It’s been more than a month since 14-year-old Kaytlynn Cargill was found dead in a north Arlington landfill, a day after she was reported missing from the Bedford apartment complex where she lived.
Last week, homicidal violence was listed by the Tarrant County medical examiner as the cause of her death, but little else has been revealed.
Charles Clark of Bedford, though, has been busy, collecting more than 1,300 digital signatures on his petition to change the criteria for issuing an Amber Alert. He said that as a longtime Bedford resident with a teenage daughter, the disappearance and death of Cargill hit especially close to home.
The decision to not issue an Amber Alert after Kaytlynn disappeared has been widely questioned, but police followed the guidelines. They did not definitively view her disappearance June 19 as unwilling, one of the criteria, though the department did post on Facebook about a missing person.
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Clark’s petition advocates for issuing alerts any time a child who has not previously run away or expressed intent to run away goes missing. It also questions the importance of including suspect or suspect vehicle information, which are usually included in Amber Alerts.
But after meeting separately with Bedford Police Chief Jeff Gibson and North Richland Hills Police Chief Jimmy Perdue, Clark has shifted his approach.
“They’re worried about watering down Amber Alerts, about increasing the number of cases that are deemed Amber Alerts, and then desensitizing people to the notifications on their phones and the whole idea of the seriousness of the Amber Alert,” Clark said. “And I get that.”
He is meeting with police chiefs and other law enforcement officials in Tarrant County to get input on the subject before he begins beating down doors at the state level. His premise: Times have changed, human trafficking was not as big a phenomenon in 1996, when Amber Alerts were first implemented, and the criteria for issuing the statewide call should shift along with the times.
The idea that he will be workshopping with law enforcement officials is adding what he calls an “age-bracket alert” akin to statewide Silver Alerts, which were created in 2007 and designed to notify the public of missing adults, 65 or older, with diagnosed mental impairments.
He wants to see the same thing happen for anyone reported missing, 14 and younger, with no previous history of running away. Even if there is no suspect or suspect vehicle information available, information about the case would be spread by law enforcement agencies statewide on social media, and missing person messages would be activated on digital highway message boards.
“I’ve completely shifted my focus now,” Clark said. “After hearing law enforcement concerns, I think it would be best to leave the Amber Alert alone as the top-tier alert for confirmed abductions, but add a layer of alerts whose guidelines are less strict. If it gives the public and law enforcement a better chance of recovering even one child, it’s worth it.”
He agrees with the Bedford Police Department’s decision not to issue an Amber Alert in Cargill’s case, saying they followed protocol.
“According to standards set, they were right in that case to hold off on an Amber Alert,” said Clark, who is retired and has a background in law enforcement. “What I got to thinking about was, ‘What if that was my daughter?’ If there is a chance that any additional alert could save even one young life, those additional alerts are worth it.”
Bedford police said again last week there are no suspects and the public is not in danger.