Amber Alert Praised as Success Despite Glitches in Wisc.


Agencies to work out bugs; system credited after children found

By Raquel Rutledge, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Saturday at 3:05 p.m. they blasted TV and radio airwaves, gripping the senses and signaling danger in Wisconsin.

Anyone watching TV or listening to the radio heard the chilling words:

"This is a child abduction alert regarding Holly Ann Larsen, date of birth 6/24/99, 4 1/2 years of age, 4 feet, 45 to 50 pounds . . . ."

A similar description was given for Larsen's 6-year-old sister, Amanda Larsen, and their mother, Teri Sue Jendusa-Nicolai, 38.

The words replayed every 30 minutes for two hours, tapering to every hour until about 9 p.m. when the alert was canceled. The girls were found unharmed at a baby sitter's house in Illinois. Their mother was found a day later, stuffed in storage locker, severely beaten but alive. Her ex-husband, David M. Larsen - the girls' father - was charged Monday with their abductions.

It marked only the second time Wisconsin launched an Amber Alert since the program's inception in April 2003. Although there were some problems, authorities and many residents are calling it a success.

"It saved three lives," said Susan WhiteHorse, manager of the Wisconsin Clearing House for Missing and Exploited Children. "It was worth it."

Among the snafus: The Amber Alert Web site posted a photo of Jendusa-Nicolai's current husband as the suspect, a mistake they said originated with the Racine County Sheriff's Department, which distributed the photo; the Madison cable company referred viewers to a channel that contained no information; some Madison radio stations broadcast a garbled message; and some people complained that information was not posted and updated on the Web site in a timely way.

"Clearly there were some glitches that were cause for temporary concern," said state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. "We're in a situation we can learn from, but it shows it (the Amber Alert) can indeed be very, very useful."

Lautenschlager's office plans to hold a review session for all the agencies involved in the alert to work through the kinks.

On Monday, Milwaukee residents spoke of their appreciation for the system.

"I was very pleased that they started it here," said Pat Marriott, who recently moved to Milwaukee from Texas where the program originated. "It really got your eye so you could be looking out for them."

Barbara Glazer heard the alert while watching the Milwaukee Bucks basketball game on TV and read about it the next day in the newspaper with her 6-year-old son, Aaron.

"It gave us an opportunity to discuss 'don't go with strangers,' " Glazer said Monday at a downtown ice-skating rink.

Rachel Sprunger said her children, ages 10 and 7, heard the alerts and had questions.

"I just told them some kids were missing," Sprunger said. "I didn't think they needed to know that someone took them."

At Beans & Barley, an east side restaurant, workers said they, too, were thankful for the system.

"I thought it was very sad," said Kelly Weisenburger. "I heard the description, and I looked outside. I was so glad they found them."

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