Originally Published: August 30, 2002 3 p.m.
Arizona soon will have its own version of the Amber Alert system that helped police catch and kill an escaped convict and reunite the two teen-aged girls he abducted with their families.
The Arizona Child Abduction Alert Plan takes effect on Sept. 16. It will allow law enforcement agencies to broadcast information about abducted children statewide within minutes.
In the California case, the escapee abducted two girls from a "lover's lane" area and fled with them in the car belonging to one of the boyfriends. The Amber Alert system, which gets it name from a young girl who died at the hands of her abductor in Texas, immediately broadcast not only descriptions of the girls but also the description and license number of the Ford Bronco that belonged to the boyfriend.
An animal control officer in a community some miles away remembered the broadcast and alerted authorities when she saw the vehicle. A short time later, the abductor died in a shoot-out with sheriff's deputies.
The criteria for a law enforcement officer in the field getting a statewide alert on the system states that the officer must believe the child involved is not yet 18, is an abduction victim and is in imminent danger. It also warrants an alert if the missing child is disabled or has serious medical problems.
The system isn't for people involved in child custody disputes.
Although the over-all incidence of child abductions in the country was declining before a few high-profile cases, such as the Danielle Van Dam, Samantha Runnion and Elizabeth Smart cases generated so much publicity, this system can't take effect too soon.
One heart-breaking case like the Runnion abduction and murder is too many. We must remember that for the new system to work effectively, the public must be alert to breaking news reports, observant of the people and vehicles they encounter, and in a hurry to report any people or vehicles that match the broadcast descriptions.