Amber Alert System Unchanged


Despite pleas from the family of murdered 15-year-old newspaper carrier Heather Guerrero to change the state's Amber Alert system, the committee that oversees its operation decided Wednesday it would not be altered.

The alert is used to notify the public when a child is missing. It was not activated in Heather Guerrero's disapperance last month.

The girl's parents and two sisters met with Attorney General Jon Bruning to push for changes. Anthony Guerrero also made his case before the alert committee, which includes police officers, media representatives and others.

Guerrero said local police should have issued an alert immediately, instead of spending hours trying to determine whether his daughter was a runaway. Guerrero said police didn't want to issue an alert because no one had witnessed the abduction.

Guerrero's daughter disappeared after finishing her morning paper route February 11 in Gering. Because no one witnessed the girl's disappearance, no one knew for sure if she had been kidnapped.

The next day, her body was found in an abandoned farmhouse near Lake Minatare.

The criteria for issuing an Amber Alert do not require a witness to an abduction, but there has to be sufficient information available to suspect there has been an abduction.

Gering Police Department Chief Melvin Griggs told the Amber Alert committee that the Guerrero case did not meet the criteria for issuing an alert.

Even though an alert wasn't issued, the news media was informed of the disappearance and it was being broadcast statewide within hours, said Scott Christensen with the Nebraska State Patrol.

"The only difference from what Gering did and an Amber Alert was the name Amber," Christensen said.

But Heather Guerrero's mother, Irene, said in an interview with The Associated Press that had the alert been activated immediately, her daughter may have been found before she was murdered.

The committee determined that the criteria for issuing an alert should not be changed.

Bruning said it appeared that an Amber Alert could have been issued in the Heather Guerrero case.

"This is one of those extremely tough calls," Bruning said.

Guerrero also called for more training of police on when to issue an alert. The Gering Police Department had not received the formal training.

Bruning said police departments that have not received training on when to issue an alert should get it immediately.

There have been six training seminars held already and more will be scheduled, with an emphasis on the western part of the state, Bruning said.

Bruning met with Heather's parents and two sisters, Elise, 18, and Danielle, 10, privately before they attended the meeting.

The Guerrero family members were wearing buttons showing a picture of Heather that said "In Memory of Heather Guerrero."

Amber Alerts use the State Emergency Alert system to relay descriptions of the missing child and any suspects. The messages are to be broadcast on more than 100 radio and television stations.

They also show up on electronic signs at 900 lottery outlets across the state and on signs along the interstate in the Omaha area.

The Amber Alert system has been activated just once since its introduction in late September.

It was used in December as authorities searched for 9-month-old Brodgunique Dunn. The infant was in the backseat of a vehicle that was stolen from a filling station in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Two hours later, the child was found unharmed in the vehicle abandoned in Omaha.

The alerts are named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old Texas girl who was kidnapped and killed in 1996. Thirty-four states have implemented Amber Alert systems.

Jeffrey A. Hessler, a 24-year-old neighbor of Guerrero, has been arrested in the case and charged with first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault and kidnapping.

Hessler's trial is scheduled for the July 7 jury term.


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