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San Diego abduction shows successful use of Amber Alert system

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Amber Alert system, where children who are suspected of being abducted or kidnapped getting immediate widespread media attention is being credited with saving countless lives. The search for San Diego teenager Hannah Anderson is one of the system's most recent success stories. While the Anderson case is among the higher profile cases, as Robert Hoever, director of special operations at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children points out, that instance was just an example of the countless times the Amber Alert system has been successfully used.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Since the system's implementation in 1996 and July of this year, at least 656 children have been rescued due to the diligence of citizens responding to an Amber Alert. The system works with law enforcement, broadcasters and federal authorities on the nationwide program.

Hoever defined "success stories" as verified abduction reports in which children are recovered safely.

Of the 2,064 abducted or missing children who underwent Amber Alerts between 2005 and 2012, 394 were rescued. The vast majority of those cases, or 2,030 were resolved. The term "resolved" can mean different meanings, such as false alarms. Some cases remain ongoing. Investigations take time and actions taken in the first hours after a child disappears are crucial, experts say.

"Hannah's case stood out because it has other tragedies -- the killing of her mother and brother, the nationwide manhunt. But it's also very important because it was just textbook how this program should be used," Hoever says. "You had the combination of a new technology, with very careful moves by investigators to broaden the sending of the Amber Alerts as new leads came in."

A 10-second, high-pitched tone rang on thousands of mobile phones across the West Coast on August 4, which was the first use of a new wireless alert system.

The alert announced that authorities in Southern California were looking for 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and her eight-year-old brother Ethan. Their grandmother had reported them missing, the same day that James DiMaggio's home burned down. Red flags went up after the children's father would later describe DiMaggio as a onetime family friend.

Inside DiMaggio's burned home were the remains of the children's mother, Christina Anderson and a body that would later be identified as Ethan's. Hannah had last been seen at cheerleading practice near her San Diego home August 3.

Acting on a tip that DiMaggio might be heading into Nevada, the alerts were expanded to that state. When new clues suggested DiMaggio might be entering Oregon  and Washington state, the alerts were activated there. When the state of Idaho became a possible destination, cell phones buzzed there, too.

Hannah's abduction was the first time the new, federally administered Wireless Emergency Alerts program was issued statewide.

"The wireless program was also used in five states at one time," Hoever said. "That is the largest use of the program I've seen."

Horseback riders that spotted Hannah and DiMaggio in rugged Idaho terrain sensed something was wrong. The teenager and the man were inappropriately dressed for the wilderness and their tent was pitched on a mountain like someone inexperienced in camping might do.

Exchanging a few words with DiMaggio, they later saw Hannah's Amber Alert on television.
The riders contacted Idaho State Police, and their tip over sent FBI agents swarming to the camping spot outside Cascade, in central Idaho.

Hannah was rescued. DiMaggio died in a confrontation with an FBI agent.

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