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Facebook's AMBER alerts for missing children: They work, says S.C. mom

Facebook introduced targeted AMBER alerts into News Feed today. A South Carolina mom tells how a Facebook AMBER alert helped find a young girl last year. 

As of today those AMBER alerts about missing children on Facebook can do a whole lot more good since they will be both current and geographically targeted.

Do they make a difference? Just ask one sharp-eyed mom, Carol Gause of Florence, S.C., who saved a little girl last March as the result of checking her Facebook news feed on her iPad while at work.

Until now, spotting AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) alerts on Facebook was a hit or miss kind of situation, depending on individuals to spot the alerts in the news media or Facebook and then posting or reposting them to their circles.

“The new initiative will deliver AMBER Alerts to people’s News Feeds in targeted search areas after a child has been abducted and the National Center has issued an alert,” according to a press release issued by Facebook.

Since being set up in 1996, AMBER alerts have resulted in the recovery of more than 720 children, according to the US Department of Justice

According to the media release, a law enforcement agency determines the range of the target area for each alert. The number of alerts people will see depends on how many alerts are issued in their area — some people may see a few each year and many people will likely get no alerts at all. The alerts will appear in the Facebook News Feed, but will not trigger any notifications to a person’s phone.

Ms. Gause tells her story in a promoted post as part of today’s media campaign by Facebook to announce the new partnership with the AMBER Alert system and Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The incident happened last March and resulted in saving little Caitlyn Virts who had been kidnapped by her father Timothy Virts, after he murdered her mother.

Gause, whose four children are now adults, runs a motel in Florence, N.C.

 “I run the office here [at the Colonial Inn motel] and while I’m not really a Facebook kinda person, I do check my email and scan my newsfeed on my iPad once a day at my desk here in the office,” Gause says in a telephone interview.

“A friend of mine had posted this alert about a little blond girl who had been taken by her father. Usually I just ignore those alerts thinking they have nothing to do with me. They’ll never involve me,” she recalls.

However, Gause was certain that the father and daughter who had checked-in to the motel the night before were the ones in the alert. Because they had stood side-by-side at her counter and the Facebook alert showed pictures of father and daughter side-by-side Gause made the connection, she says.

“In that split second I, in my mind, I thought ‘Do you want to get involved? How could it affect me, my business,” she recounts. “That was just a split-second and I knew I had to call police. A lot of people don’t want to get involved and I would tell them from what happened with me that there is no other choice to be made – get involved.”

Gause checked the guest register and the names matched, so she called local police to report that the father and child were there.

Asked how her experience has affected her life, Gause says that “now I take that extra time to pay attention to the alerts wherever I see them because you just never know.”

“It opened my eyes. It never occurred to me it would come to my door,” she says. “The Lord was in everything that day. I know a lot of people don’t want to see it that way, but I do. Had someone else been at the desk when they signed in, had I not looked at the news feed, had I decided not to get involved, it could have all been very different.”

Gause has a message for those who spot the new AMBER alerts.

“Take the time,” she says. “You don’t have to be a parent. You can be anyone, anywhere. You may think you can’t make a difference. You can. You just don’t know. You could be the one to make a difference.”

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