Fort Worth Police Explain Why Amber Alert Notification Was Not Sent

Fort Worth leaders to meet with Amber Alert team on alert guidelines

The kidnapping of a Fort Worth girl is raising questions about how Amber Alerts are issued and why cell phones failed to buzz with the emergency information Saturday night.

Fortunately, the missing 8-year-old girl was found alive but not all parents are so fortunate.

Not a day goes by that former Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson doesn't think about Amber Hagerman.

"I go to bed every night knowing that I failed, we failed as a department saving that child," he said. "I'll leave a legacy behind of the Amber Alert, but it didn't save Amber."

The Arlington 9-year-old's 1996 kidnapping and murder sparked change in the form of Amber Alerts, change Anderson helped create.

"The whole idea is to get it in front of as many sets of eyes as you can," Anderson said.

On Saturday, the mother of an 8-year-old girl called police at 6:37 p.m. to report her daughter's abduction -- bolstered by her own eyewitness account that was backed up by a neighbor and his Ring video. But it wasn't until nearly four and a half hours later, at 11:02 p.m., that an official statewide Amber Alert was issued to media.

"The first, most desperate, time that you have is to get the information out locally and that can be done on a regional alert bases," Anderson said

On Tuesday, Fort Worth police issued a statement to explain why the alert did not reach cell phones.

Police said they submitted the notification for an Amber Alert to the Texas Department of Public Safety at 9:14 p.m. Texas DPS is responsible for sending that information to the Joint Crime Information Center, which sends alert to cell phones.

The alert was scheduled to be sent out at 6 a.m., police said, but the 8-year-old girl was located around 2 a.m.

Fort Worth police said they were also in charge of getting Emergency Alert information to local radio stations, which include KRLD and WBAP in North Texas. Radio stations must receive the information by fax, but police detectives had problems with the fax machine they were trying to use and that step was not completed.

In the future, they would email the emergency information to radio stations, Fort Worth police said.

"The question is, 'What was the decision and why was it made?'" Anderson asked.

Phone alerts are limited to 90 characters and they can't yet include pictures, like the one of the suspect's car that helped track him down.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said the criteria for phone Amber Alerts differs by state. In Texas, they typically wouldn't go out late at night for fear people will turn the feature off because it's loud.

In those critical hours to find the missing child, police relied heavily on Twitter and Facebook. Mayor Betsy Price said the Amber Alert system may need an upgrade.

"I don't know that they've updated their guidelines now that we have much better video and social media, they probably need to visit that again," she said.

Anderson agreed. He said there's always room for improvement as long as things move quickly.

"Every step that you add to the process takes time. And the whole key to this from day one, the key to this is speed," he said.

Click here for the guidelines for issuing an Amber Alert.

NBC 5's Chris Blake contributed to this report.

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