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Delays slow spread of Amber Alert

Wed., May 18, 2005

The disappearance of two children who live in a Coeur d’Alene area house that was the scene of a triple homicide prompted the Idaho State Police on Tuesday to issue its first Amber Alert since the system became fully operational in the state.

The names, descriptions and photos of the missing children – 9-year-old Dylan Groene and 8-year-old Shasta Groene – were spread throughout Idaho and many Western states early Tuesday.

But there was a hitch that delayed the spread of the information to Idaho broadcasters for about an hour and a half after it went out electronically. And while many other states apparently spread the alert statewide, the Washington State Patrol elected not to do so.

The hangup in both cases was in the criteria that determine whether an Amber Alert is warranted. Lacking in this case was any information about the identity of a possible abductor, a getaway vehicle or getaway route. There was also a lag of as much of a day or more between the disappearance and the discovery of the crime and that the kids were gone.

“In this case unfortunately, we didn’t have enough information to issue that alert statewide,” said Jeff Sevigney, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.

Sevigney said, however, that the information about the missing kids was quickly dispatched to all troopers inside Spokane County.

The Idaho State Police decided the circumstances of the case – two children missing from a murder scene – did warrant an Amber Alert.

“The person at the front end of the chain decided … given the serious nature of the incident, I’m going to go ahead and put this out,” said Rick Ohnsman, public information officer for the Idaho State Police.

That action triggered an automatic release of the alert through the state’s Web portal. It also triggered reader board alerts in North Idaho

“That all worked great,” Ohnsman said. But there was a delay as someone in Idaho – Ohnsman said he didn’t know who it was – questioned whether this case met the Amber Alert criteria. That meant it didn’t get to broadcasters right away.

“It hit another human somewhere along the line,” Ohnsman said, and there was a delay, “about an hour and a half while they wrangled.”

The Amber Alert plan is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies and local radio and television broadcasters across the nation to broadcast an emergency bulletin to the public when a child has been abducted and is believed to be in serious danger.

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