Would AMBER Alerts have helped the cases of the Cleveland survivors?

Published: May. 1, 2023 at 8:40 AM EDT|Updated: May. 1, 2023 at 11:14 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -May 6th, 2023 will mark 10 years since the day three Cleveland women broke free from being held captive in a home on the city’s west side.

If you Google “Cleveland Survivors” the top results are for stories of survival involving Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus.

This week, 19 News celebrates the way all three not just survived, but now thrive.

This includes an in-depth look at AMBER Alerts which launched in Ohio on January 1, 2003.

Knight was abducted before that date, but both Berry and DeJesus were taken after that date with Berry in April of 2003 and DeJesus in April of 2004.

AMBER Alerts were never issued in any of the three girls cases.

Based on the criteria needed to launch a statewide AMBER Alert, we can see why they may not have been issued.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice there are five criteria needed before an alert can be activated;

  • There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
  • The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.
  • The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

In the case of Berry, investigators initially thought she was a runaway which would not have fit the criteria.

In the case of DeJesus, her disappearance would not have fit the first criteria because she knew the abductor, in facts was friends with his daughter and thought he was giving her a ride home.

In the case of Knight, not only was she abducted before the program starred in Ohio, she was also 21 years-old at the time and would not have fit the fourth criteria.

Cleveland 19 held a live interview with Newburgh Heights Police Chief John Major, who is also the director of the Northeast Ohio AMBER Alert Committee, to talk about why AMBER Alerts have such strict criteria and in turn are used so sparingly.

According to the official AMBER Alert of Ohio website, there have been only three alerts so far in 2023, there were six in 2022, 13 in 2021, and six in 2020.