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Left Behind By Amber Alert

After the kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, local police and media officials got together and created a system to alert neighbors about child abductions. That was seven years ago, in Texas.

Today, all of the contiguous states have an Amber Alert plan. On Thursday's Early Show, CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith talks to a family that sought an Amber Alert when their 5-year-old girl disappeared. Their request was denied – and they haven't seen their little girl since.

After the kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, local police and media officials got together and created a system to alert neighbors about child abductions. That was seven years ago, in Texas.

Today, all of the contiguous states have an Amber Alert plan, reports CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith.

The system became even more successful after President Bush took Amber Alerts nationwide. And while Amber Alert boasts many happy endings, some parents are still left wondering, what about my child?

A partnership between law enforcement and broadcasters, Amber Alerts are proving to be worth their weight in gold.

Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels, the national Amber Alert coordinator, says, "Amber Alert has become such a household term and everyone is so well aware of it that even the abductors, when they hear the Amber Alert on their car radio, are understanding what that means, they know they are going to get caught, an many times they'll pull over, let the child out at the side of the road, go to a convenience store, go to a family member's house, give that child up, and even turn themselves in to law enforcement."

Since its beginnings in Texas, Amber Alert has led to the recovery of 145 children nationwide.

But for all the success stories there are also crushing disappointments - parents who hoped for an Amber Alert when their child disappeared only to be told that their case didn't qualify.

Last June, Kaelin and Chris Warner's daughter Leanna went missing. Known to family and friends as Beaner, the 5-year-old went off to play with friends and simply disappeared.

The Warners live in Chisholm, a tiny town in Minnesota's iron range - probably the last place you'd expect a child abduction.

Police chief Scott Erickson says, "She was reportedly last seen on this street right here, walking in this direction and after that we have no information."

Though Chisholm residents combed the area looking for Beaner, an Amber Alert was never issued.

The federal government recommends an Amber Alert be issued if the following criteria are met:

  • The child is under 18
  • There is reasonable belief that an abduction has occurred
  • Law enforcement believes that the child is in imminent danger
  • There is sufficient descriptive information about the child and the abduction

    Chief Erickson says that with no suspect, no suspicious vehicle, no witnesses and no sign that she was in danger, the Warner's case just did not fit.

    But the only evidence that matters to the Warners is that their daughter never came home.

    "I was very angry at the fact," says Chris Warner. "We didn't need a criteria. I don't want to hear about criteria. How can you put a criteria on a child?"

    Officials argue that in order to keep Amber Alerts effective, the criteria are essential.

    "One sheriff in a local community likens this to car alarms - and he says you know we no longer even turn our heads when we hear a car alarm goes off," says Daniels. "And it's because it happens so often we know a lot of them are mistakes, and he says, that's why we need to keep the Amber Alert just for these really frightening situations in which we think that child is in imminent danger."

    The Warners wonder how a missing 5-year-old could not be in danger. They want to see the Amber rules relaxed, especially in the case of a young child.

    About 800,000 children are reported missing each year. Only slightly more than 100 children fall victim to long-term kidnappings by strangers.

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