September 4, 2012 - I can't imagine how parents feel when their child goes missing. The notion to me is unperceivable and ineffable. It's a situation that I just can't get my head around – and yet more than 50,000 children are reported missing in Canada every year.
Going through such a harrowing experience inexorably demands that when you are at your weakest - you must be your strongest. There is no choice. I can only surmise that your heart and mind are held captive and while you try to recall and hold on to the last words that you shared with your child - you are in a state of emotional ransom. The unknown disparity is the length of time you will be asking yourself, "What went wrong?" and, "How could I allow this to happen?" while your heart searches for something – anything – that you could have possibly forgotten or missed.
Recently I had an opportunity to speak with Sergeant Jean-Yves McCann, the Provincial Coordinator for AMBER Alert at the Service Conseil aux Enquêtes, Sûreté du Québec, who introduced me to AMBER Alert - a child rescue plan that from its inception has proven its worth in gold many times over by saving our children from a horrific demise. He captured and personified the integrity of a statement infamously noted by Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman, political theorist and philosopher of the 18th century who said, "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."
Veronika Bradley (VB): As Provincial Coordinator for AMBER Alert, what are your responsibilities?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: A large part of my job is educating the public and police force. I train and educate Police Officers, first responders and '911' dispatchers to react as fast as possible. I maintain partnerships with other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States and I've had discussions with European countries that have AMBER Alerts, even though some countries do not call it AMBER Alert. Maintaining and developing partnerships with the AMBER Alert plan and continually looking for new possibilities is also a big part of my position.
VB: So, your job involves ongoing communication regarding AMBER Alerts and Child Safety on a global platform?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: The Department of Justice oversees and maintains the global platform and they're 'kind of' the godfathers of AMBER Alert with an international department that helps other countries to develop their own plan – countries such as Greece and Portugal and two years ago, they assisted Mexico to develop a plan as well. The states north of Mexico have many issues with child abductions but because Mexico did not have an AMBER Alert plan, they couldn't launch an AMBER Alert. Mexico now has an AMBER Alert system after two to three years of planning.
In Canada, each province manages their own AMBER Alert plan and the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains in Ottawa is in charge of the national coordination. The RCMP established the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) within the Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (CPCMEC). The NCMPUR incorporates the existing National Missing Children Operations (NMCO). NCMPUR is creating the first national database for missing persons and unidentified remains to provide police, medical examiners and chief coroners with more comprehensive information on these cases across jurisdictions.
VB: What is the most difficult part of your job?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: I don't think my job is that difficult. When an AMBER Alert has been issued, it presents degrees of challenges not just for me but also for every police responder and partner to react as fast as we can. We're expecting the worst and time goes by so quickly. The numbers and statistics are incredibly alarming for some cases. I'm always anxious and ask myself if we reacted properly and expeditiously each time we face a possibility of AMBER Alert for child abduction. The question in my head is, "Are we going to be too late?"
VB: What's the biggest mistake parents make when their child is missing?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: Statistics show us that parents do not call the police fast enough. Parents think that the police department is too busy with other cases so they call us after a greater length of time has passed. The statistics in the United States show us that 40% of children who were abducted were killed before the police were even notified by the parents that their child was missing. Is that the fault of the parent? Is that the fault of the police? Is that the fault of television telling people to wait 24 hours before calling the police even though your child is 13 years old?
"Giving your children knowledge to obtain practical skills and teaching them how to look after themselves, is as important as teaching them to write and read."
Sergeant Jean-Yves McCann, AMBER Alert Coordinator for the Sûreté du Québec August 28, 2012
Occasionally police assume that some cases will turn out to be runaways and parents assume this as well. Parents do not assume the worst. We try to teach parents that if their child is missing, don't assume that they are lost. This could be an abduction, and so at the very least, call us and we'll help you check out the situation.
VB: I think parents don't call the police as quickly as they should because they do not want to consider or face the possibility that something serious might have occurred to their child.
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: Yes, I totally agree with you. Even when a child is not missing, that mindset is the 'norm' for many parents. They hesitate to talk about personal safety. A child is spontaneous so they don't want to frighten the child. Giving your children knowledge to obtain practical skills and teaching them how to look after themselves, is as important as teaching them to write and read.
VB: What proactive measures can parents teach their children should they be approached by a stranger?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: Well, first of all, in regards to the 'stranger' theory, I think that children are really, really scared of strangers because of the knowledge that is given by their parents but sometimes they should be aware that some abductions or sexual assaults occur with someone they know. Parents are focusing a lot on strangers but should take into consideration that the abductor could very well be someone that they know and that their child knows. In Quebec, the last child that was abducted by a stranger took place in 2008 so there are not that many cases of strangers abducting children in Canada but when there is a stranger abduction, we need to react very quickly.
VB: So what you are saying is if a child is approached, nine times out of ten, it will most likely be someone they know rather than a stranger, and that all children should know how to react, if and when, they are approached by a person displaying inappropriate behaviour and/or bad intentions.
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: Yes, parents should teach their children this knowledge so that they can protect themselves and know how to react. The parents should go to your website www.safekid.org because the information is there but sometimes the parent's just don't get it. They think about stranger abductions but don't take into consideration that someone they know could have the same malintent against their children. They are hesitant to talk to their children about inappropriate behaviour from someone they know because they do not want to scare their children with the possibility. Does that mean we shouldn't talk to our children about a fire evacuation plan for our house because we don't want to scare them with the thought of fire? The parents will talk to their children about a fire evacuation plan because it is important that they know how to react and protect themselves. Why should this be any different? Children need to receive important safety information from their parents.
My daughter is four years old and she knows about AMBER Alert. I don't talk about abduction but I do talk about missing children or a child that is lost. As a parent, you have to use appropriate words of communication commensurate with your child's age so that they have a clear and undisturbed understanding.
VB: What personality traits do predators look for in a child?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: That's a good question but I'm not a specialist in behavioural profiling. Predators use a variety of ways to lure a child. Some sexual predators could be looking for weaker or more timid children but that is not always the case. In many abduction cases, it was only a matter of opportunity, and those cases are the hardest to prevent.
"Since 2003, Canada issued 64 AMBER alerts involving 73 abducted children… 70 children were recovered and returned safely to their parents and 3 were deceased. AMBER Alerts are quite a success story in Canada."
Sergeant Jean-Yves McCann, AMBER Alert Coordinator for the Sûreté du Québec August 28, 2012
Even though I am not a specialist let's talk about an unsolved case - Cédrika Provencher (9 year old girl from Trois-Rivieres who was abducted July 31, 2007). She was really spontaneous, sociable, willing to help and she was a victim for her willingness to help the abductor who said he was looking for his dog. She was walking around asking people if they saw a dog of this description and stated that she was trying to help a man who lost his dog. That's how she was lured and approached. She wasn't weak. She was 9 years old.
Sexual predators who abduct are not looking for teenagers or young adults who are more mature and less naïve, so unfortunately the 8, 9, 10, and 11-year-old children are really at risk. I don't have the statistics but I do hear a lot about children between the ages of 8 to 12, even children aged 6 to 7 who were abducted. Sexual predators go for girls and boys from that age group.
VB: Are there more girls than boys that are abducted by sexual predators?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: No, not much. We have statistics for the United States, which shows us that there is very little difference for abductors choosing a sexual preference. AMBER Alerts can sometimes include parental abductions where there is imminent danger for the life of the children, so it's kind of half-and-half.
Since 2003, Canada issued 64 AMBER alerts involving 73 abducted children and out of those 73 children, there were 35 males and 38 females. 70 children were recovered and returned safely to their parents and 3 were deceased. AMBER Alerts are quite a success story in Canada. United States has more deceased children than Canada but they have more AMBER Alerts so our percentage of rescued children is a little bit higher.
VB: Have you noticed a decline or increase in AMBER Alerts in Canada in the past ten years?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: AMBER Alerts have been issued in Alberta since 2002 and every other province created an AMBER Alert plan in 2003 and 2004. In the 8 to 9 years that AMBER Alerts have been issued in Canada there is an increase in Ontario at about 30 abductions so I don't think there is a decline. We have an increase in parental abductions but that does not involve AMBER Alerts. We have many requests for AMBER Alerts for parental abductions but the criterion of imminent danger for the child's life is not there. If a parent leaves the country with their child, they are not necessarily going to harm their child – but then on the other hand, some parental abductions involve life-threatening issues, and so we activate an AMBER Alert. In Quebec, 7 out of 8 AMBER Alerts involved parental abductions, and unfortunately about 75% of all AMBER Alerts involved parental abductions in Canada. We have at least 100 parental open file abduction cases in Quebec every year. We have maybe 1 AMBER Alert out of 100 because the criterion is not there. Abduction is there, a child is involved, but we don't fear for the child's life, so we don't activate an AMBER Alert.
VB: When did the word "abduction" replace the word "kidnapping" and why did it change?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: I think kidnapping involves ransom. During the 1970's and 80's it was more of a trend to kidnap or have a hostage for ransom. When a person goes to a bank, leaves with the Manager and then asks for ransom - that's kidnapping. Although, in regards to using the word 'kidnapping', I remember an instance when an AMBER Alert was issued for a daughter who was abducted by her father. The next day, after the daughter was safely recovered by the police the media reported, "...finally, it wasn't a kidnapping because there was a family bond between the victim, who was the daughter and the abductor, who was the father..." So, in the mind of the media they decided that because it wasn't a stranger who took the child, they couldn't call it a kidnapping. We don't see the word 'kidnapping' within the Criminal Code and that's why we use the word 'abduction'.
VB: Why do criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts vary from province to province?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: There is not much of a variance from province to province when issuing AMBER Alerts. British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario adopted basic criteria for AMBER Alerts initiated by the United States and they are as follows:
- a child under the age of 18 is missing,
- we have reasonable ground to believe that the child was abducted,
- we believe that the child is in imminent danger of serious physical injury, and
- issuing an AMBER Alert will help us to locate the suspect, the vehicle, and/or the child.
The remaining provinces added an extension to the criteria that states, "The victim is a child, or a person of proven physical or mental disability." The wording could vary for the criteria, i.e. since the last abduction in Woodstock, Ontario of Victoria Stafford, AMBER Alert now has 'guidelines' instead of 'criteria'.
Criteria # 1 and # 2 are put into one guideline in Ontario (http://www.opp.ca/ecms/index.php?id=188) but they are basically the same. So let's say there is an AMBER Alert in New Brunswick where a 17-year-old woman is abducted, the police fear for her life and they have reasonable ground that the suspect and the victim are heading to Quebec - we would issue an AMBER Alert in both provinces. But now, let's say there's a 33-year-old male who is mentally ill who is not abducted and although we fear for the life of the victim, it does not fit the criteria - we would not issue an AMBER Alert.
Quebec and Ontario have a 'Reciprocity Agreement' (formal contract agreeing to share information) for AMBER Alerts, which was signed in 2003 by the Provincial Ministers of Public Safety. In 2009, all provinces signed an inter-governmental MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) enabling collaboration with any province starting with Manitoba and ending in British Columbia wherein any province could issue an AMBER Alert in succession.
VB: Are AMBER Alerts issued in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: No, they are not but at each National AMBER Alert Conference, they are always represented, and while they are trained for AMBER Alerts, the program in each territory is a work in progress. The RCMP are working on it.
VB: How often does DNA and fingerprinting play a role in locating a child, and in what circumstance?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: DNA does not help to locate a child rather identify a child in the worst cases. Fingerprints are as useful as DNA but DNA offers us more possibilities. Let's say we found blood at a specific location and we have a profile of a child whose case we have been working on for a month and there's a match. Will this information help us locate a child? What we can say is that at one point we know the child has been here and lost blood, and that clue could lead us to the child. DNA is used when a child is recovered or rescued and we need to identify that child. There was a case in Missouri where a 14-year-old boy was rescued four years after being abducted. He was found when he helped to lure a new victim with the abductor. So how can we be sure that this child is the same child that was abducted four years ago? The DNA and fingerprints could help the FBI to identify and rescue the child that was abducted four years ago.
VB: In September 2011, you were in Dakar, Senegal (Africa) where you participated with other experts regarding child safety and children's rights. Can you tell me about that experience?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: Yes. The International Bureau for Child Rights (IBCR) located in Montreal is a partner of Francopol and the Sûreté du Québec.
Francopol, an organization established in 2002 and born from the initiative of the Department of International Relations and Protocol of the Sûreté du Québec, and the Training Branch of the French National Police, is an apolitical association whose members support the development of democratic policing, and professional and service-oriented citizens. Their mission is to undertake and respect cultural diversities and to implement the highest standards of ethics, democracy, and respect for human rights. Francopol promotes the development and dissemination of education and teaching tools in French wherein all documentation and information are available to members free of charge.
IBCR was developing a training program for western and central African countries that speak French to train and educate Police Officers on the subject of children's rights, and women's rights as well. It was quite an experience because we exchanged ideas, knowledge and built a framework for future training.
These African countries have some big issues in regards to children's rights, for instance, a child under the age of 12 cannot be considered as a witness and as well cannot be charged with a criminal offence. By law in many African countries, if a 10-year-old boy watches his Mom being killed by his father, he is not considered or respected as a credible witness and therefore his statement will not be taken. In Canada, we cannot accuse or charge a minor (child under the age of 12) with a criminal offence but a child under the age of 12 could be considered as a credible witness. If a child starts a fire, which is a criminal offence, and he/she is 11 years old, he/she will not be charged. Children under the age of 12 and 13 in Canada are considered vulnerable.
There's a lot of work that must continue in regards to children's and women's rights in Africa. While the United Nations was involved in this initiative in Senegal and later in Niger, Francopol offered many, many resources towards the much needed development and education. Illiteracy within the police forces is an ongoing and very serious issue in Africa.
I was invited to participate in this initiative in Senegal to provide resources, knowledge, and tools made available by the Sûreté du Québec to facilitate the development of a training program. I was in good company. Teachers of technique policières, police academies, University professors, and a judge from Australia also participated in the development of this training program to assist the police in children's and women's rights. Many resources from the United Nations (UN) were incorporated into this program as well.
VB: You received Wired Safety's 'Child Safety Leadership Award' in 2011. How did that come about?
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: Four AMBER Alert Coordinators were invited by Mrs. Parry Aftab (one of the five members of the Safety Advisory Committee for Facebook and founder of Wired Safety), to receive this award. Parry Aftab is a lawyer, child advocate and expert in all aspects of cyberlaw, best practices, cyberbullying and cyberharassment, cybercrime and privacy. She is also a risk-management and best practices consultant and advisor to the leaders of the Internet and digital technology industries.
Mrs. Aftab is the wife of Allan McCullough, president of Child Safety Research & Innovation Centre (CSRIC) formerly of Miramichi, New Brunswick and now resides in P.E.I. Parry Aftab and Allan McCullough helped bring Facebook and the AMBER Alert team together by developing and integrating conditions and parameters into the AMBER Alert Facebook page that would better protect children, such as the avoidance of commercial advertisements and 'comments' section because it would become a communication management issue.
Parry Aftab remarked that our AMBER Alert Facebook pages were a great success in Canada especially within five provinces and that is how we became the recipients of the 'Child Safety Leadership Award' in 2011, which we received in New York.
VB: Parents can now subscribe to receive AMBER Alerts on their cells, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, and subscribe to 'Child Alert', an iPhone App where they can create identification records for their children. All the links will be listed at the end of this interview and as well, I contacted the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWSA), and they created a bilingual banner for our website so that our readers can click on the banner and subscribe to receive AMBER Alerts.
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: That's great. That's exactly what I am asking for. I really appreciate it.
VB: You're welcome. One final question. What's the best part of your job?
"If all the work that I, my partners, and colleagues are doing can save one child – that is the best part of my job."
Sergeant Jean-Yves McCann, AMBER Alert Coordinator for the Sûreté du Québec August 28, 2012
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: If we have to issue an AMBER Alert and in the process, we are able to rescue the child safely, then seeing the smiles and relief on the parent's faces is the best part of my job - but that's the end of a sad story. If all the work that I, my partners and colleagues are doing can save one child – that is the best part of my job.
VB: I believe that Canada is a much safer place for children because you're in it. On behalf of all the parents in Canada thank you for your dedication and professionalism in doing 'your job' and thank you so much for allowing me this interview Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann. It was a pleasure talking with you.
Sgt. Jean-Yves McCann: I appreciate the invitation to do this interview and all the work you are doing for the children and the AMBER Alert plan in Canada.
What is an AMBER Alert?
The AMBER Alert system is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement agencies, media outlets, and the public, which establishes a protocol to activate an urgent public appeal for information in the most serious of child abduction cases. The program gives the public up-to-date information about child abduction by using widespread media broadcasts (highway message signs, radio, and television) and solicits the public's help in having the child returned home safely.
When an AMBER Alert is activated, broadcast media interrupt their regular programming and air the AMBER Alert at various timelines for approximately 6 hours or until the Alert is cancelled either upon the successful conclusion of the investigation, or when the Alert is considered no longer effective.
When is an AMBER Alert Activated?
AMBER Alerts are intended for the most serious and time critical abduction cases and not for cases involving runaways or parental abduction, except in life-threatening situations. An AMBER Alert is activated when:
- Police have confirmed that an abduction has taken place
- The victim is a child, or of proven physical or mental disability
- There is reason to believe the victim is in danger of serious physical injury
- There is information available that, if broadcasted to the public, could assist in the safe recovery of the victim.
What Can 'You' Do to Help?
If you hear an AMBER Alert being issued:
- Watch for the child, suspect, and/or vehicle description.
- Give information on the location of the abduction and a description of the victim, suspect, and/or any vehicle involved.
- Immediately report any findings by calling 9-1-1 or the telephone number included in the alert.
Wireless AMBER Alert – It's Free! Subscribe Now! I'll Wait...
DO NOT HESITATE ...not even for a moment.
Subscribe to receive wireless AMBER Alerts!
Click on www.wirelessAMBER.ca NOW!
The participation of the public is essential to the success of AMBER Alert. When a child is abducted, seconds count. Spreading the information as quickly as possible to as many people as possible is critical to the safe return of a child. AMBER Alert empowers communities to work cooperatively with law enforcement and the media to increase the safety of our children. The information that you provide to police may help an abducted child before it is too late.
DID YOU KNOW that you can now receive AMBER Alert text notifications directly on your cell telephone and other wireless devices? For the safety and well-being of children everywhere, do not hesitate – not even for a moment - to subscribe to receive wireless AMBER Alert! Please go to www.wirelessAMBER.ca now and subscribe.
The next child that AMBER Alert helps could be someone you know or someone your children know. Do the right thing for all the right reasons.
AMBER Alerts on Twitter
To receive AMBER alerts issued from twitter:
New Brunswick: https://twitter.com/NBAMBERAlert
AMBER Alerts Now On Facebook
The Canadian AMBER Alert partners are extremely pleased to have Facebook onboard with this important new broadcast tool to help police locate abducted children in Canada. The new AMBER Alert Facebook pages are an excellent broadcast medium that will allow us to reach more Canadians than ever before when we activate AMBER Alerts.
We are asking Canadians throughout the country to subscribe to this new Canadian AMBER Alert Facebook page so that they can instantly receive AMBER Alert broadcasts and help us locate abducted children in Canada. We invite you to subscribe to your provincial Facebook page. Seven pages have been launched so far:
Ontario - http://www.facebook.com/AMBERalertON
New Brunswick - http://www.facebook.com/AMBERalertNB
Newfoundland/Labrador - http://www.facebook.com/AMBERalertNL
Alberta – http://www.facebook.com/abemergalert
- Alberta's Facebook page disseminates AMBER alerts as well as other provincial emergency warnings.
- The remaining provinces are expected to be available soon.
'Child Alert' - Create Your Child's Personal Identification Card
The first few hours following the disappearance of a child are crucial. Reacting quickly can significantly increase the chances of finding a child, however, parents in such a situation are usually in a state of anxiety and panic and therefore incapable of giving accurate information.
Avis de Recherche (ADR.tv), a television channel devoted to public safety, has launched Child Alert, an iPhone APP that allows parents to create and save a digital profile including photos of their children directly on your cell phone. You carry it with you wherever you go and in the event of an emergency being prepared means everything, especially when it comes to the safety and well being of your children.
With Child Alert you can instantly email your child's profile to the proper authorities thereby gaining valuable time and permitting authorities to treat the emergency much more expeditiously. The Child Alert data sheet features height, weight, hair and eye colour, and distinguishing features, as well as photos of your child taken from various angles. The application will prompt you to update the stored information at a frequency of your choice so that your child's profile remains current.
The launch of the Child Alert app has been enthusiastically received by the national police community. ''Our goal at the Centre is to protect and save children's lives. The more tools we have the more we can fulfil our mandate, explains Monique Perras, S/Sgt, and NCO i/c National Missing Children's Services, of the RCMP. We want to congratulate Avis de recherche.tv for their initiative and their support. In working together we can achieve so much more!''
Sergeant Jean-Yves McCann, coordinator of the AMBER alert program for the Sûreté du Québec, agrees wholeheartedly: "When an AMBER alert is activated, time is crucial and every minute counts - so having an electronic ID profile on a cell phone seems like an extremely valuable tool. Clearly we will be able to save a lot of time by broadcasting accurate details of the child and broadcasting photos will greatly increase our chances of success. I would encourage parents in Canada to use this application, which could become a kind of police insurance if your child ever disappears or is abducted."
The Child Alert app can be downloaded for 0.99¢ and for every purchase, ADR.tv will assist organizations that help families look for missing children in Canada. The channel will donate a quarter of all funds raised to the Child Find Organization and Enfant-Retour Québec.
Please click on http://avisderecherche.tv/child-alert.php to download and create your child's Personal Identification Card now! Spread the word! This is a very valuable tool!
Let's Not Forget 'AMBER' Hagerman
On Saturday, January 13, 1996, Amber Hagerman aged nine, her brother Ricky aged five, and their mother Donna, visited their grandmother and grandfather's home in Arlington, Texas. Amber and Ricky asked if they could go for a quick ride on their bicycles and their grandmother, Glenda Whitson said, "OK, but just go once around the block." Amber and Ricky peddled their bicycles to E. Abram Street and went down the grocery store ramp. Ricky, wanting to follow his grandmother's instructions, decided to go back home, and when he arrived, his grandfather, Jimmie Whitson, asked why Amber was not with him. Jimmie Whitson sent Ricky back to get Amber but when Ricky returned, he told his grandfather that he could not find her.
Jimmie Whitson got in his truck, and drove towards the parking lot where he spotted a police car. Once there, the police officer told Jimmie that a man nearby heard a child screaming and saw a young girl being carried into a pickup truck and then immediately called '911'. Jimmie recognized Amber's bicycle and knew instantly that his granddaughter was abducted. From the time Amber left the house to when '911' was called – only 8 minutes had lapsed.
Family members appeared on television begging for Amber's safe return. Police theorized that this was an impetuous crime of opportunity since Amber did not have an established pattern of riding her bicycle at that time of day. By chance, a local TV station had been working on a story about Donna Hagerman's struggle to get off welfare and when they heard of her daughter's abduction, the station released a videotape of Amber to other media outlets. The abduction was front-page news in Texas and Amber's image became so widely known during the investigation that the local police chief would call Amber, "Arlington's child."
Four days after the abduction a man walking his dog spotted Amber's naked body in a creek bed near an apartment complex in North Arlington. Three weeks after the abduction, a task force released a psychological profile to the media hoping that someone would recognize the description. Police pursued over 5,500 leads in the 18 months following the murder and in the summer of 1997, after investing more than one million dollars in the Amber Hagerman investigation, the Arlington police disbanded the task force. Amber's abductor was never found.
"..from the time Amber left the house to when '911' was called only 8 minutes had lapsed.."
Amber Hagerman's grandmother
A man from Dallas asked this question: "When a child is abducted and each minute matters, why can't the police and the media get together to inform the public with the same urgency of, say, a weather warning about a tornado or a hurricane?" Radio and television executives in the Metroplex adopted the idea, and the Dallas AMBER Plan was initiated in July 1997. Under the plan, police provide broadcasters with timely information about abductions including photos and descriptions so word could be spread immediately to the public. Sixteen months later, the AMBER Plan proved its worth.
Sandra Fallis, a babysitter with a drug problem, disappeared with an 8-week-old infant. An alert went out, and Fallis was apprehended within 90 minutes when a driver who heard the alert spotted the woman's truck. The child was returned safely.
Houston set up its own AMBER Plan in 2000, and two years later Texas instituted a statewide AMBER Alert. That same year the U.S. Justice Department began coordinating the program for states and cities. Today, all 50 states and hundreds of cities have AMBER Alert plans.