What qualifies for an Amber Alert?

Law enforcement has specific guidelines for when to issue alerts, what happens next

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Amber Alerts are designed with one main thing in mind: to quickly get information about missing children distributed to the most people possible to help find them.

Amber is actually an acronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, named after Amber Hagerman, a child kidnapped in Texas in 1996.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement administers the program in the state and a missing child case must meet five criteria to activate an Amber Alert:

  • The child must be under 18 years of age.
  • There must be a clear indication of an abduction.
  • The law enforcement agency's preliminary investigation must conclude that the child's life is in danger.
  • There must be a detailed description of the child, abductor and/or vehicle to broadcast to the public.
  • The activation must be recommended by the local law enforcement agency of jurisdiction.

Once activated, the alert will go out to all cellphones in the area, be posted on the Florida Department of Transportation message signs, electronic billboards, lottery machines and sent to all law enforcement agencies across the state.

This is the fourth Amber Alert in the Jacksonville in four months. Nov. 7’s reported disappearance of 5-year-old Taylor Rose Williams ended with the discovery of her remains in Alabama. Investigators suspect Taylor was dead long before she was reported missing and her mother was arrested on charges of neglect and lying to police. The two previous searches had much happier endings. A 10-year-old picked up by two women after leaving Argyle Elementary Aug. 22 and a 13-year-old believed taken by a 38-year-old man in Jacksonville on Sept. 22 were both recovered safely in a matter of hours.

The Amber Alert for Braxton and Bri’ya Williams is among eight active AMBER Alerts in Florida at this time. One child on that list is well known to people in greater Jacksonville: Haleigh Cummings, who disappeared Feb. 2, 2009, from her father’s home in Satsuma. FDLE and other law enforcement agencies said they will keep an Amber Alert on file until a child is found, even if is no longer an active case.

Among the actions triggered when an Amber Alert is issued is the multi-agency Child Abduction Response Team joins the search.

"It’s a multijurisdictional team that’s trained up to its highest level if they have a missing or abducted child case," said Derek Van Luchene, the National Child Abduction Response Team coordinator. "In a lot of these cases, if we don’t have organization at the beginning of the case it can get way out of hand. Leads can be missed, evidence can be missed, so we train child abduction response teams. When they respond everybody knows there role."

Van Luchene has seen the difference the child abduction response team can make.

“In fact, in Florida we have seen children that have been recovered and the CART was deployed from the beginning and we have good outcomes with these cases,” he said. “Not all the time, but the better organized the better we can respond to these things.”