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Front Page » April 9, 2002 » Local News » Area law enforcement agencies endorse abduction alert system
Published 4,608 days ago

Area law enforcement agencies endorse abduction alert system


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter


Children are abducted daily at various locations across the United States. Some are family abductions, while others are incidents where youngsters are taken by total strangers. The new Rachael Runyon Alert system will aide law enforcement investigators by informing the public about abductions shortly after the incidents happen, thereby putting thousands of law-abiding citizens into action looking for the suspect and the young kidnapping victim.

The disturbing scenario is rapidly becoming a frequent nightmare across Utah and the United States.

A parent is working in his garage when a friend of his little boy comes running in and tells the father that his young son has just been pulled into a car by a strange man.

The distraught parent calls 911 and reports the incident to the authorities and law enforcement launches an attempt to locate the missing youngster.

In the past, the alert would have gone out to all the authorities to look for the little boy and his abductor.

But now when an abduction incident happens, there just won't be a few dozen police officers looking for the abducted child, but possibly thousands of sets of eyes will be on the lookout.

Last week, the local heads of law enforcement in the Carbon County area and the Utah Chiefs of Police Association announced that from now on people watching television or listening to the radio may soon be enlisted to help find abducted children.

The move by the UCPA is supported by all local law enforcement officials, including Police Chief Aleck Shilaos of Price, Chief Sam Leonard of East Carbon City, Chief Lee Berry of Wellington, Police Chief George Zamantakis of Helper and Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova.

"It was unanimous with the police leadership in Carbon County," indicated Shilaos. "We all support it."

People have become accustomed to the sound of the Emergency Broadcast System.

It was originally put in place in the 1950s to warn Americans of impending disaster, particularly about an outside attack on the United States with atomic weapons.

During the years, the Emergency Broadcase System has been adapted to warn people of potential natural disasters, weather related phenomenon as well as other kinds of emergencies.

The attention-getting shrill beeps will now be used to get out details about a confirmed kidnapping case.

In Utah, the system will be known as the "Rachael Alert."

Using the alert, radio stations will announce the abductions and television stations will air the child's photograph and provide important information in a "crawl" at the bottom of the screen.

The alert system is named after Rachael Marie Runyan.

The 3-year-old was kidnapped on Aug. 26, 1982 while she was playing with her two brothers at a park in Sunset.

Witnesses indicated that the abductor offered Rachael some gum and then put her in his car and drove away.

Rachael's body was found 24 days later in Weber Canyon.

"The heartbreaking statistic is that 74 percent of children abducted by strangers are killed within three hours of being taken," noted Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. "The Rachael Alert will give kids an extra chance to survive."

The program was adopted after the chiefs of police and sheriffs throughout the state met recently in St. George and voted to adopt the new program.

Utah is joining a growing number of states using the alert program, known nationally as the "Amber Plan," to disseminate information quickly while the trail is still fresh.

The original nationwide alert was started in 1996 and was named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle and brutally murdered in Arlington, Texas.

Law enforcement officials support implementing the plan because the public becomes part of the solution.

"Within moments, we will have thousands of people ready, willing and able to help," pointed out Kal Farr, executive director of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association.

To date, at least 16 children have been saved using the Amber Plan in other areas of the nation.

So far, 33 communities have implemented the program and Utah is the ninth state to endorse the statewide alert program.

"This is the best way to get the message out quickly and in the most places possible," said Dale Zabriskie, executive director of the Utah Broadcasters Association. I can't think of a better way for broadcasters to serve the public than by trying to save the lives of children."

The Rachael Alert is unique because the program can only be activated by law enforcement. It is only used for serious child abduction cases and cannot be used for runaways or most parental abduction cases unless the child's life is being threatened.

The program exemplifies unprecedented cooperation between local law enforcement officials and the media through the Utah Broadcasters Association.

When the criteria for an alert is met, local law enforcement will immediately notify all Utah radio and television stations. In turn, the media will broadcast descriptions of the suspect and the victim.

That criteria includes:

•An abducted child must be 15 years of age or younger, or has a physical or mental disability.

•There is evidence that the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death.

•There is sufficient information available to give out to the public that could assist in safe recovery of the victim and/or apprehension of a suspect.

The system is sponsored by the non-profit Missing and Exploited Children's Center that is based in Alexandria, Va. The center supports many kinds of programs that aid children and, in particular, deals with crimes against children, explained Shilaos

According to the Price police chief, the system is set up to work statewide when a child, whose situation meets the criteria, is taken against his or her will and will of their parents.

"There is a single toll-free number we will call and a FAX number to which we can send the pertinent information," stated Shilaos. "Then, the system alerts people statewide over the radio and television."

The system, which is currently operating in 33 different areas, has resulted in the release of kidnapped children even before the police caught up with suspects.

"There are at least three cases where the suspects heard the alert on the radio in their cars and released the kids before anyone caught up with them. That isn't very many - but even if it just saves one child, it is worth it," pointed out Chief Shilaos.


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