Left: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation badge Right: Arizona Department of Public Safety State Trooper vehicle
Left: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation badge Right: Arizona Department of Public Safety State Trooper vehicle

Citizen makes fateful call after multiple state AMBER Alert partners work together to recover missing Tennessee children

Authorities honor Good Samaritan who had a “gut feeling” about the children she saw on a California beach

By Paul Murphy

It began as an ordinary situation that progressively got worse. The case of missing 3-year-old Noah Clare started on November 7, 2021, after his non-custodial father didn’t bring him back to his home in Gallatin, Tennessee.

The next day, Noah’s mother, Amanda Ennis, contacted the Gallatin police to get an emergency motion to suspend parenting time and a temporary restraining order against Noah’s father, Jacob Clare. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) issued an Endangered Child Alert for Noah Clare and a 16-year-old cousin accompanying him.

Following a law enforcement investigation in Kentucky, authorities learned Clare might be carrying a handgun and military-style rifle. They also found he may have planned his actions months ahead of the incident. Investigators also were concerned about Clare’s relationship with his teenage niece. Authorities decided to charge Clare with kidnapping and the TBI issued an AMBER Alert November 16.

“Tennessee had law enforcement officers and agents working non-stop during the investigation in order to locate Noah safely,” said Shelly Smitherman, TBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge and Tennessee’s AMBER Alert Coordinator.

Arizona also issued an AMBER Alert that same day after the suspect’s vehicle was seen near the Arizona-California border.

“Tennessee did a fantastic job with this AMBER Alert. They called and coordinated with us as soon as they had credible information that the subject was heading to Arizona,” said Chrystal Moore, Arizona AMBER Alert Coordinator and Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper. “We were able to utilize the provided information from Tennessee to show the vehicle had traveled into our state.”

California Checks In

More information came forward about the suspect’s vehicle being abandoned in San Clemente, California, on November 11 and towed two days later. With the new details, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) issued an Endangered Missing Advisory, also known as an Ashanti Alert, on November 16.

The Ashanti Alert is similar to an AMBER Alert in that it can target the media and public in a specific geographic area but can also be used for missing people between the ages of 18 and 64. The alert also provides flyers on social media with details about the alleged suspect and victim.

CHP Sergeant and California AMBER Alert Supervisor Ed Bertola and his team spent the entire day gathering details and monitoring the situation. “We are committed to doing whatever we can to recover children,” said Bertola. “The name of the alert isn’t what makes it important. It’s the child. That’s our mantra.”

At the same time, Bertola was trying to balance the effort to rescue the child with the impact the notifications could have on the public. He feared oversaturating people with alerts.

Because of the timing and the lack of certain details, CHP did not send the message to cellphones via a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) or broadcast. Even without these two specific tools, the CHP led California’s effort to find the children, employing other investigative actions and resources, including significant dedication of personnel hours.

Chance Sighting

On November 18, Julia Bonin saw a boy matching Noah’s description on a flyer at an Orange County, California, beach. She was on her way to drop off her son at school but trusted her instincts to help local deputies make contact.

“This feeling just didn’t go away. It was very much instinctual and very much a gut feeling that just stayed with me,” Bonin told a reporter.

Acting on her tip, law enforcement safely recovered the children and took Clare into custody.

“There is no greater reward in this job when a child is found safe,” said Smitherman.

Julia Bonin with Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes
Julia Bonin with Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes

Five months later, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department honored Bonin at a ceremony that included a surprise appearance from Amanda Ennis and her son Noah.

“It’s been torture. It’s been a nightmare,” Ennis said after reuniting with Noah. “It’s something that I would never wish my worst enemy to go through.”

Clare was charged with kidnapping and multiple sexual abuse charges. A woman who told authorities she was Clare’s “spiritual advisor” has also been charged with a felony for allegedly helping plan the crime.

Lessons Learned

  • Information about missing child cases can evolve. What began as a custodial dispute case, would soon become an abduction plan, guns, and an improper relationship with a teenage girl. Although the decision to issue an AMBER Alert occurred several days after the initial report to law enforcement, investigators in Tennessee and Arizona went to work within hours, with California ultimately joining the effort. The three-state team would employ an array of investigative strategies and tools to find Noah.
    • Noah’s Law: In March of 2022, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed HB2354 into law. “Noah’s Law,” enhances the process to issue AMBER Alerts involving custodial issues. Under the new law, after a child has been missing for 48 hours, a judge can issue an order declaring the child to be in imminent danger, clearing the way for an AMBER Alert.
  • An AMBER Alert isn’t the only tool to find missing children. “Ultimately, the person who identified the involved parties recognized them from a flyer, which is one of the most rudimentary things we do,” Bertola said. ”Think of all of the electronic messaging and next generation digital tools we have; and yet it came down to a flyer somebody saw while walking along a beach. There is no question that the EAS and WEA are important tools in our arsenal, but even when they aren’t used, we still have ways to provide actionable information to help communities engage in the mission.”
  • Relationships matter. Both the Tennessee and California AMBER Alert coordinators credit the importance of knowing AMBER Alert partners before an alert is needed. “We are very connected with our AMBER Alert partners and have developed those relationships by working and training together,” Smitherman said. “Both California and Arizona were so gracious and willing to assist us.”
  • Social media can help and hurt an investigation. The children were ultimately found because of a flyer created using a social media post. However, the case had a large social media following outside of law enforcement that included false information and posts that did not support investigation efforts. Monitoring social media to ensure information is posted accurately is critical to keeping the public updated with viable and actionable information to help law enforcement.