Each year, law enforcement officers and communities across the nation observe AMBER Alert Awareness Day on Jan. 13. This year, area residents are encouraged to learn more about the alert system and its importance in locating missing and abducted children.
"AMBER Alert Awareness Day is a very important day," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. "The awareness day was started several years ago to promote a super tool that gets alerts out to the public.
"AMBER alerts even go out to cell phones now," said Epperly. "It is a great tool that helps law enforcement officers find missing children quickly."
This year's AMBER Alert Awareness Day will mark 15 years since the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas. Hagerman's killer has never been found.
Hagerman's murder launched the America's Missing Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert concept. The system allows alerts to be incorporated into modern day technology and reach the public through radio, television, Internet and cell phone text alerts.
"When an AMBER Alert is issued this gives information to the public and makes them aware of what they need to look for," said Cassville Police Chief Dana Kammerlohr. "Washington University did a study that stated 74 percent of children that are kidnapped and later found murdered were killed within the first three hours. So this tells us the faster a child is located the better the outcome may be.
"With the public having the victim, suspect and vehicle description there is a better chance of the child being located and authorities notified," said Kammerlohr. "I would encourage people to pay attention and write down the information that is given during an AMBER Alert as they may see something that may bring that child back home."
Local community members can assist law enforcement with child abduction recovery through the AMBER Alert program by signing up for wireless alerts at www.wirelessamberalerts.org.
Cell phone subscribers capable of receiving text messages can also register on their wireless carrier's website. Wireless users designate up to five zip codes from which they would like to be alerted in the case of an AMBER Alert activation.
Individuals with information on the abducted child or suspect vehicle can call the posted law enforcement agency number on the bulletin in order to provide officials with as much information about the sighting or location of the victim as possible.
On Jan. 8, 2007, when Ben Ownby was abducted from a bus stop in St. Louis, an AMBER Alert was broadcast with his information.
"A young boy remembered seeing a vehicle that was in the area of Ben's disappearance," said Kammerlohr. "He gave the information to the authorities, and on Jan. 12, 2007, Ben was located along with a suspect. Shawn Hornbeck, who went missing in 2002, was at the residence also.
"Without the authorities receiving this information, the outcome may have been very different," said Kammerlohr. "People can make a difference."
There are over 100 AMBER Alert Plans nationwide, including 28 regional plans. Plans have also been established in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.
Since its inception, over 500 children have been safely recovered through the AMBER Alert system.
For more information, visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website at www.missingkids.com.