Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

One Year After Idaho Rescue, AMBER Alerts Still Questioned

Nati Harnik
AP Photo
File image

This week marks the one-year anniversary of a multi-state AMBER Alert involving a kidnapped California teenager.

A group of Idaho backcountry horsemen came across 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and her abductor James Lee DiMaggio last August. When the four horsemen got home, they saw the news of the kidnapping and called police. Anderson was ultimately rescued and DiMaggio was shot to death by a federal agent.

It was another success for the AMBER Alert system and just one of the nearly 700 cases in which the program has been credited with the safe return of a child.

“The whole purpose of AMBER Alert is to rapidly notify the public as soon as possible,” said Robert Hoever of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

But the multi-state alert system has its limitations. Hoever provided statistics that show it only has about a one-in-five success rate.

Timothy Griffin is a criminal justice professor at the University of Nevada Reno who has studied AMBER Alert cases.

“The best bet for any abducted child is not an AMBER Alert, the best bet is the cops,” Griffin said.

In fact, most AMBER Alert cases are solved by the police or later determined to be unfounded. A smaller number of children are found deceased or are still missing.

AMBER Alerts are now broadcast on wireless devices. There’s also a lower-grade alert called an Endangered Missing Person Advisory.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.