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Cellphone Amber Alerts Engage Public To Help Find Abducted Children

Many smartphone users were stunned by the Amber Alert that went out late Monday for Hannah and Ethan Anderson of Lakeside. Do you think the method is effective? You can opt out.

How Monday's Amber Alert appeared to smartphone users in California Patch file photo.
How Monday's Amber Alert appeared to smartphone users in California Patch file photo.

By Susan Murphy, KPBS

Hundreds of thousands of cellphone users across California received text messages and high-pitched alarms Monday night and Tuesday morning notifying them of an Amber Alert for two abducted San Diego County siblings — 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and 8-year-old Ethan Anderson.

Hundreds of thousands of cellphone users across California received text messages and high-pitched alarms Monday night and Tuesday morning notifying them of an Amber Alert. 

Law enforcement officials hope the alerts will help them locate two abducted San Diego County siblings.

Hannah Anderson, 16, and her brother, Ethan Anderson, 8, were allegedly abducted from the city of Boulevard in San Diego's East County on August 3, 2013 at 5 p.m.

The alert came after the body of their mother and a child were found on Sunday in the burning rubble of their East County home.

The deceased child remained unidentified, sheriff's homicide Lt. Glenn Giannantonio told reporters Tuesday night. "It is a possibility that it's Ethan,'' the lieutenant said. "It's a possibility that it's another child we haven't identified yet or don't realize is missing yet.''

CHP Officer Justin Howlett said this new ability to quickly engage the community in the search for abducted children can help law enforcement bring those children home safely.

Howlett said Amber Alerts through cellphones were launched earlier this year in Northern California and helped solve the case.

"A gentlemen was walking past the vehicle that was involved in the Amber Alert," said Howlett.

 "He didn’t think anything of it, but then his friend who had gotten the message on his cell phone told him about it, he remembered seeing the vehicle, called police and the police were able to recover the child."

Howlett hopes the alert for the Anderson children will have the same effect.

The notifications are part of the federal Wireless Emergency Alert program that are geographically specific. In this case, a Californian traveling out of state should not have received the alert, but visitors to California were likely alerted.

People with newer cell phones receive the messages automatically, based on their proximity to the emergency. There are no texting charges and the system does not track cell phones' locations, according to FEMA and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

In order to stop receiving the alerts, cellphone customers must opt out of the program by adjusting their cell phone settings.


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