“I have an emergency.”
“I can’t find my daughter.”
“I haven’t seen him since noon.”
It happened to Kelli Connours. Her heart stopped when she couldn’t find her son.
“He got mad. He took off.”
She called local police, told her friends, anything she could think of. The family lives near two major interstates, and she knew, her son could be anywhere.
“You hear so much about abductions and it’s scary. Very scary.”
She started researching Amber Alerts, only to find out her son wouldn’t qualify.
“It’s important to have very specific information to release to the public.”
Craig Burge is the Illinois Amber Alert coordinator. He says there’s a reason they couldn’t help Connours’ son.
“There are four requirements for an Amber Alert activation in Illinois.”
There has to be a law enforcement-verified abduction; the child has to be under the age of 16; there has to be a danger of severe bodily harm or death; and descriptive information about the child, vehicle and suspect.
But, what if a parent doesn’t know? Connours watched the situation unfold right down the street.
7-year old Willow Long was missing. No one seemed to know where she could be or if she was abducted.
“It was a tragedy what happened, but at the time, we didn’t know.”
Her body was found days later. She’d been stabbed to death. The Amber Alert wouldn’t have helped Willow, but it sparked something inside of Connours to fight for change.
“You want to lock your kids in the house. You have people wondering, what happened? Where is this child? And, there’s no warning sent out whatsoever.”
That’s what Connours want’s to change. Besides an Amber Alert, parents could turn to “Willow’s Warning.” There are no requirements to meet. A call to police, then they will send out an automated text message to the community, almost immediately after the child disappears.
“Hopefully, the one’s missing, they’ll be found sooner.”
Burge doesn’t think it’s a bad idea, but says there has to be a line drawn somewhere.
“Whether it be in a specific store or gas station, when you release just a picture of a small child, everyone will report that they’ve located that child. The guidelines are a necessity for us to be able to return those small percentages of children that go missing out there.”
In 2012, there were more than 26,000 reports of missing persons under the age of 18 in Illinois. Burge says Amber Alerts should only be used when necessary.
“If we release an Amber Alert for each one of these missing persons, we would desensitize the public.”
Since the alerts began in 2002, 93 have been issued. Of those, 41 kids were found.
“One child, two children, ten children; it’s worth it. Regardless of what the numbers say, an Amber Alert’s goal is ultimately to bring back that child safely.”
Burge says Amber Alerts are just one small tool police use, and, even if kids don’t qualify for an Amber Alert, they’re never forgotten.
“Those other cases will still be treated and still be investigated and there are other resources that can be utilized in those cases.”
For Connours, that’s not enough. She wants more options; not only for her son, and for Willow, but for every parent who’s gone through what she has.
“I care about children. I have four of my own. It’s just who I am.”
The family started a petition. It already has more than 5,000 signatures from all over the country. But, police say it will take a lot more for Willow’s Warning to be put into effect.
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