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Similar to wandering incidents in older adults with Alzheimer's and related dementias, those with intellectual disabilities (Autism, Developmental Disorders etc.), are also prone to wandering into unsafe environments. In year 2011, Texas AMBER Alert legislation was updated to include alerts for missing persons (of any age) with an intellectual disability. In order to avoid public confusion with AMBER Alerts for abducted children, the name "Endangered Missing Persons Alert" was selected.
The below represents Endangered Missing Persons Alert criteria for the state's network:
- Has the missing person been diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability and/or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, including Asperger's Disorder, Autistic Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett's Disorder or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified)? If the missing person has been diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability, law enforcement shall require a written diagnosis from a physician or psychologist licensed to practice within Texas, or certified by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services and/or Texas Department of State Health Services.
- Is it confirmed that an investigation has taken place, verifying that a reasonable explanation for the missing person's disappearance has been ruled out and that the disappearance poses a credible threat to the health and safety of the missing person?
- Is the Endangered Missing Persons Alert request being made within 72 hours of the missing person's disappearance?
- Is there sufficient information available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the missing person? (Highway signs will be activated only if accurate vehicle information is available AND it is confirmed that the missing person was in the vehicle at the time of the disappearance).
Wandering impacts families and caregivers statewide, affecting those who suffer with various mental conditions, to include Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The state's Silver Alert program was created by Texas legislation in year 2007, designed to notify the public of missing older adults with a documented mental condition.
The below represents Silver Alert criteria for the state's network:
- Is the missing person 65 years of age or older?
- Does the senior citizen have a diagnosed impaired mental condition, and does the senior citizen's disappearance pose a credible threat to the senior citizen's health and safety? (Law enforcement shall require the family or legal guardian of the missing senior citizen to provide documentation from a medical or mental health professional of the senior citizen's condition).
- Is it confirmed that an investigation has taken place verifying that the senior citizen's disappearance is due to his/her impaired mental condition, and alternative reasons for the senior citizen's disappearance have been ruled out?
- Is the Silver Alert request within 72 hours of the senior citizen's disappearance?
- Is there sufficient information available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the senior citizen? (Highway signs will be activated only if accurate vehicle information is available AND it is confirmed that the senior citizen was driving the vehicle at the time of the disappearance).
Note: A physician's letterhead, indicating the impaired mental condition, date of diagnosis, patient's name, with physician's signature is recommended to satisfy the documentation requirement.
The Amber Alert System
Local community reaction to the brutal kidnapping and death of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, TX (1996), prompted local media and law enforcement to create the nation’s first AMBER Alert program in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area. AMBER Alerts inform the public of serious child abductions, in an effort to promote tips and leads to law enforcement. In memory of the tragic death of Amber Hagerman, the letters of her name can be seen within the title of the program, America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER).
In 2002, Governor Rick Perry created the state's AMBER Alert network per Executive Order RP-16, later codified through legislation in 2003. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) was given legislative authority to coordinate the state's AMBER Alert network, which served as the role model for the subsequent Silver, Blue, and Endangered Missing Persons alert programs.
The below represents AMBER Alert criteria for the state's network:
- Is this child 17 years of age or younger, whose whereabouts are unknown, and whose disappearance law enforcement has determined to be unwilling which poses a credible threat to the child's safety and health; and if abducted by a parent or legal guardian, was the abduction in the course of an attempted murder or murder?
Is this child 13 years of age or younger, who was taken (willingly or unwillingly) without permission from the care and custody of a parent or legal guardian by:
- someone unrelated and more than three years older,
- another parent or legal guardian who attempted or committed murder at the time of the abduction?
- someone unrelated and more than three years older,
- Is this child in immediate danger of sexual assault, death or serious bodily injury?
- Has a preliminary investigation verified the abduction and eliminated alternative explanations for the child's disappearance?
- Is sufficient information available to disseminate to the public to help locate the child, a suspect, or the vehicle used in the abduction?
A new piece of federal legislation could change how missing person information is broadcast when the disappearance involves someone age 18 or older.
The legislation is called the Ashanti Alert, named after 19-year-old Ashanti M. Billie who went missing in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in September 2017.
The bill, which will be introduced to the U.S. Senate by Virginia Senator Mark Warner, hopes to utilize an Amber Alert-style system that would notify the public when an adult aged 18 to 65 goes missing.
The bill has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives after being introduced by Virginia Rep. Scott W. Taylor, The Washington Post reports.
Ashanti went missing on September 18, 2017, while heading to work at a Blimpie's on a naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. It took 11 days for law enforcement to locate Ashanti's body, time where her parents, Meltony Billie and Brandy Billie, could only wait and worry.
The Billies had learned early after Ashanti went missing that she was too old to qualify for an Amber Alert, the national system that notifies Americans of the disappearance of a child via media blasts and cell phone alerts.
The Ashanti Alert system would work in a similar manner, albeit with strict criteria established to determine when the system should be used for adults. Unlike in cases of missing children, there is a certain expectation of privacy and independence for adults that could mean someone has merely gone off the grid rather than being a victim of foul play.
The state of Virginia has already enacted the Critically Missing Adult Alert Program, which is nicknamed the Ashanti Alert. The program notifies local, state and regional police to alerts for adults that fit the criteria established within the CMAAP.
On a national level, Ashanti Alerts would enfold into the Blue Alert system, a program created in 2014 after New York Police Department officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were ambushed and killed while on duty. The Blue Alert system notifies the public when a suspect who has killed or assaulted a police officer remains at large.
The criteria established under the House Bill requires the hiring of a national coordinator to create guidelines for issuing an Ashanti Alert. After the system has been implemented for a year, the coordinator will report to Congress how many states elected to use the system, how many alerts were broadcast, and how effective the system was in locating missing persons.
Approximately 200 Amber Alerts are issued every year, The Washington Post reports. Most of those alerts result in the child being rescued safely.
For Ashanti's parents, the passing of the bill would mean their daughter's death had a purpose.
“It would mean her sacrifice was for a greater good just like Jesus’ sacrifice was for a greater good. This alert will keep us lifted," Meltony Billie told The Washington Post.
Correction, 12/7, 10:15 a.m.: This story originally said Rep. Scott Taylor was from West Virginia; he is from Virginia. It also said the bill would be introduced by West Virginia Senator Mark Warren; this has been corrected to Virginia Senator Mark Warner.