribe joins U.S. Marshals in MMIP initiative

California’s largest Tribe and a longstanding leader in criminal justice issues is getting an assist in dealing with the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people. The U.S. Marshals Service has tapped Northern California’s Yurok Tribe as the pilot partner for its Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Initiative. The Tribe’s priorities will drive specific areas of the collaboration, which could include training on missing child investigations and sex offender registration. “We are fully committed to supporting the Yurok Tribe’s efforts to keep their communities safe,” said U.S. Marshals Service Director Ronald L. Davis.

Potential Navajo language AMBER Alert and others

Lawmakers to FCC: Expand languages in alerts

Calling Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) “an important lifeline to Americans,” two New York lawmakers are leading a charge to remove language barriers in the bulletins—a measure that could impact Tribal communities. (Larger Tribes such as the Navajo Nation already are working to share emergency alerts in their native language.) U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Representative Grace Meng and 43 lawmakers who signed a bicameral letter urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand requirements beyond English and Spanish to ensure more of the nation can respond to such WEAs as AMBER Alerts and severe weather notices. Lawmakers pointed to 2021’s Hurricane Ida, when many Asian immigrants did not receive language-accessible warnings that could have alerted them to, and protected them against, deadly flash flooding.

Colorado adopts Missing Indigenous People Alert

Colorado has become the second state to implement a Missing Indigenous Person Alert system. The new public alert, designed in response to the disproportionately high number of Indigenous people who are missing or have been murdered, comes on the heels of a similar one launched in Washington State. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation operates the system, which is the result of Indigenous advocates to pass legislation to raise awareness about missing members of Tribal communities. “It just feels like we’re always put on the back burner,” said Southern Ute member Daisy Bluestar, member of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Taskforce of Colorado, which advocated for the alert.

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Illustration of embarrassed young woman looking at a computer screen

NCMEC’s new ‘Take It Down’ tool helps remove explicit web imagery of children

“Take It Down,” a free online service run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), is helping remove sexually explicit images or videos depicting children under age 18. And NCMEC’s work is paying off: Since “Take It Down” launched in December 2022, more than 200 cases have been resolved. The process works by assigning a unique digital fingerprint, or hash value, to specific images or videos. Participating tech platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Pornhub, and OnlyFans, use the hash values to detect and remove the disturbing imagery from their sites. Individuals also can submit a request to remove explicit visual content.

Digital "AMBER Alert" sign atop the front of a public bus

New Utah law aims to improve the (over)use of AMBER Alerts

A new state law in Utah—designed to improve the criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts—went into effect May 3. Representative Ryan Wilcox of Ogden sponsored HB266 which prohibits law enforcement from issuing AMBER Alerts for runaways or child custody disputes unless the child faces a credible threat of imminent danger. Wilcox told KSL.com that the overuse of AMBER Alerts has caused people to opt out of receiving the alerts or ignore them, which diminishes their effectiveness. Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed the bill into law in March.

Illustration of African American silhouettes on "Missing" signs

Ebony Alert’ seeks to end racial disparity in missing person cases

Black Americans go missing at a disproportionate rate compared to other races in the U.S., and California lawmakers want to address that disparity. New legislation would allow an “Ebony Alert” for missing Black women and children ages 12 to 25. Proponents of the legislation say this will put a face on missing Black children, who are often classified as runaways and don’t fit criteria for an AMBER Alert.

Image of Athena Strand

Texas lawmakers pass ‘Athena Alert’ bill to create localized version of an AMBER Alert

In May 2023, Texas lawmakers approved HB3556, which would allow law enforcement to immediately notify people within a 100-mile radius as soon as a child goes missing. The “Athena Alert” bill is named for 7-year-old Athena Strand, who was kidnapped and killed last year by a FedEx driver who made a delivery to her Wise County home. The bill aims to close the gap between when a child is reported missing and when the child’s case meets state criteria for an AMBER Alert (for a confirmed abduction). The bill awaits Governor Greg Abbott’s signature into law.

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Members of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (front row center) joined child protection/law enforcement partners from Virginia and New York to help the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia delegations consider everything needed to create a successful emergency alert system for endangered missing children. The meeting was held in Washington, DC, on June 12, 2023.
Members of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (front row center) joined child protection/law enforcement partners from Virginia and New York—and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia—to outline key considerations for creating a successful AMBER Alert plan.

By Denise Gee Peacock

The AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) joined regional partners from Virginia and New York to discuss AMBER Alert best practices with child protection/law enforcement delegations from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia on June 12, 2023, in Washington, DC.

During the meeting, held at the U.S. Department of State, the AATTAP team discussed the history and effectiveness of the nation's AMBER Alert plans. Those in attendance were Janell Rasmussen, Program Administrator; Jenniffer Price-Lehmann, Program Manager; and Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron, Project Coordinator for International and Territorial Programs.

Additionally, Virginia State Police AMBER Alert Coordinators Sergeant Connie Brooks and Lieutenant Robbie Goodrich outlined how their state AMBER Alert activations are decided and disseminated. Also, New York State Police AMBER Alert Coordinator Erika Hock, New York State Missing Persons Clearinghouse (NYSMPC) Manager Cindy Neff and NYSMPC Investigative Supervisor Timothy Williams appeared virtually to discuss their state’s AMBER Alert system and training/technology requirements.

The U.S.-based AMBER Alert experts answered numerous questions from the delegations, which were especially interested in each state’s activation criteria, processes and protocols, and the technology used to alert the public in various formats/locations. Both states also shared their AMBER Alert plan’s documentation and related checklists, while the AATTAP provided numerous foundational resources.

Representing the Republic of Serbia were members of its Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) Affairs; Ministry of the Interior; and the Center for Missing and Abused Children from the Republic of Serbia, a non-governmental organization.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina delegation included representatives from the Ministries of the Interior in several districts; the Ministry of Security; the IFS Emmaus Center for Safe Internet; and the country’s INL program officer.

 

 

 

 

 


The goal is to help each country successfully create its own AMBER Alert plan—and we look forward to seeing that happen. We’re honored to help them do everything possible to strategically prevent, and find, missing children.

Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron
Project Coordinator
AATTAP International
and Territorial Programs

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Gary E. Timm, left, and Michelle Vetterkind, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, at the May 25, 2023, Missing Children’s Day event in Madison.

By Denise Gee Peacock

Legendary WTMJ broadcast engineer Gary E. Timm—who retired earlier this year after more than 30 years as Wisconsin’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) Chair—was recently honored for his pioneering work and public service volunteerism during a Missing Children’s Day event in Madison.

Timm was recognized May 25, 2023, as the Emergency Alert System (EAS) Chair Emeritus guest of honor during the Wisconsin Department of Justice Missing Persons Remembrance Ceremony.

Asked what he is most proud of accomplishing during his career, Timm has said, “I would say getting our Amber Alert program off the ground in 2003. This year we are celebrating the program’s 20th anniversary.”

AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program Manager Jenniffer Price-Lehmann, who served Wisconsin law enforcement for 24 years in key leadership roles—many of them focused on alerting the public to missing and endangered children and adults and investigating their disappearances—is honored to have benefitted from Timm’s EAS efforts. “Gary is a humble man who had a passion for AMBER Alerts,” she said. “He definitely will be missed—not only in the Wisconsin AMBER Alert program but in the larger emergency alerting community across the country.”

With Timm’s help, Wisconsin was the first state to file its required EAS plan with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1996 — a plan submitted on a floppy disk.

Timm would then work tirelessly to enhance the state’s EAS by making it more than a daisy chain of cobbled-together radio stations. His primary focus was ensuring the EAS was able to work perfectly when needed—and helping other states do the same.

AATTAP Program Manager Jenniffer Price-Lehmann with Wisconsin Department of Justice AMBER Alert Coordinator/Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager Melissa Marchant.
AATTAP Program Manager Jenniffer Price-Lehmann, left, is shown with Wisconsin Department of Justice AMBER Alert Coordinator/Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager Melissa Marchant.

“Gary’s biggest contribution in my mind is that he connected broadcasters to the public,” said Steve Wexler, Vice President of Radio, EW Scripps Company. “Gary made those [EAS] tones really mean something. That they’re dependable. And consistent.”

Michelle Vetterkind, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, praised Timm for having “the ability to bring many different people and agencies together” and for being “tremendously passionate about keeping Wisconsin children safe.”

In March 2010, Timm retired from full-time broadcast engineering after 37 years at Journal Broadcast Group in Milwaukee, WTMJ and WKTI Radio. He then worked in a part-time capacity as an alerts and warnings consultant for SRA International for five years, where his work supported the Department of Homeland Security.

Following his second retirement in 2015, Timm continued to devote time to EAS volunteer efforts such as membership on the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council, emergency-alerting advocacy with other EAS experts through the Broadcast Warning Working Group and outreach to Wisconsin emergency managers.

Timm is recognized nationwide as an EAS expert who has authored numerous articles and handbook chapters on the subject—garnering respect for his ability to explain technical issues to a non-technical audience.

Timm received the inaugural Service Award from Wisconsin Emergency Management in 2022, was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2018, and in 2005, received a Certificate of Commendation from the Wisconsin Governor.

Gary Timm circa 1975—soldering connections behind a broadcast console at WTMJ.
Gary Timm circa 1975—soldering connections behind a broadcast console at WTMJ.

“How can you thank someone who has given what he has given? He’s saved lives. He’s kept people safe,” Vetterkind said. “He is a very special man.”

Timm’s humble take on his career will no doubt endure. “I think engineers as a class are probably unsung heroes. At times we feel like we’re just part of the equipment. You kind of melt into the background—until something doesn’t work,” he said with smile.

Overall, however, “It’s been a privilege to volunteer my service all these years for the people of Wisconsin, and for [EAS advances] on a national basis,” he said. “I will truly miss my EAS colleagues and friends, and thank them for their support and rewarding relationships.”

The Wisconsin State Emergency Communications Committee has named Christopher Tarr, Group Director of Engineering for Magnum Media, as Timm’s successor.

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Photo shows U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland awarding seven members of the North Texas Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force for their outstanding work in preventing child exploitation. “There is no cause more worthy of honor,” the Attorney General said during the 40th annual National Missing Children’s Day commemoration. Task Force members (shown holding awards) are, from left, Anthony Newson, Chris Meehan, Tony Godwin, Jeffrey Rich, Bruce Sherman, Kellie Renfro, and Cyrus Zafrani.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland awarded seven members of the North Texas Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force for their outstanding work in preventing child exploitation. “There is no cause more worthy of honor,” the Attorney General said during the 40th annual National Missing Children’s Day commemoration. Task Force members (shown holding awards) are, from left, Anthony Newson, Chris Meehan, Tony Godwin, Jeffrey Rich, Bruce Sherman, Kellie Renfro, and Cyrus Zafrani.

 

Photo showing North Texas ICAC Task Force Member/AATTAP Instructional Associate Tony Godwin (on right) accepting his Commendation Award from U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland (on left) at the U.S. Department of Justice for a Missing Children's Day event May 24, 2023.
North Texas ICAC Task Force Member/AATTAP Instructional Associate Tony Godwin accepts his Commendation Award from U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on May 24, 2023, at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tony Godwin, an Instructional Associate with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) and veteran detective with the Garland Police Department—is one of seven North Texas Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force members who were honored with the Attorney General’s Special Commendation Award during the 40th annual National Missing Children’s Day commemoration in Washington, DC.

The ceremony took place May 24, 2023, in the Great Hall of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Attorney General’s Special Commendation honors an ICAC task force individual or team for extraordinary efforts to hold those who commit child sexual abuse and crimes against children legally responsible for their actions.

Graphic that reads: The North Texas ICAC Task Force was recognized for processing more than 22,000 tips from the National Center for Missing & Exgloited Children's CY.berTigline­work that resulted in more than 500 arrests and the rescue of more than 50 children between November 1, 2021, and October 31, 2022.“Whether a child has been abducted, or has just wandered away, the terror felt by a parent when their child has disappeared is overwhelming,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “I have great respect for the brave, resourceful, and dedicated professionals who work every day to protect children from harm, reunite missing children with their families, and provide support in the aftermath of a traumatic event. There is no cause more worthy of honor.”

Additional North Texas ICAC Task Force honorees included Lieutenant Cyrus Zafrani, Task Force Commander; Sergeant Kellie Renfro, Deputy Task Force Commander; Detective Tony Godwin; Detective Chris Meehan; Texas Ranger Bruce Sherman; Detective Jeffery Rich; and Community Outreach Officer Anthony Newson.

The North Texas ICAC Task Force encompasses 112 counties, spans more than 96,000 square miles, and involves more than 250 active affiliate agencies.

“What a tremendous honor to be recognized along with the best group of task force men and women working in child protection anywhere,” Godwin said after the event. “The dedication, commitment, and sacrifice is so very worth it.”

Godwin has served the Garland Police Department for nearly three decades and worked with the North Texas ICAC Task Force since 2006. He is responsible for proactively investigating child sexual assault cases, child sexual abuse material, and online child sexual exploitation. He has conducted more than 3,900 criminal investigations involving such crimes.

Godwin also is a certified computer and cell phone forensic examiner. He has handled more than 5,500 cell/computer forensic acquisitions during the past 10 years, collaborating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Service, and numerous law enforcement agencies working to combat Internet child exploitation.

“In addition to their successful investigative work, they have also dedicated themselves to training others on investigative techniques related to Internet Crimes Against Children cases,” said Attorney General Garland. “For that, they have my unending gratitude.”

AATTAP Curriculum Development Project Coordinator Cathy Delapaz feels the same.

Tony is a hard charger who has relentlessly pursued exploiters of children for years,” she says. “His willingness to share his extensive knowledge through AATTAP training impacts the work of so many who are dedicated to finding missing children and holding their exploiters accountable.” – Denise Gee Peacock

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Nearly two dozen law enforcement leaders from six federally recognized Tribes in Minnesota recently met with representatives from the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative as well as the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Department of Public Safety.

By Denise Gee Peacock

The AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) team recently provided Technology Toolkits to six Tribal nations in Minnesota during a quarterly meeting with leaders from state Tribal law enforcement as well as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).

The Technology Toolkits—durable cases with high-tech equipment to help Tribes act quickly when a child goes missing—were provided for free to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa; Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe; Lower Sioux Indian Community; Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe; Upper Sioux Community; and the White Earth Nation. Five other Minnesota Tribes also have received the Toolkits.

AT&T Mobile Hotspot Is Newest Toolkit Addition: The Minnesota Tribes' Technology Toolkits were among the first to include a Franklin A50 5G Mobile Hotspot, a compact device with 2.5-inch color display and rechargeable battery. It provides fast, reliable, and secure WiFi connectivity for up to 20 devices—and 6 months of free service from AT&T. The device is now included thanks to AIIC's relationship with FirstNet, an AT&T partner."These Technology Toolkits will be a great help to us all." Quote from Ken Washington, Leech Lake Tribal Police ChiefToolkit distribution is administered by the AIIC—an initiative of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP)—and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018.

The May 4 regional meeting took place at the Cedar Lakes Casino and Hotel, which is owned by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Since the meeting was held just prior to the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on May 5, special attention was paid to to the profoundly important issue during the half-day discussion.

“This is also an important week for another reason: May 2 marked the seventh anniversary of Ashlynne Mike’s murder on the Navajo Nation,” said AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen.

“At the time of her abduction there wasn’t really an AMBER Alert plan in place, so her mother, Pamela Foster, fought very hard to see the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act become law. Tribes now have access to the AMBER Alert system through training, technology, and collaboration with state AMBER Alert Coordinators—all of which is central to the work we do.”

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Holistic Health Spiritual Care Coordinator Gary Charwood blessed the event with an eagle feather used to waft a cleansing smoke over each person. “We are relatives,” he said. “We all do the work to take care of one another.”
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Holistic Health Spiritual Care Coordinator Gary Charwood blessed the event with a smudging ceremony, which involves using an eagle feather to waft a cleansing smoke over each participant. “We are relatives,” he said. “We all do the work to take care of one another.”

“Our children are our most precious commodity,” Minnesota BCA Superintendent Drew Evans told the group. “Our entire existence is literally to serve the people in this room.”

The meeting underscored these best practices:

  • The need for families or caregivers to quickly report a child missing, instead of trying to first find the youth on their own.
  • The importance of immediately entering a case involving a missing child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database and to “never, ever take them out of the system until they are located,” said Minnesota DPS Tribal Liaison Jenna Lehti. “NCIC entries also help us keep up with much-needed data on Tribal missing.”
  • The importance of having current photo(s) for a missing poster or alert.
  • The careful wording of missing posters related to any health issue a child may have. “Instead of saying a child ‘suffers from’ a medical condition, for privacy reasons we recommend saying, ‘There is great concern for his safety,’ ” Lehti said.
  • Ongoing efforts to strengthen community trust in Tribal, state, and national law enforcement through greater cultural outreach and understanding.

“We’re always available to help Tribes with any guidance or resources,” said AATTAP/AIIC Project Coordinator Valerie Bribiescas, a former detective and member of the Navajo Nation.

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Parent-survivors of missing children, AATTAP staff and leaders at the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention headquarters gather after the Missing Children's Day event May 24, 2023.
After the Missing Children’s Day event, parents of missing children who helped update the new edition of When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, joined leaders of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP)/National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) to discuss continuing goals for the project. Shown at the meeting are, front row from left: Lou Ann Holland (OJJDP), Janell Rasmussen (AATTAP/NCJTC), and parents Nacole Svendgard, Elaine Hall, Yvonne Ambrose, and Patty Wetterling; shown back row from left: Denise Gee Peacock (AATTAP), Alex Serrano (OJJDP), Brad Russ (NCJTC), parent Ahmad Rivazfar, Liz Ryan (OJJDP), Bonnie Ferenbach (AATTAP), and parents Dr. Noelle Hunter and Jeffery Morehouse.

 

WASHINGTON, DC – Family members who contributed to the 5th edition of When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, gathered to celebrate the release of the important multimedia resource and witness its announcement at the 40th Annual National Missing Children’s Day ceremony held at the U.S. Department of Justice Great Hall May 24, 2023.

Cover of "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" resource
Learn more about the Guide, download a copy of it, and check out the dedicated website’s expansive video library at: amberadvocate.org/families.

These families began work on the Guide’s update with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) nearly two years ago, carefully reviewing the 4th edition, developing notes for expanding and enhancing information, meeting virtually to discuss their ideas, and peer-reviewing the Guide’s content during the 5th edition’s development.

In January 2023, the families met for a week of in-studio filming that focused on the Guide’s main topics. They shared their stories with great courage and honesty, providing key lessons learned from their experiences and offering advice for other parents in the midst of their worst nightmare: having a missing child.

The immense care and effort they brought to this project is encapsulated in the new version of Family Survival Guide. It features written and video content covering all aspects of missing child experiences and needed resources. It offers families clear, actionable information on how to work with law enforcement, the media, and volunteers; how to manage donations and rewards; and how to survive to fight another day in the search for their missing child.

“The Guide serves as a resource for parents needing to know ‘What to do, and how to do it’ if their child goes missing — how to take each necessary step, contact the right people, and move forward each day,” said AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen at the recent 2023 National AATTAP and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium. There, a preview of the Guide was shared with the nearly 200 participants who work to respond to incidents of endangered missing and abducted children.

Family member Patty Wetterling, whose son Jacob was abducted in 1989 — and remained missing nearly 27 years until his remains were found in 2016 — captured both the pain and power of her and the other families’ work on the Guide. “It’s hard to put yourself out there. To share all this stuff that none of us ever wanted to have happen. But what this work will do is help continually activate parents of missing children — as well as law enforcement — to do something about it. We’re here to help others navigate through muddy waters that no one knows how to get out of.”

The collaboration, trust, and friendships formed across the Family Survival Guide project will endure — for the good of the contributing parents, and AATTAP’s work to develop more resources, and expand training and technical assistance vital to supporting law enforcement and child protection professionals, as well as families.

Endangered missing children have a greater chance of being rescued and brought safely home with more tools to ensure better understanding, a swift and effective response, and resources to support long-term wellbeing. This vision is what fuels the hearts and minds of all involved on projects such as these.

Rasmussen reiterated this message with the families today. “To be with you all, to see this Guide and videos representing the project — especially for Missing Children’s Day — is amazing. This represents your hope, your anger, your courage, your knowledge. It will have special resonance with law enforcement, who can learn from it and share it with others. And as we use this Guide, we will honor your children.”

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In this issue:

The second AMBER Advocate issue of 2023 spotlights the recent National AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program/AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium, which attracted hundreds of law enforcement professionals to Tucson. We feature participants’ compelling takes on numerous topics explored at the event, including best practices for investigating endangered missing and abducted children (particularly those from Tribal lands and children of color); essential and emerging technologies; and the need for more and better wellness care. We also look at how a Florida sheriff's department enlisted their community—and a novel tracking app—in their successful search for a 2-year-old, and meet tech-savvy West Virginia State Police First Sergeant James Kozik.

After two years of meeting virtually, hundreds of law enforcement professionals gather in Tucson for the 2023 AATTAP-AIIC National Symposium.

Rescued toddler, JJ Rowland, in the arms of volunteer searcher Roy Link, Brooksville, Florida.

A Florida toddler is found safe 24 hours after getting lost in a thicket ‘where not many adults would want to be overnight.’ Hundreds of law enforcement officers and community volunteers, aided by a novel app, joined the search.

Portrait of West Virginia State Police First Sergeant James Kozik

Embracing technology to find missing children drives West Virginia State Police First Sergeant James Kozik to excel in his work. He wants others to follow his lead.

Illustration of embarrassed young woman looking at a computer screen

Short news posts about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from the U.S.

Short news posts about about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from Indian Country

Child Safety On illustration depicting more accountability needed for big tech companies

Short news posts about about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from around the world

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Date 2023Headline: "By You, for You" – With your input, a compelling mix of relevant and valuable learning experiences are in gear this year. By Denise Gee Peacock

Change is inevitable. It’s how we respond to it that counts.

Consider technological advances. They’re an immeasurable help to law enforcement agencies searching for missing children—allowing them to issue AMBER Alerts faster, to geo-targeted areas, and track the digital footprints (banking transactions, app logins, license plate readers) of the people they seek.

But just when the good guys can at least follow the tech learning curve (if not get ahead of it), criminal minds are devising new ways to circumvent detection—trafficking vulnerable, endangered youth not just in recesses of the dark web, but increasingly in plain sight, with coded everyday language meant to mask its true intent.

AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen shown on AMBER Advocate cover with this display quote: "Any chance we get to connect with our partners–to really listen to them–allows us to respond successfully to their needs."Such are the concerns that keep our AATTAP curricula and training teams up at night. The ongoing threat makes us work harder than ever to update and develop courses taught by leading subject matter experts and provide best-in-class training materials for law enforcement and child protection professionals.

With grant support from the U.S. Department of Justice and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the AATTAP is working to share “the very best thinking and practices with law enforcement agencies and child protection partners before problems arise,” says AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen.

She regularly traverses the nation to attend national conferences, Child Abduction Response Team (CART) certifications, onsite training, and Tribal AMBER Alert implementation meetings.

Anticipating how best to prevent, interdict, and prosecute those who would harm children requires paying close attention to emerging crime schemes and observing how criminal justice professionals are successfully solving them.

Graphic: In 2022, AATTAP self-paced/e-Learning enrollments saw an increase of 43.9%–and onsite training options more than tripled.“It also takes understanding what training and technical assistance law enforcement agencies actually need, not just what we think they need,” says AATTAP Program Manager Byron Fassett.

The theme for the curriculum development—“by you, for you”—has involved recruiting the nation’s top experts to help develop and deliver new cutting-edge courses and update existing offerings; following emerging technologies and trends; letting reliable data and verifiable trends inform project planning; and creating more flexibility for busy professionals by offering online training that includes self-paced courses, live and recorded webinars, live instructor-led courses, and live hybrid events that combine onsite and online participation.

The goal is to ensure 2023 courses are “relevant and valuable,” says Project Coordinator Cathy Delapaz.

Building ‘responsive’ curriculum

Photo of Byron Fassett, left, and Cathy Delapaz of the AATTAPCathy and Byron spearheaded two successful field-assessment events this fall in the Washington, D.C., area. Both needs-assessment sessions involved a total of 62 participants “in the trenches” of finding endangered missing children, through investigative work and/or with CARTs.

“We wanted to hear from people in the field who deal with life-and-death situations every day,” Byron says.“We wanted their honest feedback on our curriculum to assess its effectiveness, efficacy and relevance, so we can make it responsive to their needs.”

The new or revamped courses Cathy and Byron are overseeing “will demonstrate in tangible ways how our trainings are field informed. We’re proud of that,” he says.

Curriculum Development: What’s new? Updated courses—informed by “grassroots” input from law enforcement agencies and pertinent crime data—taught by the AATTAP’s expanding cadre of subject matter experts. New courses focused on children missing from care; missing children of color; chronic runaways; public information officer best practices; unresolved child abduction investigations; and officers impacted by mental health issues and secondary trauma. Shown at left: One of two field-assessment meetings held near Washington, D.C.

Priming the ‘front-loaded response’

Photo of Derek VanLuchene, left, and Yesenia Leon-Baron of AATTAPCentral to AATTAP’s mission is helping law enforcement agencies and their regional partners respond to missing child incidents via fast, efficient, multi-disciplinary CART deployments.

Project Coordinators Derek VanLuchene and Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron work with an experienced team of trainers to assess CART programs across the country and support their development, training, and certification/re-certification efforts. Jesi also oversees international collaborations, including both the Southern and Northern Border Initiatives (SBI, NBI) that involve partners with Mexico and Canada, respectively.

Having played key roles in supporting the recent field-assessment trainings, Derek and Jesi are focusing not on hypotheticals, but “real-world challenges CARTs face—staffing turnover, the need for regular training, support from leadership, and help obtaining specialized resources,” Derek says.

“We help teams understand they must have resources in place for a front-loaded response—so when they get a call, they’re not scrambling for people or resources,” Jesi adds.

CART training & international outreach: What's new? Increased follow-up with law enforcement agencies interested in forming CARTs. Post-training mentoring "to help agencies strengthen what they've learned," Derek says. Providing agencies with data on "just how effective CARTs are in helping to win leadership buy-in," Jesi says. Planning a Northern Border Initiative focus group similar to one conducted in Puerto Rico to inform current and future curricula. Photo: CART certification training in Gloucester County, New Jersey.

‘Organic outreach’ in Indian Country

Tyesha Wood, left, and Valerie Bribiescas of AATTAPThe AMBER in Indian Country team, comprised of Program Manager Tyesha Wood and Project Coordinator Valerie Bribiescas, focuses on helping the nation’s 574 federally recognized Tribes assess their capacity to effectively respond when Native children go missing—and provides educational outreach to prevent such incidents.

A big part of the duo's work is helping Tribes understand what resources are available to them thanks to the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act.

In 2022 the team also began a long-term initiative to provide AMBER Alert in Indian Country Technology Toolkits at no cost to requesting Tribes.

Indian Country outreach: What's new? Continued delivery of Technology Toolkits, with the goal of deploying 265 of them. More outreach meetings with Tribal/state officials to explain resources available under the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act. Developing/implementing new onsite and online training offerings, such as the Missing Child Investigations in Indian Country (MCI-IC) series, which specifically addresses the needs in Indian Country and support Tribal-state collaboration. Providing funding opportunities to help Tribes meet technology resource goals. Working with AATTAP's CART team to encourage Tribal CART training, and continuing to provide Child Abduction Tabletop Exercises. More networking with smaller, more remote Tribes to expand connections. Photo: The Navajo Nation receives Technology Toolkits.This year they are continuing that work, and plan to connect with Tribes farther afield, such as Alaska and Maine. Such work requires deft cultural sensitivity. Both Tyesha and Valerie—Navajo Nation members and experienced Tribal detectives—recognize the myriad of complexities involved.

“Sovereignty is huge in Indian Country, so we need to know and respect each Tribe’s laws, customs, traditions, greetings, and stories,” Tyesha says.

“Being invited by each Tribe to discuss ways we can help them is essential,” Valerie says.

“We never want to overstep our boundaries with Tribal elders or leadership.”

Relationship-building is especially crucial to emphasize amid changing federal and state laws, such as the controversial McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling in 2020, wherein the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Oklahoma no longer had the right to try criminal cases involving Tribal lands or members.

Navigating jurisdictional battles between states and Tribes can feel like one step forward and two steps back. “We get that,” Tyesha says.

“But we want Tribes to know we’re here for them. We’re here to help them build on strengths and overcome obstacles.”

‘Inform, educate, and inspire’

Bonnie Ferenbach, left, and Denise Gee Peacock of the AATTAPPhrases such as “the digital experience,” “asynchronous,” and “accessibility optimization” are often used in the multi-faceted work overseen by Bonnie Ferenbach, Program Manager for AATTAP’s eLearning, Websites, and Publications. Bonnie’s work across all three of these areas focuses on the integrity of content, design quality, functionality, the user experience, and accessibility.

She also is a seasoned presenter and instructor with experience in developing and guiding law enforcement telecommunications operational response to missing and abducted child incidents.

Publications, websites & Learning: What's new? A multimedia update of the U.S. Department of Justice's When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide. A series of self-paced Learning courses that will provide scenario-based knowledge checks and resource downloads, each course building on the next. A new publication on additional alerting strategies/tools to help notify the public when a case does not meet AMBER Alert criteria for issuance. "This will be in keeping with our longstanding collaboration with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Bonnie says. Photo: Above: Parent-survivors of missing child-cases take a break during a video-filming project for future training objectives.It was that work which brought her to AATTAP as a consultant in 2006. She helped develop the “Telecommunications Best Practices for Missing and Abducted Children” course, which has been delivered both online and in the classroom for more than 15 years.

When not focused on eLearning initiatives, Bonnie collaborates with Project Coordinator Denise Gee Peacock to develop engaging and educational content for The AMBER Advocate and various online platformsContent is delivered across both The AMBER Advocate (amberadvocate.org) and the AMBER Alert in Indian Country (amber-ic.org) websites, along with a vast array of resources and training information.

“We want the AMBERAdvocate.org site to be as informative as it is interactive,” Bonnie explains, noting the community of practice dimension of the website’s Partner Portal.

The secure platform allows AMBER Alert Coordinators, Missing Persons Clearinghouse Managers, and others to find contact information for colleagues in similar positions across the nation, engage in discussion forums around an array of topics important to their work, and utilize and contribute to an extensive resource library.

Support, passion make a difference

With its complex operations, none of the AATTAP and AIIC gears would turn without the exceptional team that coordinates the logistics and monitors the feasibility and effectiveness of the team’s many projects.

At the group’s helm is Program Manager Jenniffer Price-Lehmann, who monitors budgeting and financials.

Photo of, from left, Jenniffer Price-Lehmann, Jill Nysse, and Mishelle Bowen of AATTAPShe works closely with Janell in overseeing the budget and grant management, as well as major events, to ensure the work we do is consistent with our mission as well as that of our federal grantors.

She’s also recognized as a stellar problem solver, metrics monitor, mentor, and cross-function/team collaboration strategist.

Jenniffer works closely with a dynamic duo she calls “the unsung heroes of the program”—Project Coordinator Jill Nysse and Mishelle Bowen, Administrative Assistant.

“Both are dedicated to ensuring training operates smoothly and participants and instructors have all the tools they need,” Jenniffer says.

On any given day they are securing adequate space for onsite training events, coordinating the shipment of materials, booking lodging, helping instructors build and adjust travel itineraries; finalizing program records and documentation; and helping participants access online training and resources.

Jill is motivated by the powerful stories shared by AATTAP “family members”—parents and siblings of missing children. Understanding their struggles puts any trivial matters into perspective “when I realize I’m helping children and making the world a better place.”

The same goes for Mishelle. She mentions an online encounter with a police officer trying to access a virtual, live course. After she provided the help he needed, his follow-up note was more than a simple “thank you.”

“A few weeks after taking the course he let me know his team was put to the test by a case involving a missing child,” Mishelle says. “But because of what they had learned during the training session, he and his colleagues were able to safely locate the child.” That still resonates with her. “It reminds me that what we do really makes a difference.”

 

 

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Photo of mother reunited with teen after he was lured online by a sexual predator.

By Denise Gee Peacock

Little did the parents of a Layton, Utah, 13-year-old know how dangerous his immersion into the social gaming platform Roblox had become.

The virtual reality world of social gaming got very real for a Utah teen abducted from home by a fellow gamer – an accused sexual predator from Arizona. The boy was found safe, nearly 800 miles from home, thanks to a good Samaritan.Noticing their son was becoming more secretive, distracted, and easily agitated, the couple investigated the game’s communications log for clues to his behavioral changes. They were distraught to find that he was conversing with a gamer named “Hunter Fox” who identified as a “furry” (someone who enjoys dressing up as a furry animal).As they combed through the text-like interactions, they saw the conversation had increasingly become sexualized in tone. But because such language might be flagged, and hinder the gamers’ access to Roblox, “Hunter” discussed using other digital platforms to continue communication.

Alarmed, the parents contacted the Layton Police Department (LPD) on November 29, 2022, to report their findings. Over the next several weeks, the LPD awaited information stemming from subpoenas issued to help them identify the online predator.

Meanwhile “Hunter” began using other methods to communicate with the boy, primarily via text messages in which he shared nude photos and videos of himself. He pressured the boy to do likewise. Soon, “Hunter” convinced the boy to meet him late in the evening on December 26, 2022.

The suspected abductor, whose real name was Aaron Zeman (though he had numerous aliases), was thought to be traveling with the boy in a 1998 Toyota Avalon. The vehicle had damage to the front grill and a temporary Arizona tag. And based on the LPD’s detective work, they believed Zeman to be taking the boy to either Arizona or Texas, where Zeman had ties.

As LPD Lieutenant Travis Layton and his team were pursuing the boy’s digital footprints and trying to track the vehicle, good news arrived within 24 hours—from nearly 800 miles away in Nebraska.

Quote from Utah Police Lieutenant Travis Lyman (shown in photo): "The parents did everything they could in this instance. This was just a persistent suspect and perpetrator. We're just glad it ended the way it did."

Just after 1 a.m. December 28, the clerk working at the Git ’N Split near I-80 in Grand Island, Nebraska, noticed some suspicious activity. A white Toyota Avalon, driven by an adult male accompanied by a teenage boy, had pulled up to a gas pump and parked. After no one exited the car to purchase gas, the vehicle drove away from the pump, headed the wrong way down an access road, turned around, and then parked in a dimly lit area near the store. That prompted the clerk to alert the Grand Island Police Department (GIPD), who quickly arrived at the scene.

After running the vehicle’s plate number, officers discovered it was wanted in connection with the AMBER Alert issued in Utah the day before.

ABC-affiliate Nebraska TV reported that the person driving the vehicle initially identified himself as “Tadashi Kojima” before officers realized he was Aaron Zeman, 26, wanted in connection with the AMBER Alert. By 2 a.m., the boy was taken to a place of safety while Zeman was booked into the Hall County jail on suspicion of kidnapping.

“We are grateful that [the store attendant] was paying attention, and was able to report the unusual activity,” LPD Lieutenant Travis Lyman told Fox13 News. Lyman said it was unclear where Zeman actually planned to take the boy, but what was most alarming was learning he had requested the boy bring his passport with him, which he did.

While the teen agreed to meet the man, Lyman said, “he is 13 years old and cannot consent in any way. Therefore Aaron [Zeman] had [committed] kidnapping.” At last check, Zeman was being held in a Nebraska jail, booked on $1 million bail. He is facing one felony count of kidnapping and resisting arrest. Lyman noted that Zeman will likely face the felony charge of online enticement of a minor. And since Zeman took the teen across state lines, his crime could be prosecuted federally.

“After helping the boy rejoin his family, we’ll work with our federal partners and law enforcement in Nebraska to determine charges and who may be handling what parts of this investigation,” Lyman said.

Speaking on behalf of the boy’s family in Utah, friend Beth Cooper described the 13-year-old as a “handsome, brilliant young man.”

“He comes from a very loving household, safe environment. He’s grown up with two loving parents his entire life,” she told Fox13 Salt Lake City. “This just isn’t one of those scenarios in which he was trying to run away from a bad home. He was manipulated by someone pretending to be someone they were not. … He doesn’t understand yet why when somebody asks you to leave your house, you don’t go.”

Thankfully, the AMBER Alert system worked.

“I’ve learned a lot about that,” Cooper explained. “It’s amazing to see how putting out the [AMBER Alert] quickly puts everyone on alert—not only officers in this state, but those in surrounding ones” who can access the information.

Happily, the boy’s mom and dad “are beyond ecstatic that this was the outcome,” she said.

When the mother reunited with her son, she told reporters that the anguish of not knowing where her son was for two days is something she “wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.”

Aaron Zeman, the man arrested for abducting the Utah teen, is shown in an undated photograph wearing a hat and backpack next to a Christmas tree. The Nebraska gas station where he and the boy were found by police is also shown.

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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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Child ID kits in Florida

Florida officials providing 250,000 free child-ID kits

If the worst-case scenario ever happens, Florida officials want parents to be ready. On the heels of more than 25,000 incidents of missing children reported to authorities in 2022, the state will be giving free identification kits to parents. The goal is to make it easier for parents to collect identifying information on cards that can be kept at home if they are ever needed. About 250,000 kits will be provided to all public, private, and charter schools for the parents of kindergarten students.

Colorado operation recovers 11 high-risk missing kids

“Operation Lost and Found” has located nearly a dozen endangered missing children throughout the Denver metro area. A two-week operation by the Aurora Police Department, the U.S. Marshals, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children helped find the children, who ranged in age for 12 to 17. Authorities said the children were “some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases in the area, based on factors such as child sex trafficking, child exploitation, sex abuse, physical abuse and medical or mental health conditions.”

Navajo Nation unveils new missing persons guidelines that emphasize empathy

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and First Lady Phefelia Nez have issued an executive order laying out new guidelines for missing persons cases that will emphasize being more empathetic to victims and their families. “Many families know the personal heartbreak and trauma of missing loved ones in the Navajo Nation and throughout Indian Country. Multiple jurisdiction systems have historically failed the victims and their families,” said President Nez. The new guidelines will mandate that any missing persons case should immediately involve the victim’s family, relatives, and community.

Genetic testing company helps family of ‘Baby Melissa’ find her after 51 years

On August 23, 1971, 1-year-old Melissa Highsmith of Fort Worth was kidnapped by a woman posing as a babysitter. Her family searched for in vain for her over five decades, and never gave up. Encouraged by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the family used the genetic-testing company 23andMe—and Jeffrie Highsmith discovered a grandchild he didn’t know he had. Highsmith then found a Facebook account likely connected to his long-lost daughter, who went by “Melanie Walden.” And of all places, she lived in Fort Worth, where her family still resided. When Highsmith contacted Melanie/Melissa, he shared his (and her) story, but Walden, 53, thought he was trying to scam her. Additional genetic testing confirmed that she was indeed “Baby Melissa.” During the family’s reunion, they learned of Walden’s abusive childhood. “I finally have a mother and father who want me,” Walden said. She has since changed her name back to Melissa Highsmith.

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Mother with photo of "disappeared" son in Mexico

Five mothers seeking ‘disappeared’ family members found murdered in Mexico

In the past two years, five volunteer activists in Mexico who have frantically searched for their missing “disappeared” (and presumed murdered) children have themselves been murdered. The news has gotten little attention. With more than 100,000 missing people in Mexico, experts say police often lack the time, expertise, or interest to look for the clandestine grave sites where narco-gangs frequently bury the victims. And so, volunteers—many of them relatives of the missing—do the searching themselves. Unfortunately, Maria Vázquez Ramírez, is the latest victim. She was killed while searching for her son, Osmar. In response, the Movement for our Disappeared in Mexico group, which supports the volunteer searchers, decried the act as “cowardly”—releasing a photo of Maria with her missing son with the words, “I didn’t live long enough to find you.” The group demands Mexico do more to search for all the missing, saying, “Violence against searchers shouldn’t be the norm.”

Thousands of children go missing in Europe each year, preyed on by criminals

Research: Every day about 17 migrant children in Europe go missing for criminals’ intent

On November 20, 2022—World Children’s Day—Sakarya University’s Diaspora Research Center in Turkey reported that the number of cases involving missing migrant children in Europe is skyrocketing. According to their 2021 “Lost in Europe” report, more than 18,000 migrant children went missing in Europe between 2018 and 2020—an average of 17 refugee children each day. European authorities are banding together to try and stem this tide. The sad reality behind the high numbers of missing is that criminal organizations target refugee children in Europe and ensnare them in sex trafficking and forced begging.

Missing Children Europe says more work is needed

Missing Children Europe reflects on 20 years’ success ‘but more work is needed’

The group Missing Children Europe was founded in 2001 to protect children from becoming missing. The group coordinates a vast network of missing children hotlines and cross-border family mediators throughout Europe. The group recently celebrated its 20th anniversary at a celebrity-studded event. But the event’s main goal was to highlight the fact that since the launch of its hotlines in 2007, operators across Europe have answered more than two million calls and supported more than 70,000 cases involving missing children. Those numbers were tempered by this equally stark reality: “The war on Ukraine and the expansion of the internet with both its opportunities and risks of harm for children are just two of the more recent challenges that need tackling,” Missing Children Europe said. The organization plans to continue better protecting and empowering at-risk children through research, advocacy, training, and education.

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Byron Fassett accepts North Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking Award
Byron Fassett, right, receives the North Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking Champion of Freedom Award from Chad Frymire, Dallas CASA Program Manager. Photo: CASA

From Staff Reports

AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) Manager Bryon Fassett recently received the prestigious Champion of Freedom Award from the North Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Fassett was honored for his “remarkable leadership in investigations of victimization, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children,” said Dallas’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organization.

During his decades with the Dallas Police Department (DPD) and the Dallas Child Advocacy Center (DCAC)—and through his longstanding, continued work with AATTAP and the National Criminal Justice Training Center–Fassett has developed, taught, and stewarded methods, resources, and initiatives to improve law enforcement’s work to combat human trafficking and the exploitation of youth.

“This recognition is only possible because of the great team I worked with at DPD, DCAC, and the opportunity to continue this work with the AATTAP and NCJTC,” said Fassett, a Texas native.

“Byron is the real deal,” said AATTAP Project Coordinator Cathy Delapaz, who works with Fassett to develop training.

Delapaz also worked with him at the DPD to create ground-breaking and life-saving human and sex trafficking initiatives. “He is personally responsible for developing and maintaining a model [known nationally as the ‘Dallas High-Risk Victims Model’] hat has led to the recovery of thousands of child sex trafficking victims who never would have been recovered if not for him.”

 

 

 

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CART training in Puerto Rico photo collage

From Staff Reports

AATTAP team members visited Puerto Rico in January to conduct “Rescue, Recovery, and Reunification” field-training exercises for Child Abduction Response Teams (CART) and other members of law enforcement.

“The CART training was a success, and for the first time ever we had a member of Congress at our training,” said AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen.

Puerto Rico Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón
Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico

Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón told the large crowd in attendance, “I’d like to thank the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College and the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program for their help. They visited last November and were eager to offer training in Puerto Rico, where law enforcement officers are always ready when it comes to helping our kids.”

Blue hyperlink arrowTo see related video and photos from the event, visit bit.ly/PRaattap.

 

 

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Shown celebrating Iowa’s recent CART certification are, from left, Derek VanLuchene, AATTAP Project Coordinator; Mitch Mortvedt, Assistant Director, Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS)/Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI); Medina Rahmanovic, Coordinator, Iowa DPS/DCI Missing Person Information Clearinghouse; Stephan K. Bayens, Iowa DPS Commissioner Stephan K. Bayens; AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen; and Adam DeCamp, Iowa DPS/DCI Special Agent in Charge.
Shown celebrating Iowa’s recent CART certification are, from left, Derek VanLuchene, AATTAP Project Coordinator; Mitch Mortvedt, Assistant Director, Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS)/Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI); Medina Rahmanovic, Coordinator, Iowa DPS/DCI Missing Person Information Clearinghouse; Stephan K. Bayens, Iowa DPS Commissioner; AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen; and Adam DeCamp, Iowa DPS/DCI Special Agent in Charge.

From Staff Reports

The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) Child Abduction Response Team (CART) recently earned national certification from the U.S. Department of Justice for its work to develop, train, and activate a multidisciplinary team equipped to respond to and recover missing children.

The certification event, held February 17, 2023, in Des Moines, was the culmination of the Iowa DPS’s work with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) in partnership with the DOJ and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

The Iowa DPS CART was recognized as the 36th certified team in the nation and just the seventh team in the state to obtain such certification.

Designed to further the Iowa DPS’s commitment to protecting children, the Iowa DPS CART provides dedicated assets in response to a reported missing or abducted person and offers incident management, expertise, and resources for search and recovery.

Since its inception, the state's CART program has grown through the training and experience of its nearly 900 employees, and the relationships forged with law enforcement, first responders, emergency management agencies, search professionals, and the public. The certification aligns with the Iowa DPS’s continued efforts to the protect all Iowans, whether through the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, AMBER Alert, Missing Person Information Clearinghouse, Office to Combat Human Trafficking, or the Governor’s School Safety Bureau.

Throughout the certification process, Iowa DPS CART members demonstrated the knowledge and capacity required to locate and recover a missing or abducted child and exceeded the requirements set forth by AATTAP.

In May 2022, a mock abduction exercise was held at the Dallas County Fairgrounds. The exercise, monitored onsite by AATTAP members, allowed the CART to showcase its operational readiness, implementation of protocols, and coordination with local agencies and non-governmental services. The exercise also served to prepare the team for an actual CART deployment.

“Having the Department’s Child Abduction Response Team become nationally certified recognizes our ongoing commitment to provide professional service to our law enforcement partners and our communities,” said Iowa DPS Commissioner Stephan Bayens. “Having witnessed a CART deployment firsthand, I am honored to have the Department of Justice join me in recognizing the professionalism and determination that CART puts towards the recovery of missing or abducted children.”

AATTAP’s Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Certification Program works to assist local, Tribal and state jurisdictions in the creation and implementation of CART Programs. Leading subject matter experts, practitioners, policymakers, and other child protection specialists have developed operational standards of excellence and evidence-based best practices related to the recovery of missing children. These professionals have worked with the U.S. DOJ and AATTAP to develop the certification process and criteria for jurisdictions to voluntarily seek an opportunity to demonstrate CART policy, procedures, and continuous improvement strategies that meet 47 standards of compliance for operational readiness.

The CART certification process culminates in a rigorous practical field exercise that is observed, and evaluated by a team of trained professionals who can attest to a CART program’s ability to rapidly and effectively deploy, work as a team and with specialized resources, and maintain critical documentation and equipment during an endangered or missing child incident.

For more details about AATTAP’s CART certification, or for CART-specific resources, visit amberadvocate.org/cartresources.

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Live Webinar: How to Prepare for a Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Certification


Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Training


Child Abduction Tabletop Exercises


Child Sex Trafficking Training for First Responders


Initial Response Strategies and Tactics When Responding to Missing Children Incidents


Search and Canvass Operations in Child Abductions

 

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Hawaii Senator Macie K. Horono, left, and Kalei Grant, right
 

By Denise Gee Peacock

Kalei Grant of the Missing Child Center Hawaii (MCCH) – a survivor of sex trafficking and advocate for missing, endangered, and exploited children – will be the guest of U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) at President Biden’s State of the Union Address this evening, February 7, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

The nationwide address will air live at 9 p.m. ET. Click here to watch it online.

“As a native Hawaiian survivor of gender-based violence, Kalei is working to help combat the crisis of violence against native women and girls,” said Senator Hirono. “I admire and appreciate her commitment to raising awareness and supporting other survivors, and I’m honored to have her as my guest for the State of the Union Address. I’ll continue working with the Biden Administration, my colleagues in Congress, leaders in Hawaii, and advocates like Kalei, to advance justice for native Hawaiian women and girls.”

Kalei GrantGrant has worked since 2018 with the MCCH, under the leadership of state Attorney General Anne Lopez. She works to protect missing, endangered, and exploited children across Hawaii while promoting public awareness of the problem of human trafficking, especially for native women and girls.

The MCCH is a specialized criminal justice program in the Department of the Attorney General’s Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance Division and operates as the state’s missing-children clearinghouse and resource for law enforcement, social services, and families.

“Kalei has made it her life’s work to protect and advocate for other survivors of sex trafficking and gender-based violence in our state,” said Attorney General Lopez.

“I am proud and inspired by Kalei’s exemplary service to the people of Hawaii and as a proud native Hawaiian survivor leader on the national stage," Lopez said. "We fully support Senator Hirono’s granting this great honor for Kalei’s contributions, and for the Senator’s tireless efforts to ensure native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence have access to programs and resources through the Violence Against Women Act.”

“Native Hawaiian women and girls experience a disproportionate rate of gender-based violence, and alongside the Attorney General’s team, we are committed to providing the resources needed to end this deeply horrifying issue,” said Hawaii Governor Josh Green.

Grant has received the National Child Protection Award from the U.S. Department of Justice in recognition of her efforts in Operation Shine the Light – a cooperative effort between the MCCH; federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; and four nonprofit organizations.

Kalei Grant with Amanda Leonard-Missing Child Center HawaiiMCCH Coordinator Amanda Leonard says Grant is "a prominent survivor leader and advocate who works every day to combat human trafficking in Hawaii and beyond. Kalei is a symbol of hope and limitless potential.”

“She is a reminder to all of us in this field that we are making a real difference in the lives of victims and their loved ones."

Last month, Hirono participated in a roundtable discussion with Grant that followed passage of federal legislation, sponsored by Hirono, that allows native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence to access critical programs and resources provided by the Violence Against Women Act.

Sex trafficking in Hawaii info graph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In this issue:

The first AMBER Advocate issue of 2023 features an array of new AATTAP training opportunities now in gear-ones we've dubbed "By You, For You," since they're driven by valuable input from law enforcement and child protection professionals from around the U.S. and in Indian Country. We also spotlight a case involving a Utah teen abducted from his home from a fellow social gamer-an accused sexual predator, twice his age, who drove him 800 miles before a good Samaritan alerted authorities in Nebraska. Next we talk with AATTAP Region One Liaison Joan Collins, a law enforcement veteran who shares the secret to good communication and morale. And we round out the issue with missing child­related news certain to educate and inspire.

Date 2023

With your input, a compelling mix of relevant and valuable learning experiences are in gear this year.

Photo of Utah mom hugging her son after his recovery by law enforcement.

A Utah boy is lured from home by a fellow gamer—an adult accused of being a sexual predator.

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

AATTAP Region One Liason Joan Collins says “keeping children safe represents my perfect day.”

Child ID kits in Florida

Short news posts about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from the U.S.

Mother with photo of "disappeared" son in Mexico

Short news posts about about AMBER Alert & child protection issues—from around the world

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From Staff Reports

PITTSBURGH – The Allegheny County Child Abduction Response Team (CART) was certified by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) at a formal presentation in December.

“Since 1932, the Allegheny County Police Department has provided investigative services and other assistance to local, state and federal agencies,” said Fitzgerald. “The department’s leadership in convening a child abduction response team, and pursuing its certification, is another tool to assist those in our community who are in need. I’m extremely proud of the work that they’ve done to get to this point and congratulate everyone involved with this effort.”

Allegheny County CART is a multi-disciplinary, rapid response team that is trained and prepared to respond to a missing, endangered or abducted child through investigation. Organized and managed by the Allegheny County Police Department, CART pulls together resources to aid in the search and rescue effort and to assist the agency of jurisdiction in its investigation using an Incident Command Model (ICM). CART creates a mutual aid resource inventory and allows for the rapid and organized response required in these investigations.

The team is comprised of, but not limited to, law enforcement, victim advocates, child protection team members, mental health specialists, public information officers, search and rescue groups, and district attorneys in addition to resources from other government and non-government organizations. The current composition includes representation from the Allegheny County Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner Mobile Crime Unit as well as these agencies:

Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group
Bethel Park Police Department
Federal Bureau of Investigation Pittsburgh
Mt. Lebanon Police Department
Ohio Township Police Department
Penn Hills Police Department
Ross Township Police Department

Allegheny County CART also includes supplemental support from Allegheny County Emergency Services, A Child’s Place at Mercy Advocacy Center, State Probation and Parole, and US Marshal Service.

The purpose of CART is to quickly and effectively recover a child that has been abducted or is missing under suspicious circumstances by utilizing resources and a team of individuals with prior training and experience related to child abductions. The swift deployment of pre-identified resources and personnel is the primary CART objective as well as a key factor in the safe recovery of a missing and endangered or abducted child.

“In our investigative efforts, we never work alone. We rely on our partner agencies,” said Police Superintendent Christopher Kearns. “The CART is another collaborative venture to provide the organized and professional response the community expects when a child is missing. We appreciate the DOJ’s guidance and the recognition of the team through accreditation.”

In 2005, OJJDP launched the CART Program as part of its AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Initiative. As a result of its effectiveness and acceptance by law enforcement professionals, OJJDP create the Child Abduction Response Team Certification Program. Leading subject matter experts, practitioners, policymakers, and other child protective specialists developed operational standards of excellence and evidence-based best practices related to the recovery of missing children. When a CART team is certified, it means the team has met those standards and can effectively respond to any missing and endangered or abducted child incident. Specifically, a CART must comply with 47 standards that cover 12 topic operational areas.

Requests for the CART will be handled like all other investigative and emergency service requests, through the local municipal police department.

For more details about AATTAP’s CART certification, or for CART-specific resources, visit amberadvocate.org/cartresources.

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By Jon Leiberman

“Holy cow, we need more hands on deck immediately.”

Tony Rodarte realized this while working child abduction cases early in his 20-year tenure with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) in Arizona.

“A child abduction response is a low-frequency event, but when they happen, there is a lot of stress,” Rodarte says. And compounding that stress? “We weren’t training regularly for such cases; we weren’t keeping up with best-practices; we weren’t coordinated,” he recalls. “Ultimately we created a team in conjunction with the state.”

Rodarte has been an active and instrumental member of Arizona’s statewide Child Abduction Response Team (CART) since its inception in 2011. The MCSD served as a host agency with the AZCART, and Rodarte served as the team’s co-coordinator in 2016.

Two years later, Rodarte retired from the MCSD, having spent the last 11 years there working in the homicide division. But post-retirement, his eagerness to continue refining the CART process – by sharing his experiences and lessons learned during his career – led him to become a subject matter expert for the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) and AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP).

Participants of the Klamath Falls, Oregon, Child Abduction Response Team (CART) training session
Klamath Falls, Oregon, Child Abduction Response Team (CART) training participants stand with their CART course instructor, NCJTC Associate Tony Rodarte (front row, far right).

Klamath Falls, Oregon is a city of about 20,000 people and the gateway to Crater Lake National Park. It also was the site of a recent AATTAP CART training, during which Rodarte provided instruction alongside other NCJTC Associates committed to improving responses to cases involving endangered missing and abducted children.

“It was a great group in Oregon, and what made it great was the diversity,“ Rodarte says. “There was a mix of sworn officers, search and rescue personnel, civilians and others – all of them engaged and vigorously taking notes.”

The course Rodarte taught focuses on the most vital elements of a CART response, including activation and deployment; establishing incident command and field considerations for mobile command operations; search and canvass operations; volunteer management; and other physical and personnel resources that can improve the overall response to endangered missing and abducted child incidents.

“At night, during an active child abduction, is not the time to learn. Now is the time
to learn.”

Rodarte emphasized this best-practice principle and others while working with class attendees.

Julie Harper with the Klamath County Community Corrections Department had great things to say about the legal issues module. Rodarte “is an excellent speaker and kept my attention throughout his presentation,” she said after the class. “I liked that he brought some humor into the discussion, since it’s such a serious topic.”

A key objective of AATTAP’s CART training is to encourage collaboration among agencies and resource providers within jurisdictions, so that when missing children cases happen, there is a team approach.

“Everything that was taught will help me improve our response to missing children,” said Ryan Kaber of the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office.

Another key component of the training involves tabletop exercises that give participants from different agencies – and who have different roles within their law enforcement and public safety work – to think through elements of response and decision-making together.

“I enjoyed being able to work with others from different agencies to come up with answers and see what we did right and wrong,” said Craig Delarm of the Lake County Search and Rescue Department.

Course participants walked away with actionable ways to begin making a difference in their communities – and partnering with neighboring law enforcement agencies. “We hope to partner with the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office to create a team,” said Kami Wilton of the Klamath County Community Corrections Division.

Hearing such positive feedback left Rodarte energized and encouraged.

“I hope they never have to use the information – but if they do, they will be ready.”

“In a perfect world, we all hope to never need a CART response,” Rodarte says. “But the world we live in means such investigations will take place. So we have to be ready. And readiness involves participants not only retaining the fundamentals, but also building on that readiness when returning to their agencies.”

Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber spoke directly to just the sort of readiness Rodarte hopes to impart. “The information we obtained in this valuable training has better prepared us for responding in the initial hours of a missing child investigation,” he said. “We’ve already used some of the techniques we learned at this training in other high-profile investigations. The benefit was almost immediate.”

Learn more about the AATTAP’s CART training, and find an array of CART resources, at amberadvocate.org/cartresources.

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Emmett Till.

MARYLAND STARTS ‘EMMETT TILL ALERT’ FOR HATE CRIMES

Maryland leaders will now be notified of hate crimes with an “Emmett Till Alert.” The alert is named after the 14-year-old Black boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a White woman. Pictures of Till’s open casket helped transform the nation’s civil rights movement. Currently, the new alert will notify 167 key civil rights and community leaders of any racial incident or hate crime. The alerts have three levels: low, medium, and high. The highest level means there is a high possibility of violence or death.

Police office speaking at California 20th anniversary conference

CALIFORNIA SALUTES 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF ITS AMBER ALERT SYSTEM

Since launching its AMBER Alert system in July 2002, California has helped return 376 missing or abducted children to their families. The state issued its first alert a month after its inception and rescued two teen girls from a suspect who later died in a gun battle. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) recognized the 20th anniversary of the child abduction alerts at a press event. “We are so successful because we are all caretakers in our community,” said CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray.

Police officer taking photos of vehicle damaged in a car accident.

MORE STATES USING ALERTS FOR HIT-AND-RUN DRIVERS

Starting in January 2023, California will begin issuing Yellow Alerts to notify the public and help law enforcement find hit-and-run drivers. If police have a complete or partial license plate number and description of the vehicle, the information can be flashed on highway message signs in the area and sent to the media. Colorado and Maryland already use similar alerts for hit-and-run crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports a 26 percent increase in hit-and-run fatalities – from 2,037 in 2019 to 2,564 in 2020.

Flowers laid at base of memorial.

U.S. HOUSE APPROVES ACTIVE SHOOTER ALERT SYSTEM

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in July to establish an AMBER Alert-style system to warn the public about active shooter incidents. The bill’s supporters hope the alerts will protect the public during mass shootings. The bill now needs approval from the U.S. Senate.

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Laptop computer screen displaying missing person website

New UK website to help families of missing persons

Families in the United Kingdom have a new resource to help them deal with all the issues they need to face when a family member goes missing. The Missing Persons Information Hub provides information and organizations that can help families with a missing loved one. Missing persons expert Charlie Hedges created the website and has received support from AMBER Alert Europe, the Alzheimer’s Society, several universities, and other missing person organizations. Hedges said he wanted to offer something simple for families in crisis. Though he has been dedicated to missing persons work for more than 25 years, “due to its complexities, I still find it hard to find what I am looking for,” he explained.

Woman speaking to reporters

Nigeria using Facebook to deter child trafficking

Nigeria is now using the social media reach of Facebook to curb online child trafficking and the buying and selling of children. The African country is working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to utilize Facebook for protecting children, including posting AMBER Alerts. “Over 40 percent of victims are now recruited online, and this has raised concerns considering the impact of the social media on our children,” said Amarachi Kene-Okafor with the Network Against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour.

Annual Report cover

AMBER Alert Europe releases annual report

AMBER Alert Europe’s 2021 Report details efforts with the #ZeroMissingKids campaign during the past year. The organization is continuing plans to have a “Common European Approach on Missing Children and Missing Persons.” The report notes that for the first time, all 27 European Union (EU) Member States agreed to the “Council Conclusions on Stepping Up Cross-Border Police Cooperation in the Area of Missing Persons.”

Bahamian flag

Bahamas issues first ‘Marco Alert’ for missing child

The Bahamas initiated its first “Marco Alert” for a missing 17-year-old girl in July 2022. Marco is an acronym for Mandatory Action Rescuing Children in Operation. Bahamian officials said some mistakes were made while issuing the alert and a review will be done to improve future efforts to find missing children.

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Man speaking at microphone.

California considers ‘Feather Alert’ for indigenous missing

A California lawmaker is proposing a “Feather Alert” that would notify the public when indigenous people go missing under certain circumstances. Assembly member James C. Ramos said the alert would be activated through California’s AMBER Alert system and would be similar to the state’s Endangered Missing Advisory.

“This bill brings further attention and effort to end violence on tribal lands and across the state,” Ramos said.

The bill is co-sponsored by the Yurok, California’s largest tribe, in Northern California. On July 1, 2022, a bill in Washington State created the first statewide emergency alert system for missing indigenous people. Similarly, Colorado passed a bill in June that created the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, tasked with creating an indigenous alert system.

“It is a top priority for us to make change and not just talk about it; this creates action through legislation,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Joe James told The Press Democrat.

According to the Sovereign Bodies Institute and Yurok Tribal Court, Northern California has 107 missing and murdered indigenous women. In 2016, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) tracked more than 5,700 missing indigenous women and girls – but according to the Urban Indian Health Institute, only 116 were reported in U.S. Department of Justice statistics.

Woman speaking at news conference

Canadian indigenous organization issues first alert for missing woman and son

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) issued a missing person alert after an indigenous woman and her 7-year-old son went missing July 24, 2022, in Saskatchewan, Canada. Both were found in Oregon August 5. Dawn Walker is now facing charges of parental abduction and public mischief.

Several First Nation women, however, say Walker was fleeing from domestic violence. “Until you walk the mile in the shoes of women who have to protect their children or themselves, you have no room to talk,” said Mary Culbertson, Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan. The FSIN declined to comment.

Man speaking into microphone.

Canada public safety minister addresses AMBER Alerts for tribal members

Canadian Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino said more dialogue is needed to find out if enough is being done when a First Nation member goes missing.

Tribal leaders have been critical after AMBER Alerts were not issued in two cases involving indigenous children. “At a minimum, there should be dialogue about whether the criteria [for AMBER Alerts] are providing as much support as is needed in those very early and fragile moments, when every minute can make a difference,” he said.

Mendicino has been meeting with indigenous political and law enforcement leaders about efforts to protect First Nation members.

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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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From left: Two Central Texas teens reportedly were lured from home and trafficked to five houses before being found safe. The search for the girls was sparked by a Snapchat message one of the girls sent to her mother. Photos: KWTX
Two Central Texas teens reportedly were lured from home and trafficked to five houses before being found safe. The search for the girls was sparked by a Snapchat message one of the girls sent to her mother. Photos: KWTX

By Paul Murphy

The social media post simply read, “Help.” But it would transform a report of two runaway teens into a trafficking case requiring an AMBER Alert and intense search for the 14-year-olds.

The case unfolded on June 29, 2022, when the teens left their homes in McGregor, Texas – 20 minutes southwest of Waco, in McLennan County.

According to the girls’ families, the duo are best friends, so their parents initially thought they were staying at either of the girl’s homes. The teens later called their parents to say one of their uncles would be picking them up – but that did not happen. Then, later that night, one of the girl’s mothers was startled to find a note from her daughter stating she would “make this right.”

“I want her to know that everything is OK,” the mother told a reporter while her daughter was missing. “It doesn’t matter what she has done. I want her to just come home. We love you no matter what. Our door is open. Come home.”

McGregor Police Department Lieutenant Ron McCurry said the situation originally did not meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert. But he became more concerned after the girls were gone nearly a week.

“We were following all leads and doing everything we could to find them,” he said.

The course of the investigation would change drastically after one of the girl’s mothers shared a screengrab of a Snapchat message from her daughter. It had only one word – “Help” – but it spoke volumes. Lieutenant McCurry concluded the teens’ disappearance posed a credible threat to their safety since they were likely with an unknown, dangerous individual.

McCurry requested an AMBER Alert in the early morning hours of July 4. The Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS) issued the alert at 4:13 a.m.

Ben Patterson is the Alert Program Manager for the TxDPS. He oversees AMBER Alerts and other endangered missing alerts for
the country’s second largest state, with 29.1 million residents, 254 counties, and 1,200 incorporated cities within its 268,596 square miles. Due to its size, the Lone Star State has 18 regional AMBER Alert programs coordinated by law enforcement and public safety personnel who work closely with Patterson.

“I always think, what if it was my child or children that were missing,” Patterson said. “Children are much more accepting of adults and may not think about ulterior motives.”

Parnell McNamara McLennan County Sheriff

"The girls were kept in some pretty bad places and mistreated. They were very happy to be rescued."

The AMBER Alert notified key partners: the Texas Department of Transportation, five Texas Border Intelligence Centers, the Texas Lottery Commission, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and secondary distribution groups that included the media.

The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Unit, the FBI, and volunteer analysts for the National Child Protection Task Force joined in the search. Detectives and task force analysts were able to get information from Apple to help track the general location for one of the victim’s phones. They could also identify individuals trying to call her, including one unknown person from Waco.

McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Detective Joseph Scaramucci was able to pinpoint a restaurant near where they girls were being held. And though it was dark, he spotted a license plate belonging to that unknown caller from Waco.

At 2:25 a.m. on July 5, the girls were rescued from an apartment in Georgetown, Texas, about 75 miles south of Waco. The 30-year-old man holding the teens, James Robert Vanhouten, was arrested after a brief standoff with McLennan County detectives and Georgetown Police Department officers, and the girls were returned to their families.

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara told reporters that after the girls ran away from home, they “fell in with some bad people and went from one place to the next. They were kept in some pretty bad places.”

The teens told detectives they were forced to take drugs. One victim had left her phone at home, and though the other’s phone was malfunctioning, she was fortunately able to use it when it connected to the internet. That helped her send the Snapchat SOS.

“They were very happy to be rescued,” McNamara said.

Man standing in handcuff's next to police vehicle.
Authorities arrested this 30-year-old man for harboring and trafficking the girls. Photo: KWTX

Vanhouten has been charged with trafficking. Two other men involved in the crime have been charged with harboring runaway children.

“We are going to make these scum bags accountable for what they did to these young girls,” McNamara said, noting the girls were taken to five different homes before they were found. “There will be more charges and more arrests to come. We are not going to let up.”

McCurry is thankful for the “absolutely incredible” response received from the public once the AMBER Alert was sent. “It’s a very valuable resource.”

Patterson, too, was relieved to learn the girls were found safe. Since “there are many children who are not recovered, these girls were very fortunate,” he said.

According to reports, more than 50,000 people are trafficked each year in the U.S., and a quarter of those victims pass through Texas. The National Human Trafficking Hotline has registered more than 5,800 trafficking cases since 2007 and more than 800 cases in 2019. Investigators say the suspects in this case were not part of a larger trafficking ring but just took advantage of the situation.

Texas is the birthplace of the AMBER Alert, the tool now used worldwide to alert the public about child abductions. The alert was created shortly after Amber Hagerman was kidnapped and murdered on January 15, 1996, in Arlington, Texas.

Patterson said Texas offers missing person alert training in 30 locations twice a year. He said this case offers a valuable lesson on how missing and abducted children’s cases can evolve. “Be prepared,” he said. “What could be seen as a routine situation can easily change.”

It’s also evident “that we need to take missing kids seriously,” Scaramucci added. “The AMBER Alert put everyone on edge,” helping people take the situation “more seriously than [believing the girls to be] just a couple of runaways.”

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Sergeant Patrick Beumler, a CART expert with the Glendale, Arizona, Police Department
Sergeant Patrick Beumler, a CART expert with the Glendale, Arizona, Police Department

By Denise Gee Peacock

At the 2022 National AATTAP-AIIC Symposium, Glendale (Arizona) Police Department Sergeant Patrick Beumler provided an array of CART-smart advice – from enlisting the right members, structuring teams within a single agency or statewide, countywide, or regional units, obtaining valuable resources, and maintaining and sustaining strong programs.

The CART coordination expert also posed some key questions for agencies that currently have a CART or are considering forming one.

 

Recruitment

Image of the interior of the Glendale Arizona Police Department "Blue Ox" mobile command center
IN RELATED NEWS:
Read more about Sergeant Beumler and his CART's prowess by clicking here.
  • Does your team recruit, assign, or receive/onboard new CART talent? Can you recruit from various agency squads based on unique CART needs/individual talents?
  • Do you solicit CART membership within your participating agencies? Sworn and non-sworn?
  • What happens when a certified member promotes, retires, or changes assignment?
  • Do you have a succession plan for replacing team members who have completed certification?
  • Is your team comprised of only investigators?
  • Do you have dedicated dispatchers familiar with CART? “Get your dispatchers certified in CART and include a rotation for them in your deployment plans,” Beumler emphasized.

Training

  • How often does your CART train? Annually/quarterly/monthly? Is it for initial certification only?
  • Do you review case studies, tabletop exercises, and leads management techniques?
  • Do CART members get cross-trained to work in different roles?
  • Do you train for contingencies? Diverse environments? Multi-day deployments?

Preparation

  • Do you know what specialized deployment resources you have available? Professionals could include dive teams, K9 units, drone pilots, cell phone tower analysts, and interpreters.
  • Can municipal, county, state, federal, and non-profit agencies fill resource gaps? “District and county attorney’s offices could be legal partners for search warrants and legal questions, and local victim advocacy centers could offer victim assistance.”
  • Do you have, or can you create, a mobile command center to hold your logistics and communications equipment?
  • Regarding equipment and supplies, does everything work (portable lighting, extension cords, printers, laptops, tools, spare bulbs, cords, repair kits, etc.)?
  • Will you have access to a plotter-sized printer? Where can you get large neighborhood canvassing maps?
  • How many folding tables, chairs, and canopies do you have? Who is responsible for maintaining those? “Keep a spreadsheet with all logistics equipment designated for deployments and get a list from an established CART to see what else you might need,” Beumler added.
  • Do you have enough canvass forms to cover vast, urban apartment complexes?
  • Will the agencies with whom you’ll be working use the same terminology, radio codes, and/or checklists? This needs to be proactively agreed upon via procedural documentation/resources.

Innovation

  • Do you have post-deployment debriefs with patrol officers, on-scene supervisors, and CART personnel to discuss what went well and what could be improved?
  • How in tune are you with new technology? Beumler recommends:
    • Group messaging apps such as Microsoft Teams and GroupMe to remotely share information with CART members in real-time. “You also can use the apps for private chats.”
    • Leads management programs to help organize, categorize, assign, and track incoming leads, canvassing information, and investigative research.
  • Develop the ability to apply/utilize geofencing with social media and other messaging. Know what technology affords you in terms of tracking cell phones, searching and capturing data via drones, and using license plate readers.

Promoting Awareness and Building Support for CART

  • Explain the benefits of CART. Provide overviews and information at supervisor meetings, patrol briefings, and community meetings (and involve agency PIOs) to highlight the benefits of having a CART that other agencies can utilize or emulate.
  • Celebrate your CART successes. Commend personnel for great work. “CART responsibilities are often secondary or volunteer roles for many CART personnel, so take the time to recognize those who stay engaged and put in the hard work and long hours,” Beumler said. “Many successes go unheralded because of humility. But the effectiveness of the CART concept should be praised to raise awareness and boost confidence in its utilization.”
  • Travel and provide outreach. Travel to neighboring agencies and provide executive-level presentations on the benefits of joining a CART.
  • Offer command post walk-throughs. Set up a mock command post and allow other agencies to visit and ask questions at different stations. This includes displaying/demonstrating equipment utilized for the program.

Sustainability

  • Who will be your lead agency or coordinator in an expanded CART, and for how long? Yearly?
  • How does an agency request CART assistance?
  • Who authorizes deployments for an out of agency responses regarding overtime, vehicles, primary assignment coverage, etc.?
  • Clearly articulate decision-making responsibilities and lines of communication.

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Bonus feature! CART Readiness? Check. Sergeant Beumler provides some key questions law enforcement should ask before creating or deploying a Child Abduction Response Team.

By Denise Gee Peacock

The most effective Child Abduction Response Teams (CARTs) have “the right personnel, preparation, and leadership support,” says Sergeant Patrick Beumler, who supervises the Glendale, Arizona, Police Department’s Patrol and Emergency Response Units.

Beumler has served in law enforcement 24 years, half of that time in the GPD’s Criminal Investigation Division as Special Victims Unit Supervisor, specializing in family violence and missing persons. He was a founding member of the Arizona Child Abduction Response Team in 2011, and has since responded to dozens of CART deployments throughout the state. As the state’s CART Coordinator, Beumler has collaborated on CART certification training with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP), the FBI, U.S. Marshals, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

We spoke with Sergeant Beumler about some of the questions law enforcement asks during training sessions.

What type of person does it take be a successful CART member?

It takes someone willing to put a lot of time and energy into training. They need to be flexible in their schedule for callouts, preparation, and research – and able to get their primary duties done amidst many CART tasks. It takes someone who can keep their cool during the chaos at the onset of a missing at-risk child investigation, including effectively communicating with frantic family members. It takes diligence; someone who doesn’t give up when they hit roadblocks and investigative “dead ends,” as often happens in missing child investigations. And most importantly, it takes someone who isn’t afraid to ask for help during a CART response – and to accept that help, especially from people outside their agency.

How can law enforcement agencies recruit personnel who are a good fit for a CART?

Agencies could face challenges with participation if folks deemed well-suited to the work aren’t able to be recruited as they are identified. Restrictive policies may require that only members of certain squads can be CART members, but sometimes that doesn’t allow for the best talent to be recruited. Also, leadership needs to buy in to the CART concept or the CART will face challenges in pulling people away from other duties.

Patrick Beumler Sergeant/CART Leader, Glendale (AZ) Police Department

"Being prepared promotes confidence in those responding and those being served. Scrambling for equipment and resources is not something you want to be doing at the beginning of a deployment. Time is of the essence."

What are the biggest challenges in CART training?

Coordination, cost, and time. Training should ideally be conducted at the agency and regional levels, and occasionally at the state level. A good place to start is to have quarterly training at the agency and/or regional level, and perhaps annually at the state level, depending on the CART’s needs. Training should reinforce the basics, such as neighborhood and roadside canvassing, using leads management software, and setting up and dismantling command posts. Advanced classes in investigative technology are also a plus. And at least annually, the CART should analyze case studies or conduct tabletop exercises. Using local resources and personnel obviously saves money, but so does utilizing quality training provided at no cost by the AATTAP and National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College, as well as NCMEC.

How important is preparation?

Knowing what may be needed for a call-out is a challenge until you’ve been through a couple of them. Items needed for a command post can be as simple as a pop-up canopy and folding table, but to operate for any length of time outdoors a canopy, lighting, staging area, and other logistics come into play. That’s why CARTs mobilize trucks and trailers full of equipment. One of the most basic staples is the canvassing form. Until everything goes digital, using printed forms to canvass neighborhoods, or at roadside stops or roadblocks, is a must. But these tend to run short, especially when urban multi-housing/ apartment complexes are involved. Each member should have a personal supply of all needed forms, and command should also have an ample supply (think banker’s box full) to distribute as needed, and to replenish at the end of each deployment. The last thing you want is someone running to the station to make copies of the form at 2 a.m.

How do you sustain effective CARTs?

Sustainability comes down to how well your CART team is recruited, the level of leadership adoption and support, the team’s activity level, membership policy mandates, the quality of available resources, and the extent of training and preparation. The turnover for units within a CART can be high, since members often change assignments, retire, or get promoted; so it takes the dedication of those involved to promote the team, champion its successes, and keep it active. It should be seen as a desirable position to have – rather than an ancillary role of their primary job. Also, agencies
can lose interest in participating in a CART if apathy or a lack of succession planning sets in.

For agencies not sure if they need a CART, what would you tell them?

A CART is a force multiplier – a treasure trove of experience to lean on during an often-tense at-risk missing child investigation. When there is little to no information to go on, and your folks are tired and depleted – but calls for service are still coming in – having CART resources and investigative knowledge is invaluable. There’s a misconception that CARTs take over an investigation; they don’t. While some law enforcement teams may have to swallow a bit of pride to ask for help, with agency leadership commitment and support, that is less of an ask when specialized assistance is needed, especially in the wee hours of the morning.

 

What’s inside ‘the Blue Ox’?

The Glendale (Arizona) Police Department’s 600 square-foot climate-controlled CART logistics support truck and mobile command center is dubbed “the Blue Ox” because “after the large tractor trailer was painted blue, it reminded people of Paul Bunyan’s giant blue ox,” says Sergeant/CART Leader Patrick Beumler. The $1.3 million crime- fighter-on-wheels was funded with $900,000 from the Urban Areas Security Initiative and $400,000 from the City of Glendale. “It’s been a tremendous help to us,” Beumler adds. Here’s what it features:

  • 2 operations tables
  • 20 “ops” stations, each equipped with a laptop, telephone, and full radio capability
  • 1 Cisco IPICS Radio Interop System
  • 6 (700-800 MHz) radios
  • 5 VHF radios and 4 UHF radios
  • 2 Motorola XTS XTVA radio slots
  • 2 (47-inch) interior video monitors
  • 1 (70-inch) interior video monitor
  • 2 (55-inch) exterior video monitors
  • 1 TracStar RV satellite system with 2 VoIP Lines
  • 4 DirectTV Receivers
  • 2 Sony Mast Cameras
  • A 70 KVA MQ generator and Shore 208V 3 Phase power connection

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In This Issue:

The final 2022 issue of The AMBER Advocate features the work of an Arizona Child Abduction Response Team that exemplifies the value of a well-structured, well-sustained CART. Our "Front Lines" story details the power of an "SOS" social media post in alerting law enforcement about two abducted Texas teens. Then meet Steve Benefield, the new Emergency Alert Coordinator for the Texas Center for the Missing, who was able to hit the ground running with help from his dynamic predecessor, Denise O'Leary. Finally, get updated on AMBER Alert and other endangered missing persons-related work underway across the U.S., in Indian Country, and internationally.

An Arizona Child Abduction Response Team leader weighs in on the value of a well-structured, outfitted, and sustained CART

Two abducted Texas teens are rescued after posting a distress plea on Snapchat

The new Emergency Alert Coordinator for the Texas Center for the Missing hits the ground running – with help from his dynamic predecessor

News clips and information on child protection efforts from Indian Country.

News clips and information on child protection efforts from around the world.

Child protection news clips from around the country

NCJTC Associate Tony Rodarte reflects on the power of Child Abduction Response Teams (CARTs) and teaching a well-received CART class in Klamath Falls, Oregon

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2024 Symposium Vendor Booth Registration Form
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Gloucester County New Jersey's Child Abduction Response Team shown at ceremony for earning U.S. Department of Justice Certification.
Those at the Gloucester County, New Jersey, CART certification ceremony Oct. 21, 2022, included, from left, Erik Wolfe, New Jersey Search & Rescue; Richard Hershey, New Jersey State Police; Vito Roselli, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Deputy Chief Matthew Decesari, Franklin Township Police Department; Gloucester County Commissioners Jim Jefferson and Nicholas DaSilva; Paulsboro Police Chief Gary Kille, President of the Gloucester County Chiefs Association; Janell Rasmussen, AATTAP Program Administrator/National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College; Gloucester County CART Coordinators Lieutenant Stacie Lick and Sergeant Greg Malesich; AATTAP CART Project Coordinator Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron; Joseph Ward, Gloucester County Office of Emergency Management; John Nemec, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children/Team Adam; and Byron Fassett, AATTAP Program Manager.

 

By Denise Gee Peacock

New Jersey’s Gloucester County Child Abduction Response Team (CART) recently became the state’s first CART to earn certification from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) – an accomplishment recognized at a Oct. 21, 2022, ceremony in Woodbury.

The rigorous certification process, overseen by subject matter experts with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) of the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC), determines if a CART meets 47 standards for effectively investigating and recovering missing children.

Gloucester County CART Coordinator Lieutenant Stacie Lick's daughter Maddie (right) helped her mother (left) during the CART certification field exercise this spring. “She went missing as part of the drill, and was proud to help law enforcement learn how to investigate missing kids,” Lick said. “I could tell she enjoyed the process.”

“Certification confirms a CART’s ability to rapidly deploy well-trained personnel able to follow well-structured guidelines, maintain all critical documentation/records, and access specialized resources when time is of the essence to find a missing child,” said  Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron, who works with AATTAP Project Coordinator Derek VanLuchene to support CART program development and training/certification efforts across the nation.

Upon completion of all application requirements that involve reviewing a CART’s policy and procedural guidelines, an onsite assessment is scheduled. The certification drill, which typically spans two full days, is a full-scale exercise evaluated by a team of trained subject matter experts/assessors.

“Successful completion of the field exercise and subsequent field report documentation establish that the CART program has demonstrated the highest standards of excellence both in policy as well as practice,” said Lieutenant Stacie Lick with the Gloucester County Prosecutors Office. Lick has served as her county’s CART Coordinator since 2008.

Fittingly, Gloucester County’s CART was the first of its kind to formed in New Jersey in 2008, paving the way for the state’s 20 other counties to follow suit at the direction of former state Attorney General Anne Milgram. Milgram made it a requirement for every county in the state to have a CART overseen by each prosecutor’s office.

Gloucester County’s CART certification process began in April 2021 with the submission of its 100-page manual, which outlines the CART’s response to missing children in their region – but also has proven helpful to CARTs across the nation. The manual, which features protocols, forms, and sample questions for parents, caregivers, and/or family members, is touted by the AATTAP, NCJTC, and DOJ as a model for CART best practices.

The Gloucester County CART’s field exercise was held April 26, 2022, with the assistance of the Franklin Township Police Department at Malaga Lake Park. During the field exercise a volunteer child went missing and the Gloucester County CART had to respond to locate the child safely. After conducting neighborhood and roadblock canvasses, door-to-door interviews, reviewing evidence and following up on leads, the child was recovered safely by the Gloucester County CART.

Another Gloucester County law enforcement strength is that investigations of missing children under age 13 are handled by the Special Victims Unit of the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, housed at Child Advocacy Center of Gloucester County in Woodbury.

“Our Child Advocacy Center serves the children of Gloucester County by reviewing and responding to approximately 400 allegations of abuse and/or neglect a year, with about 50 of those being missing children under the age of 13,” Lick said. “All children to date have been located successfully.”

Leon-Baron noted that the AATTAP continues to expand the number of U.S. DOJ-certified CART programs; increase the number of trained CART programs in Indian Country; and assist previously trained teams in maintaining operational capacity and readiness by working with a talented team of CART trainers to assess the status of CART programs across the country and beyond.

“As the chief law enforcement agency in Gloucester County, it is the goal of the Prosecutor’s Office to ensure that every child who is reported missing is recovered safely through a professional collaboration of our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners,” said Acting Prosecutor Christine A. Hoffman. “By receiving this certification, we ensure that evidence-based practices are being implemented and the highest quality of service is being provided.”

“Children are safer in Gloucester County,” said AATTAP Program Administrator Janell Rasmussen, who commended the Gloucester County CART for being the first team in the state to receive certification during the ceremony.

“Our Gloucester County Commissioners were also in attendance at the ceremony and commented on the hard work and dedication of the Gloucester County CART members who assisted in achieving the certification,” Lick said. “The Gloucester County CART is fortunate to have ongoing cooperation and support from our county commissioners who support the CART mission of recovering children safely and offering services that support them through the Child Advocacy Center of Gloucester County.”

For more details about AATTAP’s CART certification, or for CART-specific resources, visit amberadvocate.org/cartresources.

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By Denise Gee Peacock

When a child goes missing, law enforcement response time is critical. So is having the right tools.

An endeavor to donate nearly every technological resource necessary for responding to missing and abducted children cases – a rugged laptop, digital camera, scanner, and more – is now underway thanks to the AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) initiative, a component of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP), funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018.

These Technology Toolkits are being provided to Tribal communities that currently administer their own AMBER Alert program, or that participate in (or are in the process of adopting or joining) a regional or state AMBER Alert plan.

So far, dozens of the Technology Toolkits have been distributed to Tribal law enforcement agencies (LEAs) spanning from Alabama to Washington. The goal is to  ultimately provide a total of 150 Toolkits to agencies that request them, said AIIC Program Manager Tyesha Wood.

“The Toolkit doesn’t give tribes the capacity to initiate an AMBER Alert on their own. It’s a source of supplemental equipment to help agencies expedite their work in finding missing and endangered children,” said Wood, a member of the Navajo Nation and former law enforcement detective.

Getting the 41-pound packages to their destinations – often in remote areas – is not always easy. Many Tribes use post office boxes for mailing addresses, so the Toolkits sometimes need to be re-routed to locations that can pose a challenge for delivery drivers.

“It’s a special privilege to deliver the toolkits in person,” said Wood, who is assisted by AIIC Liaison Valerie Briebecas. “As we meet the community’s leadership, there’s a bond that forms, which is nice, and we plan future collaborative work, including training initiatives.”

“It’s also been rewarding to see each Tribe’s environment and experience any challenges they may have,” such as a lack of cellphone coverage or knowledge about state or regional AMBER Alert plans. “Understanding each Tribe’s needs gives us insight into their way of life, their community. And that’s important, because every Tribe is unique,” Wood said.

Moapa Tribal Police Chief Jeff Harper displays the toolkit outside of MTP headquarters
Moapa Tribal Police Chief Jeff Harper displays the Toolkit outside of MTP headquarters.

The AIIC team kicked off the Technology Toolkit initiative on March 22, 2022, with a visit to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation in Cary, North Carolina.

Cherokee Nation Police Chief Josh Taylor was happy to receive both the Toolkit and the AIIC visitors. “This Toolkit provides us with the equipment to be successful in Indian Country,” he said at an event to honor the occasion. “And with the opportunity for additional training, we will benefit from staying connected with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program.”

AMBER Alert Coordinator Nona Best, Director of the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, agreed. “This Toolkit will ensure that if a child goes missing, the most effective, efficient, and quickest response time will be in the hands of the Cherokee Nation Police Department.”

Speaking before a large crowd, AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen noted, “It’s unusual to see such a phenomenal partnership between a state agency and a tribe, and the great work being done here. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Tribe and the North Carolina AMBER Alert Coordinator should be commended for their collaborative efforts to bring missing children home.”

Another Technology Toolkit presentation took place May 2, 2022, at the Navajo Nation Police Department in Window Rock, Arizona.

“Preparation and coordination are key to bringing a child home safely, and the Toolkits will assist our law enforcement officers if a child should be reported missing. Responding officers can access the kit and have everything they need to send out an alert as quickly as possible while still in the field, including in rural areas,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. His administration is now working to expand the AMBER Alert system and provide a comprehensive 911 system that can effectively cover the largest tribal nation in the U.S., spanning 27,000 square miles in three states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah).

In 2016, 11-year-old Navajo Nation member Ashlynne Mike was abducted and later found murdered. A lack of coordinated response and jurisdictional understanding led to a delay in the issuance of an AMBER Alert, prompting her mother, Pamela Foster, to lobby legislators to enact a law to ensure such a tragedy never happens again.

“Through the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018, many partnerships were established between tribal communities and external agencies to protect our children,” said Navajo Nation First Lady Phefelia Nez. “Many families know the personal heartbreak and trauma of missing loved ones on the Navajo Nation and throughout Indian Country. Multiple jurisdictional systems have historically failed the victims, their families, and survivors. Today we have to set a new tone of hope on this issue that impacts our homes and tribal communities.”

Navajo Nation Police Chief Daryl Noon added, “One of the things we recognize is we can’t do this alone. We will continue to welcome the support from our community partners, especially for AMBER Alert initiatives, and remain focused and committed to the protection of our children here in the Navajo Nation.”

In addition to receiving the Toolkit, Tribal AMBER Alert program personnel and law enforcement officers involved in AMBER Alerts and child protection in their communities are being invited to access the Partner Portal on the AMBER Advocate website. With portal membership, they can connect with other AMBER Alert partners and find additional resources to assist in AMBER Alert program work, as well as first response and investigative efforts for endangered missing and abducted child cases.

These resources are provided to tribes at no charge thanks to efforts by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to facilitate implementation of the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act. Programs and action items within the Act are designed to provide Tribes with access to state, regional, and Tribal AMBER Alert plans and improve response to endangered missing and abducted children in Indian Country.

“The Toolkit provides many technologies needed when responding to and investigating missing and abducted children. By creating a response plan when a child goes missing, and working with state and federal law enforcement agencies, Tribes will be one step closer to bringing their missing children home,” Wood said, adding, “I just wish we could visit every tribe in the nation.”

For more information on AMBER Alert in Indian Country training, technical assistance, and/or resources – including the Technology Toolkit – contact askamber@fvtc.edu, call 877/712-6237, or visit https://amber-ic.org.

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Denise Gee Peacock is AATTAP’s Project Coordinator for Publications, Websites & eLearning. She oversees content and design for The AMBER Advocate and AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) websites, manages social media engagement, and writes for, edits, and designs the quarterly print/digital magazine, The AMBER Advocate. Denise also helps with special multimedia projects, marketing initiatives, AATTAP-AIIC national symposiums, and eLearning needs.

Prior to her current role, Denise was a communications-focused NCJTC Associate from 2018 to 2022, providing compelling content to The AMBER Advocate, writing high-level AATTAP and AIIC reports, and helping update the new multimedia edition of When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide.

From 2010 to 2018, Denise served as Media Relations Manager for Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She helped SMU’s Dedman School of Law, Human Rights Program, Maguire School of Ethics, and Texas-Mexico Program garner unprecedented publicity that involved SMU subject matter experts being featured in major media outlets in this country and abroad.

In 2018 Denise won the International Circle of Excellence Gold Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) for her work on the sensitively written and beautifully designed book, No Resting Place: Holocaust Poland, produced for SMU’s Human Rights Program. The book commemorated the 20th anniversary of SMU's “Holocaust Poland” trip—one of the longest running, most comprehensive Holocaust study-abroad trips offered by a U.S. university. Prior to that Denise also helped SMU win several national CASE awards for “Best Practices in Marketing and Communications.”

Earlier in her career, Denise served as Editorial Director for Media News Group’s 200+ specialty publications/websites and worked as a senior editor for Better Homes and Gardens, Coastal Living, and Southern Living. She also has written seven books for national publishers. Denise holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Louisiana State University.

 

 

 

 

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The back story: “I thought, Holy cow – We need more hands on deck immediately.”

Tony Rodarte is no stranger to high profile cases. He retired from the Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff’s Department in 2018 after 20 years – his last 11 in Homicide. But what always stuck out to him during his career were his early days in the department when he was faced with working child abduction cases.

“Early on we felt like we were on an island. A child abduction response is a high anxiety,  low frequency event – but when they happen there is a lot of stress,” Rodarte said.  “We weren‘t training on these cases regularly. We didn’t have the newest information, and we weren’t coordinated. I thought holy cow – we need more hands on deck immediately. So, ultimately we created a team in conjunction with the state.”

The key word – a team. Rodarte became an active and instrumental member of Arizona’s statewide Child Abduction Response Team (CART) from its inception in 2011. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department served as a host agency with the AZCART, and Tony as co-coordinator of the statewide team in 2016. And, after his retirement, he knew what he wanted he to do: share his knowledge, experiences, and  lessons learned with others.

“I firmly believe we are better together,” he said. A single child abduction response can cripple a small agency quickly. And, if we can equip and prepare them with the necessary training and resources, then we are a step ahead.”

From CART in Action to CART in the classroom: Spotlight on Klamath Falls, Oregon. “During the investigation is not the time to learn.”

Participants of the Klamath Falls, Oregon, Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Training, August 2022
Participants of the Klamath Falls, Oregon, Child Abduction Response Team (CART) Training, August 2022

Klamath Falls, Oregon, is a city of about 20,000 people well known as the gateway to Crater Lake National Park.

It was also the site of a recent CART training by the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program, during which Tony Rodarte provided instruction along with fellow NCJTC Associates who are subject matter experts in law enforcement response to engendered missing and abducted children.

“It was a great group in Oregon, and what made it great was the diversity,“ Rodarte said. “There were sworn officers and civilians, and a mix of people who were all engaged and vigorously taking notes.”

The 50 people who attended ran the gamut from local and state law enforcement, to search and rescue personnel and corrections officials. The course focuses in on critically important investigative elements of response, including activation and deployment of CART in a case, establishing incident command  and field considerations for mobile command operations, search and canvassing, volunteer management, and various other physical and personnel resources to improve the overall response to endangered missing and abducted child incidents.

“At night, in the midst of an active child abduction, is not the time to learn. Now is the time to learn,” Rodarte emphasized as he worked with participants of the Klamath Fall CART class. And learn they did. Julie Harper with the Klamath County Community Corrections Department had great things to say about the legal issues module. “He is an excellent speaker and kept my attention throughout his presentation. I like that he brought some humor into the discussion since it is such a serious topic.”

The impact of CART training, and what’s next.  “I hope they never have to use the information – but if they do, they will be ready.”

A key objective of AATTAP’s CART training is to encourage collaboration amongst agencies and resource providers within jurisdictions, so that when missing children cases happen, there is a team approach.

“Everything that was taught will help me improve our response to missing children,” said Ryan Kaber of the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office.

Another key component of the training involves tabletop exercises that give participants from different agencies – and who have different roles within their law enforcement and public safety work – to think through elements of response and decision-making together.

“I enjoyed being able to work with others from different agencies to come up with answers and see what we did right and wrong, offered Craig Delarm of the Lake County Search and Rescue Department.

The participants walked away with real, actionable items to begin making a difference in their communities. This was reflected in the comments of Kami Wilton, Klamath County Community Corrections Division, who said, “We hope to partner with the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office to create a team.”

As for Tony Rodarte, he was energized and encouraged with the training. And this is a feeling he takes with him from nearly every CART training of which he’s a part.

I hope they walk away with first steps; and in a perfect world, we all hope to never need a CART response. However, the world we live in means these investigations are going to take place. And so, we must be ready. We work to provide information and resources to help participants retain the fundamentals, and build on that readiness as they return to their agencies.”

Sheriff Chris Kaber of the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office spoke directly to just the sort of readiness Rodarte hopes to impart. “The information we obtained in this valuable training has better prepared us for responding in the initial hours of a missing child investigation. We have already used some of the techniques we learned at this training in other high profile investigations; the benefit was almost immediate.”

Learn more about the CART program, and find an array of CART resources, at amberadvocate.org/cartresources.

Written by Jon Leiberman, NCJTC-AATTAP Associate Journalist

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In This Issue:

The third issue of 2022 of the AMBER Advocate features the work of our AMBER Alert in Indian Country program to distribute Technology Toolkits to Tribal law enforcement agencies across the country. Our "Front Lines" story spotlights the incredible attention and diligent work of an Idaho state trooper in safely recovering an 11-year-old Georgia boy abducted by his father. Meet Lieutenant Stacie Lick of New Jersey, whose leadership and commitment has been central to bringing Child Abduction Response Teams (CARTs) to her state. Read about AMBER Alert and other endangered missing persons work underway through news briefs from across the U.S. and internationally.

Durable cases outfitted with high-tech equipment to aid Tribal law enforcement during missing child cases are making their way throughout the United States.

A Georgia 11-year-old, abducted by his father, is found in the Idaho wilderness thanks to an Idaho State Trooper’s instinct and the successful teamwork of two state law enforcement agencies challenged by distance and technology.

Lieutenant Stacie Lick, who created and leads her state’s first Child Abduction Response Team (CART), sheds light on what makes her program a model for the nation

Child protection news clips from around the country.

News clips and information on child protection efforts from Indian Country.

News clips and information on child protection efforts from around the world.

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New Washington State alert addresses high rate of missing indigenous people

A first-of-its-kind alert system for missing indigenous women and people was signed into law in Washington state in March 2022. The system helps distribute information about missing Native Americans much like an AMBER Alert. Washington has the second-highest number of missing indigenous people in the U.S.

U.S. and Canada tribes spotlight Missing Indigenous Women Awareness Day

Tribal leaders and other U.S and Canadian public officials recognized National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness (MMIW) Day on May 5.

  • Hundreds of Yakama Nation members gathered in Toppenish, Washington, to share stories and pray. They marched with signs reading “No more lost sisters.”
  • The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe held a march in Kitsap, Washington, to bring awareness to the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women.
  • In Madison, Wisconsin, members of state tribes gathered for MMIW Day at the state capitol and read the names of all missing indigenous women who have been found dead in the state. “This epidemic of missing and murdered Native women and girls must stop,” said Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge Munsee Community, one of the state’s 11 federally recognized tribal nations.
  • South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem issued a proclamation for MMIW Day. Noem highlighted the actions she has taken to address the ongoing crisis, including establishing investigation procedures for missing Native women, creating a missing person clearinghouse, and developing and fully funding the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.
  • In Saskatchewan, Canada, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) also declared May 5 as National Red Dress Day to encourage protections for tribal members from all forms of violence. “Our First Nations women and girls must be protected from the unacceptable levels of violence experienced in Canadian society and our communities,” said Chief Bobby Cameron.

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Instagram Now Sharing AMBER Alerts

Instagram is now posting AMBER Alerts to notify the public about abducted children. The alerts are being placed on the social media platform in the U.S. and 24 other countries. Meta, the parent group of Instagram and Facebook, said Instagram will share the alerts in a designated area based on the user’s IP address and location. AMBER Alerts have been posted on Facebook since 2015. Google began issuing the alerts to users of its Search and Maps tools in 2012. “With this update, if an AMBER Alert is activated by law enforcement and you are in the designated search area, the alert will now appear in your Instagram feed,” said Meta Director of Trust & Safety Emily Vacher. The Instagram posts are part of a partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Texas boy suffers hearing loss after AMBER Alert blared through AirPods

Tech giant Apple is being sued after a 12-year-old boy said he suffered permanent hearing damage after getting a loud AMBER Alert while using his AirPods. The Texas boy said he was listening to a program at a low volume when a very loud AMBER Alert notification ruptured his eardrums. The boy’s parents said Apple failed to warn AirPods users about the design flaw.