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Alert System Helps Locate Missing Children

  • Tabinda Naeem

Every day thousands of children around the world are reported missing. Authorities in the United States have devised a special method to alert the public and police about missing children who, in a small number of cases, have been abducted. The alert was named after a kidnapped girl and is known as the Amber Alert. VOA's Jim Bertel has more.

On average, 800,000 children are reported missing in the U.S. every year, but only a small number of these are kidnappings. The Amber Alert program was created in 1996 to help find children believed to be abducted. It is named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and brutally murdered while riding her bicycle in Arlington, in the southern state of Texas. The tragedy galvanized the entire state and since then the program has spread nationwide.

RADIO ANNOUNCER: "This is an activation of the Amber Alert system at the request of the Arlington Police Department. Arlington police say a child, a two month-old female baby has been kidnapped."

When a child under 18 years of age is abducted, local radio stations broadcast special "alerts."

RADIO ANNOUNCER: "Police believe the victim was abducted by her babysitter." A white female 42 years of age, five foot three [1.6 meters], 135 pounds [61 kilograms], with black hair, brown eyes, and driving a turquoise 1993 Ford Ranger Splash pickup truck…"

Robert Hover, with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the alert has expanded. "Now we use the Internet, radio, we use television, the department of transportation, the roadway signs, lottery machines, we send out alerts to truckers -- to the trucking industry. There are a variety of ways and any new technology that comes up we try to embrace that technology to get that information out."

And that now includes distributing Amber Alerts through, the popular networking site. Whenever an an Amber Alert is issued, the information will be relayed to every MySpace user who lives in the same zip code as the missing child.

Police Officer Brian Johnson believes this will play a key role in locating missing children. "The more people that see it, the more likely that somebody is going to recognize the people that they see and give me a call."

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been assisting law enforcement agencies with missing child cases since long before Amber Alerts went into effect. Established in 1984, the center's mission is to help prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation and to help find missing children.

Hover says there are many reasons children are abducted. "You have everything from infant abductions to family abductions, non-family abductions. Sometimes it is a family dispute where one parent wants to take the child from the other parent. There could be custody disputes. There are many non-family situations where there are sexual motivations, where people are looking to sexually exploit the child. There are a whole variety of reasons why somebody would actually abduct the child."

Robert Hover says the center's search for abducted children can now extend around the globe. "We have a sister agency that is referred to as the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and globally they have offices all around the world."

Since its inception, the National Center has helped police find more than 100,000 children. The Amber Alert system has perhaps most of all helped to raise the public's consciousness about this serious and worldwide problem.