PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For more than 15 years, citizens and local media have help law enforcement find the victims of child abduction through something called the Amber Alert.
Thursday, that system was never utilized in the abduction of Bryce Coleman from Magee Womens Hospital.
Implemented by the state police, an Amber alert requires a request from local police. Signs declaring an Amber Alert abduction have become a common feature of law enforcement since the 1996 abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Texas.
“Time is of the essence. This is an effort to assist law enforcement in finding the child and apprehending the perpetrator, and the sooner it can get out the better,” says Scott Hollander, who heads the child advocacy group Kids Voice.
Hollander says minutes are precious in getting the word out that a child has been stolen. But in the abduction of Coleman from Magee, there was no Amber Alert from state police during the five hours the child was missing.
“When I responded to the scene, that was one of the things I first started working on. I did contact the state police. However, we needed more information,” says Pittsburgh Police Commander Thomas Stangrecki.
He says state protocol requires detailed information that he didn’t have initially in order for the state police to issue an Amber Alert.
“You don’t want to give any misguided information. So you want to make sure it’s accurate and then you contact the state police, review the case with the appropriate people, and then they make that decision,” says Trooper Robin Mungo, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Police.
“I have no excuses. We tried very hard to get that information,” says Stangrecki.
Stangrecki takes the blame, but says he really didn’t have the necessary information to meet state police requirements for an Amber Alert.
“Our suspect changed from one person to this Breona Moore. Additionally, we were trying to get pictures and photos and things like that.”
Moreover, city police have to go through the county to get to the state.
“There is certain information that has to be gathered. If that information isn’t gathered then they don’t have the necessary requirements to have that alert issued,” adds Mungo from the State Police.
Only the state police can issue an Amber alert and that requires specific information about the victim, abductor, vehicle, and direction of travel. Stangrecki says by the time city police had what the state required, the baby and suspect were located.
But in the meantime — about two hours after the abduction — city police issued their own alert — mistakenly calling it an Amber Alert — but enlisting media and public help to find the child.
“The most critical factor is how quickly they can get out and find that person after the child has been abducted,” says Hollander of Kids Voice.
Hollander says police can’t trip over process when it comes to these alerts.
“As soon as that information is available, it should get out.”