- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) Reports about abducted children will be immediately broadcast on radio and television and posted on highway message boards under a statewide "Amber Alert" program, Gov. Mark R. Warner said yesterday.
Similar programs in other states have led to the rescue of 19 abducted children, Mr. Warner said. Virginia has had its share of high-profile cases, including the 1996 abductions of Sofia Silva and sisters Kristin and Katie Lisk in Spotsylvania County and the August disappearance of Jennifer Short in Henry County. All four were slain.
"With the Amber Alert plan, in the event a child is abducted, we want to make sure the public can assist you in the most rapid and coordinated fashion," Mr. Warner told about 175 police officers and state officials attending the Governor's Law Enforcement Summit.
Amber Alert is named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996. Mr. Warner's initiative expands on regional programs already operating in the Richmond, Northern Virginia, Spotsylvania and Roanoke areas.
Local police activate the Amber Alert after determining that a child 17 or younger has been abducted and is in danger. Information about the child is sent to radio and television stations, which interrupt regular programming to report the abduction.
The Virginia Department of Transportation also will use electronic message signs along major highways to tell motorists to be on the lookout, and police will enter information about the missing child into state and national databases.
Virginia State Police Lt. Robert Kemmler, who is heading up the project, said the Amber Alert can be activated in parental abductions if police believe the child is in danger.
"There's a difference between, 'I will not bring this kid back to you' and 'I will kill the kid before I bring him back to you,'" Lt. Kemmler said.
He said police and state officials who developed Virginia's program tried to keep the criteria tight enough to avoid so many activations that the public begins to ignore them.
Mr. Warner said the recent investigation into the sniper shootings in Virginia, Maryland and the District demonstrated how the public sometimes can help police. Tips from the public helped authorities track down and arrest the two sniper suspects.
Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said Wednesday that the creation of a statewide Amber Alert will be part of his 2003 legislative agenda. Mr. Warner said he does not oppose asking the General Assembly to convert the program from an administrative policy to a law.


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