The AMBER Alert for missing and endangered 3-year-old Major Harris of Milwaukee has entered its third day. Wisconsin’s Department of Justice says this is the 11th AMBER Alert issued so far this year in the state. Wisconsin officials say it’s a massive spike compared to an average of three or fewer each year.
Wisconsin’s Department of Justice has had an AMBER Alert system in place for 18 years, but surprisingly, 20 percent of all AMBER Alerts issued in the state have come in 2021. Since each case comes with different circumstances, the Department of Justice says it has yet to pinpoint a specific trend behind the increase.
Child abduction is every parent’s worst nightmare. For families of a kidnapped child, the AMBER Alert system offers hope during the most difficult circumstances.
"This year, we have seen quite an influx,” said Melissa Marchant.
Marchant is the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s AMBER Alert coordinator. She says the system has been tapped at a record pace this year.
"We have had 53 activations since 2003, since the program started,” she said. “This year, in 2021, we have had 11 activations so far. That is a great increase to the previous years."
Aside from the one active AMBER Alert case in Wisconsin, Marchant says all 10 previous alerts this year resulted in the child being found safely.
According to AmberAlert.gov, 32 percent of AMBER Alerts result in the child being found within the first 3 hours. The website says less than 6 percent of all cases extend past two days.
"During a child abduction, time is of the essence and an AMBER Alert is the most effective way to get the information out to a large amount of people in a short amount of time,” Marchant said.
Wisconsin has three criteria for an AMBER Alert to be issued. The child must be 17 years old or younger, they must be in danger of serious harm or death, and there has to be enough information to describe the child, the suspect or the vehicle used.
Once that information is gathered from law enforcement, Marchant says the Department of Justice reaches out to several partners to spread the word to virtually everyone in the state. Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation immediately puts up highway signs, outdoor advertisers share pictures and descriptions on electronic billboards, radio and TV stations push out emergency alerts, and cell phones are pinged using wireless alerts.
"The reason for the AMBER Alert is the public,” said Alan Nanavaty. “The public serves as the eyes and ears for the authorities in terms of recovering that child, and they serve a very important part."
Nanavaty is the executive director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The organization helps spread the message nationally through federal and private partners. Nanavaty says since 2005, 1,074 children across the country have been successfully recovered primarily due to the AMBER Alert system.
AmberAlert.gov says victims are often infants to 5 years old. It says fathers are the suspect in 43 percent of all cases, followed by mothers typically due to family or domestic disputes.
"Years ago, the public would have thought and media and generally people would have thought that if the child is with one of the parents, that they're safe. But we have often seen that is not the case,” he said. “That's why we've seen an increase in AMBER Alerts being used in parental abductions over the last 10 plus years."