Alabama Police Rescue Family In First Test Of New Missing Child Law

Family with new house drawingOn Wednesday, July 1, Alabama’s new Hiawayi Robinson Emergency Missing Child Alert System went into effect, and already Alabama police have successfully used the system to rescue missing children.

With the help of a fast-acting Foley citizen, police there rescued Nora Marie Grenier and six children on Wednesday, July 15. Grenier, her five children, and a nephew were reported missing the day before; police say a suspect was located at a nearby convenience store and arrested for outstanding domestic violence charges.

The system was named for Hiawayi Robinson, an 8-year-old girl killed in 2014. After her body was found, Alabama authorities faced harsh criticism for failing to trigger the AMBER Alert system; authorities said they lacked enough evidence to activate the system in time.

The Hiawayi Robinson Emergency Missing Child Alert System now allows state and local authorities to issue a state-wide alert for children who they believe are in “imminent danger,” even if they don’t have evidence of an abduction that would meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert.

Studies show that 90% of families will lose a child in public at some point, and 20% of families will lose track of a child more than once. So without evidence of a kidnapping, police may not be able to issue a life-saving AMBER Alert every time a family reports a missing child.

The new system changes that, and the July 15 rescue of Grenier and her children show exactly how the new alerts can be used to quickly rescue missing children. Eventually, police updated the Grenier Emergency Missing Child Alert to an AMBER Alert, which was seen by a citizen who spotted the missing family. Now, while police gather evidence to activate the AMBER Alert system, they can issue an alert under the Hiawayi Robinson Act immediately.

“Nobody but God knows — if we were able to put out that alert late Tuesday night, maybe things would’ve been different,” said State Senator Vivian Davis Figures after Hiawayi’s body was found in 2014. “My goal is that Alabama has a law so that we can start looking for a child as soon as possible.”

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