Should the Amber Alert system be changed? - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Should the Amber Alert system be changed?

By James Clark and Alex Butler - email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) -  A child goes missing in the United States every 40 seconds and many go missing without a trace. The Amber Alert is responsible for the safe return home of over 500 children across the US. It went nationwide in 2003 and while the Amber Alert boasts many happy endings, some families in West Texas have children that have gone missing which don't meet the criteria.

The Amber Alert system has specific criteria: 1) Law Enforcement Confirms an Abduction, 2) Risk of Serious Bodily Injury or Death, 3) A Suspect or Sufficient Descriptive Information of a Vehicle or license plate, and 4) Age of Child (17 or younger). 

In October of 2008 Lubbock police knew that the parents of three children had been tricked into letting them go with Kenneth Wilcox, 41, and the kids were likely in danger.  But police could not get an official Amber Alert.  Wilcox was ultimately convicted and the kids were recovered unharmed. 

In late December of 2010 Hailey Dunn, 13, turned up missing from Colorado City and has still not been found.  Like the Lubbock case, police asked for but could not get a statewide Amber Alert.

 "I see a little girl or a little boy walking home alone and I get real nervous cause it can happen just like that. Someone stops, grabs them and then they are gone and you don't know what happened to them," Glenda Whitson said.

The Amber Alert was named for Glenda Whitson's granddaughter, Amber Hagerman. She was kidnapped and murdered after someone in a truck grabbed her from her bicycle in Arlington, TX.

"It makes us feel good whenever a child is brought home," Whitson said.

But with all success stories there are also crushing disappointments, for those who hoped for an Amber Alert when a child disappeared only to be told their case didn't qualify.

Take Hailey Dunn for example, she's been missing from her mother's home in Colorado City for two months now.

"We understand its a system and the system is designed to handle very specific types of abductions, right now we don't have that evidence, " Colorado City Manager Pete Kampfer said.

Lawmakers are seeking change with a new bill that proposes to make the Amber Alert more flexible. "Police are in a quandary as to where to issue, when to issue, how to issue, so this I think gives them a little more flexibility," 83rd District Representative Charles Perry said.

The new bill hopes to loosen restrictions on abductions, for example, still issuing an Amber Alert even if the child leaves willingly. "It will also give police the rights to go ahead and get one out and issue it and get it going, " Perry continued.

The bill would extend the alert to include the physically or mentally disabled regardless of age.

"Were already doing it so lets just broaden the alert, so we might catch the folks who are falling through the cracks," Perry said.

However, Amber Hagerman's grandmother says while she understands the desire for change,  the criteria is specific for a reason.

"If they do that and then find out she ran away, the Amber Alert wouldn't be as effective that's what they're trying to say is that they really need to know for sure," Whitson said.

State lawmakers agree and hope to find a solution that will continue to bring America's children home.

Should the criteria be changed to get an Amber Alert on a wider range of cases?  Visit KCBD NewsChannel 11's Facebook page and voice your opinion.


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