In 1996, 9 year old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas was kidnapped and murdered. The little girl had been riding her bike with her brother when she was grabbed. A witness told his family, and people began searching. Four days later, she was found dead less than 5 miles from where she was last seen. As of this writing, no suspect has ever been identified for her kidnap or murder.
From 1996 until 1998, people called in to radio stations to alert the community that a child had been abducted. Why? Because the more people who are alerted to watch for a specific child, who has been taken, or a particular car, or a suspected person, the better. The more people who are looking the more chance there is of the child returning home.
In Canada, Alberta was the first to adopt a province-wide alert system for missing children in 2002. By 2005, every other province had followed suit. In 2009, Tori Stafford, also 9 years old, was abducted, raped and murdered in Woodstock, ON, and an Amber Alert was never issued as her criteria did not meet that to launch the alert. Since her case, the law in Ontario, has been amended.
In recent years, Canadians had the choice to receive text alerts when an Amber Alert was issued, but in the past year, the government declared that police could simply send out an alert to cellphones when an Amber Alert happens. In 2018, only 5 AMBER ALERTs were issued, despite 649 missing children being reported, because the criteria for issuing an Amber Alert is so strict that 644 kids did not qualify.
644 abducted kids did not qualify as worth an Amber Alert.
On February 14, 2019, 11 year old Riya Rajkumar did not come home from a birthday visit with her dad, Rapoosh Rajkumar, and this little girl actually fit the criteria of a child for whom an Amber Alert could be issued. The Ontario Provincial Police Department issued an Amber Alert to the Peel community, to which Riya belonged, setting off cellphones across the region just after 11pm, and 911 calls began to pour in.
The Amber Alert worked.
Except it didn’t. Because these calls were not from observant people who had seen his silver Honda Civic driving by, or that they had seen Rapoosh Rajkumar at a gas station. These calls were from citizens who were angry that their sleep was disturbed over a “non-emergency” such as a little missing girl, who was soon to be found dead in her dad’s basement apartment.
People called 911 to complain about an Amber Alert. To complain that their sleep had been disturbed by a child who was abducted and murdered. To complain that they should only issue an alert when a child will be found alive.
How does this happen? How do police, who have already had to jump through hoops to confirm that a child qualifies for an Amber Alert know if she is alive or dead? The purpose of the Amber Alert is to hopefully find her before she is harmed. I will get to my thoughts on the selfish entitlement that comes from feeling that someone else’s emergency is not your problem; but first, how can anyone think that 911 is the place to call and lodge a complaint? How can someone, such as the caller who actually did what the Alert was meant to do and called when they saw the father’s vehicle, leading to his arrest, get through to the police in time to help that child if we are using the emergency services line to lodge complaints?
How can we have become a society that is so ludicrously desensitized to individual plight that we feel offended when an Amber Alert is issued? We update our profile pictures to be Paris Strong, or Humbolt Strong, or Boston Strong, when multiple people are victims of mass casualties, and we should, but to then turn around and feel annoyance that someone’s worst nightmare is an inconvenience to you? One man went so far as to post publicly that he “doesn’t care that your kid is missing”. Why? Why doesn’t he care? We should all care. No, the Amber Alert does not rescue all children. No, we cannot always protect other people, but why can we not at least look at our phones at 11pm and keep our eyes open for a silver Honda with a little girl inside, who is about to end her birthday in the most horrific way?
Do not tell me that Canadians are kind, and welcoming and admirable and that we look out for each other, while dialing 911 to tell them that this, this little girl does not deserve to disrupt our sleep.
In the end, despite the ridiculous selfish, bordering on sociopathic, lack of care shown by Ontarians last night, the suspect, Riya’s father, was spotted by someone who understood what the Amber Alert is meant to do, and the police managed to arrest and charge him, finding Riya’s body in her father’s home.
The Amber Alert did what it was meant to do. Unfortunately, humanity didn’t.