More than 20 years ago, Amber Hagerman of Arlington went to ride her pink bicycle and never came back.
Her body was found days later nearby, and her death inspired the Amber Alert — an international broadcast emergency response service to prevent deaths like Amber’s from ever happening again.
This week, Kaytlynn Cargill left to walk her dog and never came back. Her body was found days later. The statewide alert was not activated.
Established in 1996, the Amber Alert system has rescued more than 800 children. It is used in all 50 states and multiple countries.
It’s a vital tool to save kids’ lives.
On the surface level, both cases sound heartbreakingly similar. So why wasn't Kaytlynn’s case buzzing on everyone’s phones in an Amber Alert?
The hard truth is that the Amber Alert has specific rules for a reason, and Kaytlynn’s case didn’t fit.
The Amber Alert was meant to help abducted kids who are in imminent danger. Amber was last seen being pulled into a black pickup truck. Kaytlynn was last reported seen leaving on her own volition.
Nothing about Kaytlynn’s case indicated evidence of an abduction or a description of her being in danger.
Not issuing an Amber Alert doesn’t mean the law enforcement cared less about Kaytlynn or that anyone botched the investigation.
The Bedford police used other local alerts and communication tools to try to locate the 14-year-old.
The Amber Alert wasn’t one of those tools, and it shouldn’t have been.
Some critics might not see the downside of using the communication service in Kaytlynn’s case. There might not be one now, but there will be.
When an Amber Alert goes off on your phone, it should spark action. It is meant to be a lighthouse beacon for everyone to know a kid is in trouble and needs immediate help.
If an alert were sent for every child reported missing, that spark would dim — and the Amber Alert would become just another phone alert.
That’s like sounding a tornado siren every time a thunderstorm rolls through.
It would lose effectiveness.
Kaytlynn’s death is nothing short of tragic. We want swift answers. But the Amber Alert is supposed to be used in very specific instances.
The Bedford police were right not to activate the Amber Alert in this case.