Amber Alerts: How successful have they been in saving abducted kids?
Amber Alerts, which played a key role in the rescue of Hannah Anderson from her alleged abductor James Lee DiMaggio, have helped save more than 600 kidnapped children. New technology and social media have expanded this successful program.
When teenager Hannah Anderson went missing a week ago – thought to have been abducted by a family friend, an older man named James Lee DiMaggio – the first way many people in southern California knew about it was through an insistent, blaring text message on their cell phone.Skip to next paragraph
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To some, especially if they were driving at the time, it was an annoying interruption they scrambled to silence. But many others switched on their TVs to learn more details of the case, in fact becoming part of the search as they began keeping an eye out for Mr. DiMaggio’s blue Nissan Versa automobile, California license number 6WCU986.
Over the next several days, dozens of callers phoning in to the Amber Alert tip line – the system that had broadcast the message via television and flashing roadside signs as well as to thousands of smart phone owners – helped police focus the search on what looked to be a route up a rural two-lane highway through northern California and then Oregon into Idaho.
Amber Alert played one last key role in the drama Saturday evening when an FBI tactical team found DiMaggio and the girl camped in a rugged, heavily-forested wilderness area about 70 miles northeast of Boise, rescuing the girl and shooting and killing her alleged abductor in what law enforcement officials described as a “confrontation.”
Two days earlier, a man on horseback had seen the girl and the man with camping gear, chatting briefly with them but unaware of who they might be. When he got home and saw TV reports about what was being described as an abduction, he called the Amber Alert tip line, then provided officials with the location where the pair was found.
In the end, it was one of many such Amber Alert stories resulting in the successful recovery children who may have been traumatized by their abduction but at least were returned to their families.
The Amber Alert program was set up in 1996 following the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas. “Amber” is also an acronym: “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.” (For this reason, it’s also written as “AMBER.”)
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The program is described by the nonprofit National Center for Missing & Exploited Children as “a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases.”
The program, which is coordinated by the US Department of Justice, is now active in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.