P-1 Editor's Note -- The Endangered Person Advisory, a critical tool to help find missing people, was developed in 2005 in response to the limitations of Amber Alerts. New criteria includes the word "unexplained" as a reason a person might be missing and opens up the possibilities for other factors that may put a person in danger.
By Todd C. Frankel
Copyright 2007 St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
In the hours after 13-year-old William Ownby disappeared, police wrestled with whether they had enough information to issue an Amber Alert.
They believed he was abducted after school Monday. They thought he was in imminent danger. He was a minor.
But there was one missing detail: No one saw him disappear - authorities did not have a description of the vehicle or the person who may have stolen away the Franklin County boy.
Without those details, the case did not reach the level of an Amber Alert, which would allow police to broadcast a message on TV, radio, websites and highway message boards.
But rather than face delays, as authorities have contended with in other abductions, they turned to a new warning system.
At 8:24 p.m. Monday, the Missouri Highway Patrol issued an Endangered Person Advisory.
The advisory was sent out to regional media outlets and law enforcement. While it lacked the brand-name familiarity of an Amber Alert, the advisory allowed authorities to work around the sometimes-frustrating limitations of Amber Alerts, said patrol Capt. Tim Hull.
In terms of getting the message out, "It is not a big difference between the two," Hull said.
The new advisory system was activated just last week, Hull said. The Ownby case was the first one in which it was used.
The Endangered Person Advisory gives Missouri authorities flexibility in cases where time is important, Hull said. Also, the advisory can be used for elderly people, while the Amber Alert is limited to people younger than 18.
The advisory was created in response to cases like the abduction of a newborn from Skidmore, Mo., in 2004, where the baby was cut from the womb of her mother, who died. An Amber Alert was delayed because there was no description of the newborn.
On Tuesday morning, police learned that someone saw a pickup speed away from where William was last seen - the missing detail needed for an Amber Alert.
At 8:11 a.m., 12 hours after the advisory, the Amber Alert finally went out.
Mo. police chose immediate advisory over Amber Alert in case of missing boy