TBI explains how Amber Alerts are issued for missing children

(Photo: WKRN)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – When it comes to missing children and Amber Alerts, many in Tennessee have questions on how the emergency system works. We spoke with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to see how the process works.

In October 2015, pictures of Brooklynne Enix, 2, were everywhere because investigators were working furiously to find her and her dad, Tyler Enix, who was accused of murdering her mom.

“They didn’t sleep when their sister was on that Amber Alert. It’s just so unpredictable and you don’t want to put the worst scenario in your head,” said family member Chris Morrison during a May 2016 interview.

Eventually a good Samaritan in Ohio spotted the car and called 911.

“I just heard an Amber Alert and I think I’m behind the guy,” said Steve Adams to a 911 dispatcher in 2015.

Click here for complete coverage of AMBER Alert for Elizabeth Thomas. 

TBI is the clearinghouse for all missing children cases, which means local law enforcement contacts them.

“It’s not as simple as flipping a switch or pushing a button to issue an Amber Alert. It’s a multi-step process,” said Leslie Earhart with TBI.

It starts with a form where in-depth details are give, as well as pictures. State agencies like TEMA, THP, TDOT and the lottery are asked to help and then the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sends one more alert out.

“They assist us with the secondary notification. You get those alerts on your cell phone,” added Earhart.

An Amber Alert is taken on a case-by-case basis and in some cases, the alerts shift from Missing Children, to Endangered Child, and finally an Amber Alert which is when investigators are worried the child is in inescapable danger.

“If we did not have very strict criteria and issued an Amber Alert for every time one was requested, then that would desensitize the public and when you receive those alerts, you wouldn’t take them as seriously,” said Earhart.

Each state has its own criteria when issuing an Amber Alert and for one to be issued, investigators must have solid information the child and suspect are either in the state or will be.

“In many cases we can notify law enforcement across the country to be on the lookout for the suspect, the victim and also the vehicle that they’re in,” said Earhart.

TBI’s saying, “That guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer” is fitting.

“Children are innocent and it’s our job to protect them,” added Earhart.

Investigators rely heavily on the public to help when searching for an Amber Alert victim. In those kind of situations, TBI can receive hundreds, if not thousands of tips, and each one is looked into. Te more tips that come in, the greater chance TBI has in locating the child. They want to remind everyone, even if you think a piece of information is minor, to call it in anyway because it could be what brings that child home.

To learn more about TBI’s role in finding missing children, click here.