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Police, Broadcasters to Use Emergency System for Kidnapped Kids

April 02, 2002
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Police, Broadcasters to Use Emergency System for Kidnapped Kids

by Patty Henetz, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The familiar shrill beeps used by radio and television to broadcast public emergencies will be used to help recover kidnapped children, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff announced Tuesday.

The program, known as the Rachael Alert, went into effect Tuesday. It will use the state's Emergency Alert System to provide broadcasters information about an abducted child. Television stations can incorporate the information into the "crawl," text at the bottom of the television screen.

The system was named for Rachael Runyan, a 3-year-old abducted in 1982 from a park near her home in Sunset. Her decomposed body was found 24 days later in Weber Canyon. The killing remains unsolved.

"This is the next best honorable thing we can do for Rachael," said Sunset police Chief Ken Eborn.

The program was adapted from the Amber Plan, named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was abducted and murdered in Texas in 1996. Utah is the ninth state to establish such a program, along with a number of cities and counties.

There are four criteria for the alert:

- The child is assumed kidnapped;

- The child is 15 or younger, or has a proven mental or physical disability;

- The child is in imminent danger of serious injury or death;

- There is information provided to aid the police, such as a description of the abductor, the abductor's vehicle or the child's last known location.

If all those conditions are met, police fax a form to the broadcasters that includes all available information. Broadcasters will require some sort of password to ensure the alert's legitimacy.

Broadcasters may choose whether to activate the emergency system to announce the Rachael Alert, said Utah Broadcasters Association chief Dale Zabriskie.

Because the system is optional, a station in St. George, for example, may decline to issue an emergency broadcast if the child was abducted in northern Utah.

The system won't be used to track runaways or children involved in custody disputes, Zabriskie said.

Shurtleff pointed to a recent situation in Pleasant Grove where an autistic child went missing, and hundreds of volunteers turned out to help search. While that incident wouldn't have qualified for a Rachael Alert, it showed how the community can quickly mobilize to help police.

"We have thousands, tens of thousands, of Utahns with their eyes open and cell phones ready," Shurtleff said.

Commissioner of Public Safety Robert Flowers said that the alert would allow the shutdown of I-15 in the event of a search.

"I wish we'd had this program 20 years ago," said Racheal's mother, Elaine Runyan-Simmons, who joined those announcing the program at the state's emergency headquarters on Capitol Hill. "If we just save one child it will be so worth it."

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