Just six years ago, hardly anyone in Utah knew what it was. Today, the Amber Alert is recognized not only in Utah but nationally as the most important way to notify the public that a child is missing.
But the success of the Amber Alert hinges on an open line of dialogue between law enforcement and the media. Each group depends on the other for information to be released and distributed in an effort to recover an endangered missing child safely.
Thursday, a large group of law enforcers, media representatives and members of state agencies met for an all-day special training session on how to improve Utah's Amber Alert system. Also in attendance were people who have become actively involved in the Amber Alert program because of tragedies in their own lives, such as Elaine Runyan-Simmons, mother of 3-year-old Rachael Runyan who was kidnapped from a park near her house in Sunset and killed in 1982.
One of the workshops was dedicated to lessons learned from the Destiny Norton kidnapping in 2006.
Also today, Cartoon Wah, father of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo, briefly addressed the group through an interpreter. In April, Hser Ner Moo was kidnapped and killed in a South Salt Lake apartment complex.
"I am very grateful for all of your thoughts and for you all showing up to help find my daughter," he said. "The best thing is in a time of need, we all come together in unity."
Wah said he was grateful for all the volunteers who searched for his daughter, and he noted how wonderful it was that his neighborhood could come together in a time of tragedy.
Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office who was named the 2007 Amber Alert Coordinator of the Year by the U.S. Justice Department, said in just a few short years Utah has built one of the best Amber Alert programs in the nation.
"But if we sleep now, that will quickly fall apart," he said.
The key is more training, such as looking at missteps in previous Amber Alert situations, and taking steps to improve or correct those scenarios, Murphy said.
The training Thursday focused on the relationship between the media and law enforcers, which when faced with an Amber Alert situation become partners, he said.
"Their roles are different, but their goals are the same," Murphy said.
Starting with the Elizabeth Smart abduction in 2002, Utah has had several high-profile cases in which the Amber Alert was used, including Moo's kidnapping.
"An important part of the process is reviewing the Amber Alert," said South Salt Lake police Chief Chris Snyder, whose department was the lead agency in the Moo case. "There should be regular dialogue (between the media and law enforcement). We rely on each other."
The advantage of training sessions like today's is both sides have a chance to talk about issues and lay things out on the table that they otherwise may not have an opportunity to do, he said. It also gives other agencies who have not had to issue an Amber Alert yet the opportunity to hear the discussion from those who have and get a perspective on what did and didn't work with the media.
E-MAIL: [email protected]