When a child is abducted, there is a frantic search for their kidnapper. When an AMBER Alert is launched in California, your eyes and ears can help save that child's life.
CBS47's Steve McCarron takes an exclusive look into who is behind California's AMBER Alert system, what's being done to improve it and how you can step in when seconds count.
Victor Perez will never look at the view from his front porch the same ever again. On October 4, 2010, breaking news was spreading quickly about the AMBER Alert issued for an 8-year-old girl kidnapped from the front yard of her Central Fresno home.
Perez, who was not working that day, recognized the suspect's truck from news reports and it was driving right down his street. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be down the street where that happened. He was making a U-Turn right here,” said Perez.
With adrenaline pumping, something inside prompted Perez to step in and help. He got into his truck and tried to stop the suspect, 25-year-old Gregorio Gonzalez. He tried to cut off the truck several times before the chase came to a crashing end and the girl was set free.
“The look in her face, you know, said a million words, you know? Finally when me and her were face-to-face, she was having like a nervous breakdown like she came out of a freezer,” said Perez, whose brave actions that cold, fall morning helped save the young girl’s life.
State leaders say this case is an example of how California's AMBER Alert System is supposed to work.
Descriptions of abducted children under the age of 18, suspects, and vehicle information released to the public that will hopefully lead to a successful ending.
George Runner, who now serves on the State's Board of Equalization, wrote the original bill in 2002 that created California's AMBER Alert System. “We felt that it was a really efficient, effective way to get people engaged. Quite frankly, at that point, we didn't realize how effective it would be,” said Runner.
Over the last nine years, 222 victims have been safely rescued or recovered in California and 110 suspects have been taken into custody.
CBS47's Steve McCarron visited the top-secret room in Sacramento called the "Emergency Notification and Tactical Alert Center" or ENTAC, where every AMBER Alert is launched.
CBS47 is the first Fresno television station invited inside to see how it works.
For years, current California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief L.D. Maples had the final word on each AMBER Alert Activation. “AMBER Alerts work best when it's targeted, specific information for effectiveness and efficiency reasons,” said Maples.
If a case called in from a local police or sheriff's department fits several strict criteria, officials at ENTAC can authorize an alert, sending out useful information to the public through the media and highway signs in specific regions of the state or counties.
The alerts can even show up on tens of thousands of lottery machines statewide all at once.
“There's not really, in my experience, another example of something that's a better collaborative effort between public, private sector, and the media that produces the fact that if you can save one kid... Then obviously it's very effective,” said Maples.
Maples says the future of California's system lies heavily on the technology of tomorrow. You can already sign-up for AMBER Alerts through most cell phone providers, Twitter, and Facebook, but in a state of 37 million people, only 17,000 have joined California's AMBER Alert Facebook page.
Maples says public involvement is key to making it work. “Time is absolutely the worst enemy in a child abduction, besides the person abducting the child, so the clock is something law enforcement is working against,” said Maples.
These days, Perez says he pays closer attention to every AMBER Alert that's issued. Over the past 14 months, he's received a slew of accolades from local and state leaders that now line the mantel inside his cousin's home, along with his favorite – a picture drawn by the little girl he saved.
Victor Perez has been praised as a hero and a Good Samaritan, all because he heard the AMBER Alert and got involved.
Perez is currently working toward one day opening his own contracting business.
The suspect, Gregorio Gonzalez, is currently in the Fresno County Jail and scheduled to appear in court again on December 15th.
Below is a list of resources for missing children. There are also several websites to sign up for AMBER Alerts in the related links.
California Highway Patrol
Office of Victim Services