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November 21, 2007
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Iowa agency trains police to handle abductions

Training focuses on kidnap cases; A two-day law enforcement course in southwest Iowa will go over basic search techniques as well as child predator cases.
By Jason Kuiper
Omaha World-Herald

California Gov. Gray Davis wraps up a news conference after signing the AMBER Alert Bill Thursday, Sept. 12, 2002, in Monterey Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — When a 6-year-old Council Bluffs girl went missing in 1999, investigators found the girl six hours later, safe in a backyard.

Other cases have had far different endings, such as the abduction and slaying of Amber Harris. The 12-year-old Omaha girl disappeared in November 2005 while walking home after school from a bus stop at Florence Boulevard and Pinkney Street. Her remains were found in May 2006 in Hummel Park.

Roy Ellis, 53, of Omaha, is scheduled to stand trial in April, charged with first-degree murder in connection with Amber's death.

On Monday and Tuesday, about 40 law enforcement officers will take part in training to prepare for such cases, considered among the most difficult to handle because time is so critical.

"Very few agencies have all the necessary resources to respond," said Terry Klooster, special agent in charge with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. "Time is so crucial. The old axiom in law enforcement is the first 24 hours being so critical, but in child abductions, it's the first three hours."

The training will be sponsored by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Pottawattamie County Sheriff's Office and the Council Bluffs Police Department.

Officers from Iowa and Nebraska will take part in the training.

Much of the two-day sessions will be based on a model developed in Florida after the abduction and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia in 2004. The abduction was recorded by a surveillance camera and garnered national attention.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation assists area agencies in abduction investigations when requested.

The training sessions will take place at the Southwest Iowa Law Enforcement Training Center just south of Council Bluffs. The sessions will address areas of an investigation, such as using and locating rescue groups and canine handlers to assist in the search for a missing child.

Taking part in the training will be officers from Council Bluffs, Omaha, Blair, Bellevue and La Vista Police Departments, and the Pottawattamie and Douglas County Sheriff's Offices.

Klooster said the sessions will provide an overview in the basic steps needed to begin a search along with reviewing national cases on child predators.

This is the second such training session done in Iowa, Klooster said.

Council Bluffs Police Chief Keith Mehlin said stranger abduction cases are rare. Cases involving abductions by family members or runaways are more common.

Mehlin said missing child reports bring a strong response from law enforcement. Officers first search the child's house, then expand to nearby garages, sheds and friends' houses. Usually, a missing child is found in one of those spots within the first hour, Mehlin said. 

Copyright 2007 The Omaha World-Herald Company

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