The recent Amber Alert issued in Utah reminds me of the first false Amber Alert I experienced at our ABC sister station in Kansas City, Missouri. The alert generated cable news network fodder for a few days from guests like Phil Donahue.
It was the summer of 2002 and I was shadowing KMBC's Chief Reporter. His name is Kris Ketz. He is easily KC's best live reporter, though he now anchors KMBC's morning news and does a fantastic job.
I was sitting at a computer in the newsroom when the Amber Alert was issued. The reaction was swift and strong.
Laura Moritz, Kris Ketz, Emily Alyward, I think Jeremy Hubbard (who now reports for Nightline from New York) and I made a quick trip to the home where the girl was reported missing. Her parents were grief stricken.
KMBC's reporters and anchors were calm and swift on the scene. Kris talked with police. Laura talked with the parents. Emily talked with neighbors. It seems like 10 minutes after pulling up they were tag teaming back and forth on live television dispensing crucial information about the girl.
From my point of view they were amazing and their performance generated a small crowd of people standing a looking. I remember hearing one woman say, "Wow look at them go."
In the mean time, police and neighbors were searching the area as other news stations also dispensed information.
Turns out, the small girl emerged from her own home several hours later. She fell asleep in a closet. Her parents were relieved and embarrassed.
Parents and police said they searched the home, but did not find a little girl.
Strict guidelines dictate whether an Amber Alert is issued. They are listed below:Summary of Department of Justice Recommended Criteria
- There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
- The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
- There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
- The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.
- The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.
There will continue to be false Amber Alerts (though I still don’t know what to think of the Alert issued Thursday). False Amber Alerts are rare. I hope they don’t keep us from saving the life of a child in real danger.