Social media can augment Amber Alerts

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Missouri police are coming under criticism for the length of time it took to issue an Amber Alert in connection with the abduction of a young girl Tuesday.

Hailey Owens, 10, was kidnapped by a stranger at about 4:48 p.m. when a 911 call was received, and officers arrived on the scene 12 minutes later.

State police didn't receive "appropriate documentation" requesting the Amber Alert until 6:31 p.m., and 6:42 p.m. when the alert finally went out across Missouri and three neighboring states. We heard the alert on a Kansas radio stations.

We understand why authorities have to follow certain procedures. Amber Alerts, like any other general public warning, would be rendered meaningless if they were issued every time a young child was a few minutes late arriving home.

But by the time the general alarm was raised, Hailey may have already been dead. Her body was found a few blocks away from her home, in the home of a suspect, a school employee.

Amber Alerts do work; in Virginia, a young girl who was abducted by her aunt was located by officers alongside a highway within 27 minutes of an Amber Alert being issued.

It wasn't issued, however, until the next day.

It's true that someone who "cries wolf" too often is soon ignored.

But we bet social media were humming with news about both abductions long before the official word went out. Yes, a lot of it probably wasn't accurate, but a lot of it probably was.

An authority joining in the conversation might provide inaccurate information, but that can be corrected online as quickly as it is disseminated.

When it comes to the safety of a young child in danger, however, a message on Facebook or Twitter might make the difference between life and death.

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