An AMBER Alert was issued on Monday, October 14th, for a child that reportedly had been taken from Glacier County. The alert was sent to mobile devices across the region. Fortunately, the child was found safe in Lewis & Clark County less than an hour after the alert was issued, and the suspect was detained, according to the Sheriff's Office. Authorities have not yet released any other details about the suspect.
Many people were confused and/or upset that this AMBER Alert consisted solely of a vehicle description and presumed direction of travel; the text message people received said only that authorities were searching for a blue Chevy with license plate 38-0176C from Glacier County, and that it may be southbound on I-15 near Great Falls.
On Friday, the Glacier County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook about the circumstance leading to the AMBER Alert. It says, in part:
- When DOJ issues an AMBER Alert, it is disseminated in a variety of ways. The most visible part of an AMBER Alert is the push to cell phones. This happens through the Federal Government's Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) program. The WEA program, governed by federal regulations, limits the cell phone text message to 90 characters.
- One of the most critical pieces of information to assist in locating an abducted child is the suspect vehicle information. If we are fortunate enough to have vehicle information and know the vehicle is still in motion, the most effective option we have is to broadcast the license plate number, vehicle description, direction of travel, and investigating agency name and contact number. This can be a challenge with just 90 characters available.
- This is exactly what was done in the October 14, 2019 AMBER Alert issued at the request of the Glacier County Sheriff's Office. The state's Child & Family Services reported to the Glacier County S.O., that a 10-year-old girl had been abducted by her non-custodial father, who may have been distraught over the recent death of the child's mother. Child & Family Services told the Sheriff's Office that the child's guardians were located north of Browning.
- BLES was contacted and requested to respond to the guardian's location, but it was going to take some time to get there. Information on the father's vehicle and direction of travel was available so the AMBER Alert cell phone push and the Montana Department of Transportation road signs were activated. Fortunately, shortly after the cell phone push, Lewis & Clark County Deputies located the vehicle and rescued the child before Law Enforcement even had the rest of the details needed for the public alert.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: AMBER ALERTS AND MISSING/ENDANGERED PERSON ADVISORIES
Whenever a child is reported missing in Montana, law enforcement agencies work quickly to determine the circumstances, and whether or not to issue an AMBER Alert, or a Missing/Endangered Person Advisory (MEPA).
The AMBER Alert program started in Texas in 1996 after 9-year old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered. In response to community concern, broadcasters in the area teamed up with law enforcement agencies to establish a program capable of quickly distributing information about child abductions to the general public.
In memory of Amber, the program was called the AMBER Plan – America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.
In Montana, officials also have the option of issuing a Missing/Endangered Person Advisory.
Here is the difference between the two:
AMBER ALERT: To initiate an AMBER Alert, call 9-1-1 and provide your local law enforcement agency with all the information you can about a suspected child abduction. To activate the program, all of the following criteria must be met:
- There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that a child has been abducted or has disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
- The missing child is age 17 years or younger, or has a proven mental or physical disability.
- The law enforcement agency believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
- There is enough descriptive information about the victim and abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
- The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer.
The AMBER Alert system is not used to track runaways, missing children or children involved in custody disputes. The program is restricted to child abduction cases that could be life threatening.
MISSING/ENDANGERED PERSON ADVISORY: A MEPA Advisory is initiated solely by Montana law enforcement agencies using the following criteria:
- Do the circumstances fail to meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert?
- Is the person missing under unexplained, involuntary or suspicious circumstances?
- Is the person believed to be in danger because of age, health, mental or physical disability, or environmental or weather conditions; to be in the company of a potentially dangerous person; or is there some other factor that may put the person in peril?
- Is there information that could assist the public in the safe recovery of the missing person? The initial advisory will include any available information, like name, age, physical description, date of birth and where the person was last seen. It might also include information about whether the person has a health condition or physical or mental disability.