Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Maui to test
abduction alert system

The MAILE AMBER alert on Maui
causes HPD some concern

WAILUKU » Maui police will be the first neighbor island law enforcement department to test the statewide MAILE AMBER Alert System, designed to help recover abducted children quickly.

The test is expected to take place tomorrow, with Maui police triggering the MAILE AMBER Alert System by broadcasting information to radio and television stations and also to the print media.

Maui police Lt. Glenn Cuomo said the goal is to inform the public within 15 minutes of a patrol car arriving at a scene to investigate a child abduction.

The system -- named after two victims killed in separate abductions: Amber Hagerman in Texas and Maile Gilbert in Hawaii -- was first tested on Feb. 17 by the Honolulu Police Department.

Gilbert, 6, was abducted from a Kailua party in 1985 and her body was found near Kaena Point on Oahu. Her murderer is serving a life sentence.

Her father, Tip Gilbert, said his family worked hard in the early years to help develop a system that assists in finding abducted children.

Hawaii was the last state to implement a statewide child abduction alert system.

"I'm glad they're testing it. It's been 20 years," Gilbert said.

When Maui announced plans for the test, the Honolulu Police Department was concerned that a statewide alert would cause confusion on Oahu. That's because the islands have communities with similar names: Kailua and Waimea, for example.

But officials for Missing Child Center Hawaii said police departments for all four counties agreed that a statewide alert would be best.

"The message will go statewide no matter what," said Charlene Takeno, coordinator for the Missing Child Center. "But each county has its own individual plan ... and part of the reasons for these tests is to see if those plans work."

Takeno said the state plans to test its child abduction alert system twice a year, in February and again in August. Next year, the tests will originate from Kauai and the Big Island.

"These are just tests ... hopefully we don't have to use this for real too often," she said.

Honolulu police spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the department has rewritten its MAILE AMBER Alert message to make it clear it's meant for Oahu.

Joan Fukumoto, assistant coordinator for Missing Child Center Hawaii, said there are few child abductions by strangers that would trigger a MAILE AMBER Alert. But finding the child within a few hours of the abduction is very important.

"Statistically, the most critical hours are the first three hours after the child is taken," she said.

If someone sees the child or abductor in the first three hours and reports the sighting to police, there's a much greater chance of the child surviving, police say.

Tomorrow also marks the 20th anniversary of Maile's abduction, and the family plans to visit the area where her ashes were scattered in Kaneohe Bay.

Maile Gilbert would have been 26, and she loved being with the family in an area overlooking Coconut Island.

"That was her favorite spot," Gilbert said.

County of Maui

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