‘AMBER Alert’ coming to Suffolk

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 18, 2002

Virginia’s Attorney General Jerry Kilgore announced this week the start of the &uot;Greater Hampton Roads AMBER Alert&uot; program, the media tool that helped a Texas family recover its abducted infant. That baby was returned unharmed to the family within hours, thanks to the program that quickly spreads the word on abducted children.

Kilgore explained that the AMBER Alert program is a cooperative effort between law enforcement and the broadcast media. The program was named for nine-year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas. AMBER also stands for &uot;America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.&uot;

As soon as a child is reported missing to local police, radio and television stations interrupt programming to broadcast information using the Emergency Alert System. The alarms continue up to four times an hour during the early hours when the child is missing. According to Kilgore, this is the critical time when the possibility of rescuing a child is highest.

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&uot;In a few short weeks, hundreds of thousands of children will be returning to the classrooms,&uot; said Kilgore. &uot;As the father of two young children, I want my children to learn and receive the best education possible. But, I also want to know that they will come home safely at the end of the school day. I know that Virginia parents share my concerns. That’s why it is imperative that we take every possible step to protect our children and keep them from harm. We owe it to the children of Virginia to protect them from predatory criminals who seek to destroy their lives.&uot;

Kilgore said the AMBER Alert system has already been established in several Virginia counties and Suffolk is one of the cities participating in the Hampton Roads effort.

The attorney general said we owe it to our children to do everything possible to protect children from predatory criminals who seek to destroy their lives.

Locally, the office of Suffolk’s Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson has a team of prosecutors ready to serve the children who fall victim to abduction or any type of crime against them.

T. Marie Walls serves as an assistant Commonwealth’s attorney. She prosecutes cases involving crimes against children. Sonya L. Abbott, assistant director to Suffolk’s Victim/Witness Services program, assists her with the cases that come before Suffolk’s Circuit Court judges

Walls said she and Ferguson are dedicated to prosecuting those who would commit crimes against children.

&uot;We are seeing a significant rise in the number of crimes against children,&uot; said Walls. &uot;Diana Klink, our community services coordinator, visits schools and speaks to children about talking with us and they are more willing to talk about what has happened to them. We work very closely with the Victim/Witness program, detectives and medical practitioners. The moment a case is reported, we begin to work together as a team. That’s one of the strengths of this office.&uot;

While Walls serves to prosecute, Abbott’s job is to work with Victim/Witness Program Director Diane Bryant as she interviews children who have become victims of crime.

Abbott said it is easier for the child if the interview with Walls is done only once so that the victim doesn’t have to repeat it several times, traumatizing them even further.

&uot;We set a time when the family of the victim can come in for the interview so that we can talk about the case,&uot; Abbott explained. &uot;We talk about the courtroom and what’s going to happen and who they’ll see. We like to make them as comfortable as possible about going into the courtroom.&uot;

As a part of its commitment to serving the community, Ferguson and his attorneys provide a brochure, &uot;Keeping Our Children Safe,&uot; which is an information guide for parents.

In that are many suggestions on the risks of a child being abducted and what to discuss with your child about personal safety.

The brochure is available from Ferguson’s office in the Godwin Courts Building on North Main Street. For more information call Diana Klink at 923-2238.