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Missing girl case raises questions about use of Amber Alert

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FLOYD, Iowa (AP) -- Well into day six of Evelyn Miller's disappearance, more than 270 volunteers continued scouring the area for the missing 5-year-old.

No substantial clues have been discovered. No Amber Alert has been issued, and it's not likely that one will be, authorities said.

"We were upset no alert was issued, but then we were told there were reasons for that," said Lindsey Christie, Evelyn's stepmother. "If an alert had been issued, then a lot of the people who have been here helping us would have been called off."

Auxiliary military personnel, like the Civil Air Patrol and the National Guard, are not legally allowed to participate in criminal investigations. If an Amber Alert had been immediately issued, current law would not have allowed them to assist in search efforts. Also, there was no immediate suspect identified in the case, which made Evelyn's disappearance ineligible for Amber Alert status.

Evelyn Miller was last seen at her home by two acquaintances of her mother's fiancDe. Those two men have been questioned by authorities and a search of their residence was conducted. But authorities have not called them suspects.

Family members were present Wednesday afternoon at the Floyd Community Center, which has served as volunteer headquarters in the search effort.

Andy Christie, Evelyn's father, was among the family members present to thank volunteers for the help. He and wife, Lindsey, recently found an abandoned puppy on the side of the road, a present intended for Evelyn.

"We haven't named him yet," Andy Christie said. "We are waiting until Evvy gets home, so she can name him."

He said authorities haven't been able to tell the family much about his daughter's disappearance.

"They know where she is not, that's about it," he said.

The case has prompted questions about the use of the Amber Alert, which was used late in March when 10-year-old Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids disappeared. Her body was found the following day in an abandoned mobile home in rural Johnson County. A family friend, Roger Bentley, has been charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder. Critics said it took two hours for the alert to be issued, and some of the road signs that were supposed to have flashed the alert didn't work.

The Amber Alert, first used in 1996, is specifically designed to be activated during the critical first moments of child's abduction by strangers.

"With Amber Alert there are some very specific standards and regulations in place," said Floyd County Sheriff Rick Lynch. "And sometimes when you have those regulations and standards they don't fit every situation."

Col. Nick Critelli of the Civil Air Patrol said the public needs to better understand Amber Alert and the fact that it is not a "magic pill."

"The Amber Alert system, when you have something to alert the public to, saves lives there's no doubt about that," Critelli said. "It's very useful, but only in very specific cases."

For a missing child situation to be elevated to an Amber Alert, the child must be under 18, authorities have to establish they are missing, it must be believed that the child is in danger, and there needs to be significant enough information about the abductor or the abductor's vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast will help.

Linda Spignoli, director of communications for SCAN, which performs Amber and sexual predator alerts, said an alert was not issued in Evelyn's disappearance because there was no vehicle in the case. She also said that Amber Alerts lose effectiveness if the strict criteria is not adhered to.

"The problem with releasing an Amber Alert when they don't have the required information is that the Amber Alert will not help. I know people don't want to hear that," Spignoli said.

In Evelyn's case, Spignoli said, the most effective tool is the child's photograph.

"The media has taken that picture, that picture has been everywhere," Spignoli said. "I have seen it on the national news."

But initially when Evelyn disappeared local officials had hoped the Amber Alert system could have assisted them in the search.

According to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children, an estimated 795,500 children are reported missing annually; 58,000 of those children are abducted by nonfamily members; and 115 fall under the category of stereotypical kidnappings.

Though kidnappings are rare in the case of missing children, in the majority of these cases the child is murdered within three hours of the abduction, which is one of the main reasons the Amber Alert system was established.


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