August 9, 2002 at 5:47 AM CDT - Updated July 3 at 3:41 PM
When a child is kidnapped, police say what happens in the first few hours is crucial. And now they want 'you' to help with their investigations.
We've all heard the stories about kidnapped children. Now, the media has joined forces with the Montgomery Police Department and pledged to alert you as soon as a child is reported missing.
Samantha Runnion, Casey Williamson, Shannon Paulk, all of them were found too late to save their lives. Montgomery Police Chief John Wilson says he wants to keep that from happening here. So police will now alert local television and radio stations of missing children so the public can help in the search. Wilson says, "It increases ten-fold our odds of catching somebody before they leave the state or leave the city."
Under the plan the media will interrupt their normal programs and broadcast descriptions of the child, suspect, or vehicle. Station managers joined the police chief in signing the pledge thereby agreeing to the partnership.
WSFA General Manager Hoyt Andres says, "We're interested in doing anything we can in helping find an exploited or missing child especially one that is suspected of being abducted, and we recognize that the fastest way to do that is to get information out to the general public."
Chief Wilson knows the system will not be perfect at first. "We're going to do our best not to cry wolf, but bear with us. We're also going to err on the side of caution. "
Chief Wilson says the broadcasts will continue every 30 minutes for at least 4 hours. By that time, the hope is the child will be found alive and safe.
There's a second component to the department's plan. That component is making home fingerprinting kits available to any parent who asks for one.
The kits will be available on Saturday, August 17th at Montgomery Mall between noon and 4 p.m. And after that individuals can simply call the Montgomery Police Community Policing Department at 240-4800 . The kit includes information about everything parents should have to help in a missing child investigation. The first hours following the disappearance of a child are the most critical in terms of finding and returning that child safely home -- but they also can be the most troublesome and chaotic. The information in this kit may help to increase the chances of recovering your child.
In about two months Alabama will be ready to do what California is doing to help find missing children. The "Amber Alert System" that helped authorities there find two teenagers who had been abducted is coming here.
The governor announced August 6th that a broadcast alert system similar to the one that warns television viewers and radio listeners of severe weather conditions will be used in Alabama to help find abducted children.
The system, which involves radio alert tones and "crawl" messages at the bottom of television screens, will be coupled with the coordination of state agencies to search for abducted kids.
The state and the Alabama Broadcasters Association are working together to implement the Amber Alert plan. The messages will include such information as the child's age and a description of the suspect if available.
Under the system, a call to an emergency number involving abducted kids will go straight to a person in charge of issuing the broadcast alerts. The Amber Alert system is named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and murdered while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas in 1996.