NORFOLK, Va - When someone disappears, the hours directly following their disappearance are crucial to finding them. When a child or senior is missing, officials can issue Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts, but for those in between, resources are lacking. Delegate Jerrauld "Jay" Jones is trying to bridge that gap, with a new piece of legislation that could save lives.
"I do believe that at the end of the day this is a public safety issue this isn't a bipartisan issue," explained Jones.
The Ashanti Alert is something Jones says he began working on as soon as he was elected. Ashanti Billie, a Virginia Beach college student disappeared in September while Jones was running for office. Her body was found in North Carolina in October, shortly before Jones was elected.
"After we won, the Billie family came to me. They asked if I could help them," said Jones. "They say they lost their daughter but didn't want this to happen to other young women and people."
Since Ashanti was 18, she was too old for an Amber Alert, but too young for a Silver Alert which is used for people over the age of 60 who disappear.
"We need something in place to allow law enforcement to use the same sort of infrastructure for those between the age of 18 and 60."
Similar to the Amber Alert and Silver Alert, the Ashanti Alert will have criteria that needs to be met first before an alert is sent out. Jones says it will be up to State Police to create the criteria for the alert. This way they can distinguish between those who voluntarily disappear and those who have been taken.
"Obviously when you turn 18, you are an adult under the eyes of the law, but that does not mean you can fend for yourself," said Jones.
Drafting the criteria for an Ashanti Alert will be difficult since every missing person case is different. Missing Fairfax County teenager, Johlie Mousa, fits the age of an Amber Alert, but because her family says she willingly left her home on January 12th, she is considered a runaway, making her ineligible for an Amber Alert.
"We will be working with State Police on the passage of this bill, hopefully. We will write it so it gets the right people, that we don`t cast too broad of a net or cast too small of a net."
According to Jones there is still a lot of work to be done before the Ashanti Alert gets on Governor Ralph Northam's desk. However, there is no budget amendment required for it. Jones says Stat Police have agreed to absorb the one time cost of $50,000 to expand their already existing infrastructure with the Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts.