News Release For Immediate Release
April 30, 2003
Bill Authorizes Matching Grants to States to Help Ensure Effective AMBER Alerts.
Everett, Washington – April 30, 2003 – Hundreds gathered today in the Rose Garden of the White House for the presidential signing of the PROTECT Act of 2003. Those in attendance included US Atorney General John Ashcroft, members of the Congress and the Senate, governors, mayors, representatives of missing children centers, and victim-families.
“This law, the Protect Act of 2003, will greatly assist law enforcement in tracking criminals who would harm our children, and will greatly help in rescuing the youngest victims of crime. With my signature, this new law will formally establish the federal government’s role in the Amber Alert system and will make punishment for federal crimes against children more severe,” assured President Bush.
At present, statewide AMBER Alert systems exist in 41 states, and according to government reports over 60 children have been recovered because of the efficacy of the AMBER Program. Thirty-million dollars in resources have been allocated from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice. Some of the funding will provide training for state and local enforcement, as well as AMBER Alert broadcasters.
Michael Gibson, president of OPERATION LOOKOUT® National Center for Missing Youth, said of the new bill, “This legislation will have far reaching impact and will possibly be our most effective tool in protecting our children. This new bill is not only about the AMBER program, but it also creates new, stringent laws that: increases penalties for criminals that murder children, targets child pornograhers, gives to certain repeat sex offenders a mandatory life sentence, strengthens federal penalties for child kidnapping and other crimes committed against children.”
At the president’s direction, Attorney General John Ashcroft appointed an Amber Alert coordinator to oversee this nationwide effort. “This new law formally establishes that position and empowers the coordinator to set clear and uniform voluntary standards for the use of Amber Alerts across our country,” said Bush. “It is important to expand the Amber Alert systems so police and sheriffs’ departments gain thousands or even millions of allies in the search for missing children. Every person who would think of abducting a child can know that a wide net will be cast. They may be found by a police cruiser, or by the car right next to them on a highway. These criminals can know that any driver they pass could be the one that spots them and brings them to justice.”
The president added, “No child should ever have to experience the terror of abduction, or worse. No family should ever have to endure the nightmare of losing a child. Our nation grieves with every family that has suffered unbearable loss. And our nation will fight threats against our children.”
Continuing, the president said. “Amber Alerts have become an increasingly important tool in rescuing kidnapped children, by quickly getting key information about the missing child and information about the suspect out into the public through radio broadcasts or highway signs or other means. An Amber Alert adds thousands of citizens to the search in the crucial early hours.”
AMBER Alert began in 1996 and was named in honor of Amber Hagerman, a nine year old who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas. “We are acting today in her memory, and in the memory of so many other girls and boys who lost their lives in innocence and acts of cruelty.” Just before signing the bill, the president stated, “This law marks important progress in the protection of America’s children.”
Of the signing of the new law of the land, Michael Gibson said, “We are grateful to the Bush Administration for their proactive leadership in the issues of missing and exploited children. This vital legislation is one more step to ensure the safety of America’s children.”
Founded in 1984, Operation Lookout, a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has helped more than 13,000 missing children and their families, always without charge, and overall, has an 82 percent resolution rate. Operation Lookout assists law enforcement worldwide, and serves as both advocate and liaison with government and private agencies involved in the field of missing children. For more information about Operation Lookout, call 800-782-7335 or visit our Website at www.operationlookout.org.