U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced “Skylar’s Law,” on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 which will establish a national endangered missing advisory (EMA) communications network to enable immediate public notification for missing child cases that do not meet the strict criteria for issuance of an AMBER Alert system.
In July of 2012, sixteen-year-old Skylar Neese went missing from her home in Morgantown, West Virginia. Even though Skylar’s parents were immediately alarmed at their daughter’s absence and insisted that Skylar would not have left home voluntarily, no AMBER Alert was issued at the time of Skylar’s disappearance because her case did not meet the strict criteria for issuance of an AMBER alert. Skylar was later found to have been murdered by two of her friends, and her case gained national attention. The SKYLAR Act would assist law enforcement officers nationwide in issuing immediate public notifications to help locate missing individuals like Skylar whose cases do not meet the strict criteria for an AMBER Alert but are still at risk of serious injury or death.
“What Skylar went through and what her family is dealing with is unconscionable and it’s something that I will do whatever I can to prevent from happening ever again,” Senator Manchin said. “I have been working with Skylar’s parents on “Skylar’s Law” which would establish a national communications network to issue immediate public notifications for missing individuals like Skylar whose cases do not meet the strict criteria for an AMBER Alert but are still at serious risk. “Skylar’s Law” is a no brainer and I hope my colleagues see this legislation and hear Skylar’s story and swiftly pass this bill.”
“While AMBER alerts have been successful in bringing missing children home, there are still missing persons who do not meet the alerts’ strict criteria but whose cases warrant an immediate public alert,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I am proud to join Senator Manchin on Skylar’s Law which will create a national communications network that can be activated immediately so our law enforcement officers can access timely information to help solve these cases.”
“I want to thank Senator Manchin for his hard work and staying on top of this. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This about our kids; protecting our kids. Anytime a child goes missing, it’s the most helpless feeling in the world and I don’t want anyone to have to go through what we went through. With the introduction of ‘Skylar’s Law,” we can help children and other parents,” said Dave Neese, Skylar’s father.
The AMBER Alert system has succeeded beyond all expectations, and is credited with directly aiding the safe recovery of approximately 75 children every year. However, issuance of the AMBER Alerts requires satisfaction of strict criteria—including evidence of abduction. In most cases, such evidence is usually not present, especially in the critical first few hours of the case. Immediate public notification is critical. More than two-thirds of all child abduction homicides began as a missing child or runaway report, and one out of five child abduction homicide victims are already dead before police are even notified. Yet states are understandably wary of issuing AMBER alerts absent clear evidence of abduction, in order to avoid dulling the public response.
This bill establishes a national Endangered Missing Advisory (EMA) communications network, modeled after state-wide networks already in operation in states like Montana and California, which can be activated immediately to notify the public that a child has gone missing.
· COORDINATED: Much like the AMBER Alert network, the national EMA network would be overseen by a coordinator who works closely with states, law enforcement agencies, local governments, and AMBER Alert professionals to develop EMA plans and act as the network’s nationwide point of contact. The Coordinator would establish voluntary minimum standards for the issuance of alerts through the network and ensure that state and local law enforcement agencies and communications personnel are trained to utilize it.
· VOLUNTARY: The EMA system only works when it’s voluntary for both states and communications network participants, and this bill would preserve the voluntary nature of the system. Recent trends are positive – in 2005, only 5 states had EMA networks in place. Now, 18 states have such networks, plus another 16 who have similar networks in place for missing seniors.