Do Amber Alerts help in cases like Athena Strand's kidnapping, murder? What one sheriff says




  • In US
  • 2022-12-03 19:18:00Z
  • By Fort Worth Star-Telegram
 

Texas issues more Amber Alerts than most other states in the United States. In 2018, it ranked No. 1 with 23 alerts, according to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

But does the frequency of the alerts - from pings on personal cell phones to digital highway billboards - render the system as white noise in people's minds?

Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds doesn't think so. Although he said he does not have details on how the system worked in the abduction and killing of Athena Strand in Wise County, he says the system provides essential help to law enforcement investigating abductions.

"To get (critical details) out to the masses with an Amber Alert works so much better," Deeds said.

"The more people who know what's going on and you have eyes out" helps get other people in the area where a child was reported missing to share information, the sheriff said. The piece of information law enforcement gets could be a critical detail about a suspicious person or a vehicle that seems out of place.

The body of 7-year-old Athena Strand was found in Wise County on Friday evening, and a FedEx contract driver has been arrested and accused of kidnapping and killing her, authorities said.

The suspect, Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, is from Fort Worth, according to public records. He's in the Wise County Jail and faces charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping. Authorities said he has confessed to the crime and told them where Athena's body was.

Amber Alerts 'really makes a difference'

Deeds said law enforcement could get critical information out to the public within an hour of an alert being issued.

"It is amazing because we can gather information from a scene, from family, maybe residents or people around the area where the person came up missing," he said.

Deeds also noted that while the information his office gets from an alert often doesn't lead to leads, "sometimes it really makes a difference."

People have been motivated to call in tips to his office through the years, Deeds said. They seem to feel empowered to help and share what they might have seen or heard.

"So, it's a great thing, and it has helped in our county a number of times," he said. "It's normally a pretty quick deal, like up to an hour or less … and we can start looking into things and then getting (our investigation) going."

Amber Alert system: A work in progress

Even so, Fort Worth law enforcement agencies have discussed how the system could work better after a regional Amber Alert went out on May 18 after an 8-year-old girl was reported missing.

The alert was activated more than three hours after the girl was abducted while walking with her mother near Lowden Street and 6th Avenue in Fort Worth.

A week after the incident, local law enforcement agencies gathered to talk about how the alert system could have worked better.

Officials have said they would have sent the alert to Texas residents' mobile devices at 6 a.m. Sunday if the child had not been found at 2:30 a.m. The current practice in Texas is that cell phone alerts are not sent between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., the state Department of Public Safety said.

What is the criteria used to issue an Amber Alert?

For an Amber Alert to be issued, the following criteria has to be met, according to the Department of Justice.

  • There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.

  • The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.

  • The abduction is of a child 17 years or younger.

  • The child's name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

Read more on the Athena Strand case:

  • Timeline: Two days after Athena Strand disappears from Paradise, an arrest is made

  • Exclusive: Sheriff says kidnapping, murder of Athena Strand was a 'crime of opportunity'

  • Who is Tanner Horner, suspect in kidnapping, murder of Texas 7-year-old Athena Strand?

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