On the Front Lines: New York

New York State Police

New York Issues AMBER Alert for Teen Who Initially Went Willingly With Her Captor

What began as a runaway case changed after Ogdensburg, New York, police learned a missing 15-year-old girl may have been threatened and held captive by her boyfriend. The threat prompted officers to ask the New York State Police (NYSP) to issue an AMBER Alert for Olivia Roberts.

Roberts was reported missing on December 12, 2018, after meeting with her 27-yearold boyfriend, Kenneth Snyder. A month earlier, Snyder was charged with unlawful imprisonment for forcefully restraining her during a domestic violence incident. But Snyder fled from police as he was about to be transported from court to a secure facility.

On December 19, Roberts didn’t show up after she asked a friend to pick her up. The same friend was then blocked from Roberts’ Facebook account. He told police he was concerned Snyder may have taken control over Roberts’ Facebook account. That same day Ogdensburg police asked the public on social media to help them find Roberts. At 6:51 p.m. on December 20, a family member told police that Roberts made a call using Facebook and was screaming frantically for someone to come get her. The family member then heard a male voice asking what she was doing and the call suddenly went dead.

“There in fact was a particular incident and that’s what led to the criteria change that led to the AMBER Alert,” said Ogdensburg Police Detective Mark Kearns.

NYSP received the request for an AMBER Alert; agents first made sure the child and suspect had been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). They also started gathering information and photos of the child and suspect for the state’s web-based public notification system for AMBER Alerts.

NYSP Investigator Michael O'Connell
NYSP Investigator Michael O'Connell

“We always have concern for the victim in every case we receive,” said NYSP Investigator Michael O’Connell. “We felt this child was being held against her will and in danger of serious bodily harm or death, thus meeting our criteria.”

The AMBER Alert was disseminated at 8:16 p.m. through faxes, emails, text messages, phone calls, highway signs, lotto terminals, broadcasters and social media. New York residents can also sign up to get the alerts at https://alert.ny.gov/.

The NYSP Computer Crimes Unit contacted Facebook and learned the device Roberts used to make a call may have been in Massena, New York. Massena police officers arrived at an apartment and two adults claimed Roberts wasn’t there.

Both adults were arrested after police discovered they told Roberts to go out a window and hide on the roof. Snyder was later found and taken into custody. The AMBER Alert was canceled at 9:30 p.m., a little more than an hour after it was issued.

“We were relieved to learn the child was recovered safe and unharmed,” said O’Connell. “It was a challenge to have people helping the suspect and child avoid the police.”

New York has issued 89 AMBER Alerts since the program began in 2002. O’Connell has been involved with 20 alerts since 2016. He said lessons are learned with every alert.

“This case reiterates a need for continual communication with requesting agencies as new information develops,” he said. “We train often and try to prepare as best as we can.”