KCBD INVESTIGATES: Cracks in the Amber Alert System?
By Natasha Sweatte
By Natasha Sweatte
After the death of Leah Marie Aguirre, 2, many have raised questions as to why the initial Amber Alert failed in aiding her recovery.
Aguirre was found dead in her caregiver's basement in January. Maltida Almaraz, the woman Leah's mother entrusted with her daughter is now being charged with capital murder.
KCBD NewsChannel 11 went looking for answers, trying to discover any cracks in the Amber Alert system.
According to DPS Corporal John Gonzalez, since 2002, 93 children have been recovered from 87 different abductions in the state of Texas. Corporal Gonzalez said when used properly, the system is effective. However, in the case of Aguirre, it was the false information provided that hampered rescue efforts.
On January 8, 2012, an Amber Alert was issued for Aguirre, claiming she was abducted by a man who posed as a CPS worker named "Miguel" who drove a red Ford Focus. That same afternoon, the Crosby County Sheriff's Department discovered that Leah had actually gone missing on January 3rd, five days before the alert was issued.
According Gonzalez, this fact alone makes Aguirre's case not applicable to the required criteria for an Amber Alert.
"If a child has been abducted 4 or 5 days ago is it going to be effective? Probably not," said Gonzalez. "Are we going to get the information out? Absolutely. Are we going to be looking? Absolutely. The unfortunate thing is if the crime already occurred 4 or 5 days ago, how far have they gotten? They could already be in Mexico."
According to Crosbyton Police Chief Greg Parrott, they were never even able to establish if "Miguel" existed. CPS officials confirmed they did not have an employee matching his description.
The KCBD newsroom received several calls from various law enforcement agencies that afternoon, asking us for the latest updates. We wanted to know just how that kind of communication could fail to reach the proper authorities.
"It can absolutely. Unfortunately, it's through human error that some of this stuff is entered," said Gonzalez. "In some of these geographical areas in the Caprock, sometimes the radios don't even work."
The system was put in place after Amber Hagerman's 1996 abduction and murder.
The Amber Alert System became available as a resource for officers in 2002. However, now with the power of social media, Gonzalez said the system is even more successful.
"We're able to get information out to a lot of people in a short amount of time," said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez recommends that parents keep an updated identity packet on hand at all times. He said at the time when an Amber Alert is issued, having your child's information collected to hand off to authorities is the best way to ensure your child's recovery.
If you would like more information about how to sign up for Amber Alerts, log on to http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/AmberAlert/AmberRegister.aspx.
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