The guidelines law enforcement must follow to issue an Amber Alert

Posted at 12:22 PM, Jan 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-31 18:52:42-05

NORFOLK, Va. -  Many people have expressed concern that an AMBER Alert was never issued in the most recent case of missing 16-year Jholie Moussa.

“It has to meet certain criteria, that’s not to say we were not concerned for Jholie. We interviewed an awful lot of people and we will continue to until we bring justice to this case,” Major Rich Perez of the Fairfax County Police Department said.

Moussa fell under the allowed age category to issue an AMBER Alert, but there were other reasons police did not send out an alert.

“The question is why was she listed as a runaway. That’s the best information we had at that time. On the 13th of January we go by the best information we had at that time,” Perez said.

There are five categories that guide law enforcement when deciding to issue an Amber Alert:

  1. Law enforcement believe the child was abducted.
  2. The child is believed to be in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  3. There is enough descriptive information of the child and abductor.
  4. The child is 17-year-old or younger.
  5. The child’s information and critical data has been entered into the national crime information center system.

In Moussa’s case, she left her home and told her sister she was leaving to go to a party--which did not alert to police that she was in imminent danger.

“We believe an abduction was involved in this case and at that point, the minute that that occurred that tripped the AMBER Alert system,”

This is not the first time the public has questioned why an amber alert wasn't issued.

34-year-old Keir Johnson and her 8-month-old baby Chloe went missing on April 30.

It wasn’t until two weeks after the pair was missing that state police issued an amber alert.

Police said there was no reason to think the two were abducted or in danger.

“When they first were reported missing, there was very little evidence to suggest that there wasn't any indication of an abduction at all, they were just missing,” said Hampton Police Chief Terry Sult.

On the national AMBER Alert website, it says the guidelines are recommendations created to help law enforcement minimize deadly delays because of confusion among varying jurisdictions.

It says issuing alerts without significant information that an abduction has occurred could lead to abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness.

Delegate Jay Jones is pushing for the "Ashanti alert," named after Ashanti Billie. 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.

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.

“Nothing was in place to allow law enforcement to use the same sort of infrastructure for those of us between the ages of 18 and 60,” Jones said.

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.

That bill is currently in the general assembly.