Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Sun, Dec. 08

Editorial: Alert upgrades could’ve saved little girl

This past May I took a trip to Colorado to see family; remember, I told you about my drive and storm warnings (May 10 editorial). On that same trip, as a news junkie, when I stopped in northwest New Mexico to get a soda and stretch my legs I looked at a local newspaper.

I read with interest and disbelief about a young man who had been arrested – admitting he sought out like a predator someone to assault (to put it mildly). The story detailed the statements he made upon his arrest; he has since been charged in an 11-year-old girl’s death.

I was on or near Navajo Nation lands, where the alleged crime took place. And, I recall seeing signs on Interstate 40 telling travelers to tune to a radio station for details about an Amber Alert; I heard nothing there, maybe the alert was over by then.

However, I was shocked this week to see that Navajo Nation leaders are in talks with the U.S. government to establish an emergency alert system across the 27,000-square-mile reservation. It would establish an Integrated Public Alert & Warning System on tribal land, according to the Farmington Daily Times.

While the program is a federal alert system created in 2006 in response to Hurricane Katrina, it also would function for Amber Alerts, which help locate children who are in harm’s way and/or missing.

I say I was shocked, not only because I remember the case that led to this, but also because currently the reservation uses separate systems in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, all part of the Navajo Nation. All can have small differences that keep alerts from being sent simultaneously or across the entire reservation.

Said a different way, they don’t automatically take up another state’s alert, so the tribe has to contact each one and make sure an alert meets its criteria. It seems Navajo officials followed protocol in getting the word out on the girl’s disappearance but the alert was not issued until the next day in New Mexico and only briefly in Arizona.

The Daily Times reports that talks are continuing between the tribe and the DOJ, and the Nation could have to pay between $50,000 and $100,000 in software upgrades.

Let’s get this straight: the Amber Alert system – named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in Texas – originated in 1996. That’s 20 years ago, folks, and no one thought of this patch-over upgrade until now?!

May God rest little Ashlynne Mike’s soul. The little girl might still be alive had this been fixed sooner.

With all of our advances and technology today, the excuse of rural areas – or tribal lands – always being behind the times doesn’t hold water for me anymore.

- Tim Wiederaenders, city editor

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