On the Front Lines: Massachusetts
Citizens Spring to Action After Massachusetts Issues Its First AMBER Alert for a Stranger Abduction
Victim's Family Says the Outpouring of Love and Support is Overwhelming
Maggie Kenney was sitting on her front porch when she saw a man grab a young girl and push her into his car. She immediately started screaming at her husband to call the cops.
“I’m screaming, yelling to wake up the neighborhood,” said Kenney to a reporter. “(The girl) was saying ‘Stop! Put me down!’ It was terrible.”
The abduction took place at 1:26 p.m. on January 15, 2020, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The 11-year-old was taken while she was walking home after getting off her school bus. Kenney told police the abductor was driving a blue two-door Honda Civic.
Detectives searched the area and found a home security camera had captured video of the suspect’s vehicle and the victim moments before the abduction. The video also showed the same vehicle following the girl the day before.
The Springfield Police Department (SPD) media relations officer began contacting local news outlets and posting information on social media about the stranger abduction while detectives prepared information for an AMBER Alert. SPD and the Massachusetts State Police (MSP) coordinated swiftly to move the AMBER Alert activation forward. MSP provided activation guidance at 3:35 p.m. SPD submitted photos of the suspect’s vehicle to MSP by 4:14 p.m.
The police department issued a press release at 5:15 p.m. with the name, age, a physical description, and photographs of the endangered child, along with the location and time she was last seen, and a description of the suspect vehicle. The AMBER Alert was issued at 5:20 p.m.
“A child’s life and safety is at stake and we want to engage the public across our entire state, so everyone can help us look for that child and the person who abducted her,” said Sergeant Nicole Morell, Massachusetts AMBER Alert Coordinator.
The MSP sends AMBER Alerts to law enforcement via directed messages and broadcasts, and to the public through television and radio broadcasts, website and social media pages, and public transit stations and electronic highway signs. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) also deliver these critical messages and updates to the public.
“This was the first stranger abduction in Massachusetts since the AMBER Alert system was implemented in this state in 2002,” said Dave Procopio, MSP Media Communications Director. “Naturally, there was great concern for this child’s safety, and a determination by everyone involved in the process at MSP that we would keep working until she was found.”
Emergency dispatchers were flooded with calls, including numerous motorists who said they spotted the suspect’s car, beginning around 7:15 p.m. The license plate number information received from tips was fed into automated license plate reader (ALPR) systems to locate the vehicle. MSP Troopers also started slowing the traffic in that area by reducing the highway to one lane.
Amanda Disley and her husband saw the vehicle and started following it. Their son was in the back of the car live-streaming the event.
“I hope they find that girl, I really do,” Disley said in the video “It’s got me sick to my stomach. I cannot imagine being that mom. I can’t imagine how that mom feels.”
They lost sight of the car, but other motorists called 911 to report the vehicle was fleeing from the city of Chicopee. State troopers stopped the vehicle at 7:20 p.m. and arrested the 24-year-old perpetrator. The missing girl was recovered safely from the back seat. Troopers found a knife in the car door pocket.
“I felt tremendous relief,” said Procopio. “The AMBER Alert only works when civilians take time to listen to the information and commit themselves to remain alert as they go about their lives. That is what happened in this case, and we are eternally grateful to the civilians who helped us rescue this girl and apprehend her abductor.”
Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood held a press conference after the ordeal was over. “What happened is I think every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said. “The biggest factor [in the safe recovery] was the assistance of the public. The tips coming in were amazing.”
MSP has issued 28 AMBER Alerts involving 36 children and has a 100% rate of safe recovery. Apart from the January 15, 2020, alert, the other 27 AMBER Alerts issued to date in Massachusetts all involved perpetrators who were known to the abducted child or members of the child’s family.
As information started coming in about the stranger abduction, the Massachusetts AMBER Alert Coordinator was actively communicating with coordinators in other states. At the same time MSP was responding to this abduction, Rhode Island was preparing to issue a Senior Alert. Morell said the strong relationships with other AMBER Alert partners helps make each state’s program work better.
“The process works; trust it,” added Morell. “Trust your instincts, your knowledge, and expertise. This being our first stranger abduction, we knew we had to work fast to get accurate information out to the public.”
MSP determined years ago to release information about a possible abduction to the public as soon as possible. This results in more people looking for the victim sooner and provides the media much-needed information when the AMBER Alert is issued.
“We realized that the news and information flow is continuous and, in an emergency, needs to be as instantaneous as possible,” said Procopio. “A child’s safety and life are at stake, and we want to engage the public across our entire state, so they are helping us look for that child and the person who abducted her. An AMBER Alert activation has a lot of moving parts, and it’s important that everyone involved knows their unique responsibilities and fulfills them satisfactorily and as quickly as possible.”
An after-action review found everyone fulfilled their roles well, but determined the AMBER Alert protocol and intake/request form need to be updated to reflect current technology.
The abductor in this case was charged with 3 counts of aggravated rape of a child with force, indecent assault, battery, kidnapping, witness intimidation, and assault with a dangerous weapon on a child under the age of 14. The judge in the case ordered a psychiatric evaluation for him.
The victim’s parents issued a statement to thank the motorists who followed the suspect “for their vigilance and courage for putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure she wasn’t out of their sight.” They also thanked the law enforcement officers, doctors, social workers, and everyone involved in the AMBER Alert. “The outpouring of love and support, near and far, is overwhelming. We are eternally grateful."