Amber, the Maximum Alert

By Jesús Aguado

If only we were certain where we are heading, of what is around us; if we just knew the importance of time and the pivot that it can be for some, we could have a more positive attitude about situations that demand a high alert,” notes a video from the Guanajuato Attorney General’s Office. It states that, according to the Forum on Disappearances in Mexico, Guanajuato is ranked third in disappearances of children from infancy to 17 years-old. Regardless, the Attorney General’s Office did not provide information on the cases.

Forum on disappearances in Mexico

This year on January 20, the Forum on Disappearances in México held “A View of Children’s Rights” in Mexico City. The video of this event is available on canaldelcongreso.gob.mx. Jesús Peña Palacio, Representative of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for the Human Rights in Mexico, commented that from 2006 to 2014, according to the federal data base, there were 23 thousand people missing in Mexico, and of those, 6,725 are children under 17-years-old (30 percent of the total). And if that is not enough, half of them are female.

Peña Palacios divulged that Tamaulipas was in the first place with 1,914 who disappeared (609 girls), the State of Mexico was in second place with 562 (396 girls), and Guanajuato was in the third place with 419 cases (263 girls). According to the representative of the United Nations, “based on the registers,” the police authorities do not perform proper searches because “they consider the children to be a responsibility of the families; they do not assume that they are also a responsibility of the state, which should look for them.” Most of the good results of finding children have come because the family has looked for them, he noted.

During the forum, the representative of the High Commissioner also assured that there are records of the authorities’ prejudices to avoid searches for children; for example “if an adolescent has dyed hair, the authorities’ response is to go and look for her with her boyfriend; look for her in the nearest hotel.” He also remarked that if a member of the family removed the child, the authorities do not investigate because “it is a family problem, a problem between couples. The problem is that they consider the children as property, and as a consequence, responsibility of the family.”

We all should feel indignation when somebody disappears, the forum said, because the dignity of those people is disturbed; they are deprived of their rights and sometimes even their lives. During his presentation, Peña Palacios also commented that the topic of disappearance is a door with many paths, and the doors stay open until there is information about what happened. He assured that in the case of underage women, there is a direct relation with organized crime that uses them as “sex slaves.” Boys are used for drug trafficking or for harvesting drugs.

The first moments are crucial

In San Miguel, Raúl Mejía, major in the Secretariat of Public Security, commented that currently there are no cases of missing children—or people—in San Miguel. However, from October last year to January this year, they did receive 13 reports of underage people missing. All of them were found without the necessity of activating the Amber Alert America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response). The major stated that in the previous cases, the minors were with boyfriends, girlfriends, or just out of home.

In the past when there was a minor missing, the authorities had to wait from 24 to 72 hours before starting the search. However, Mejía commented that in San Miguel the police authorities understand that the first hours are crucial, above all when it is about children. That is the reason why there is no 24-hour-wait for the search. Mejía said that when the family calls, police officers go to the family’s house and give them some advice on where to look for them and how to do it. Some of the advice includes making calls to their children’s close friends and revisiting places where their sons or daughters normally go, among others. There are always officers helping with the search. To activate the Amber Alert, said Mejía, the family should have enough information to prove that the minor was kidnapped or “stolen.” If that is the case, all the information is delivered to the State C5i (Center for Coordination, Control, Communication and Computing) of the State Secretariat of Public Safety. After receiving the information, the Secretariat sends the information to the media and the general public in order to include more eyes and ears in the search for the missing children.

The State General Attorney’s Office provides information stating that “not all cases of missing minors are a cause for activating the alert.” The victim should be under 18 years old, and there must be enough information to prove the removing, kidnapping or disappearance.” There must also be enough information about the minor as well as facts that could help in finding them.

On the list

The most recent alert for a Sanmiguelense was on February 2, this year, for the disappearance of Luisa Fernanda Tovar Arana, a 16-year-old girl. It was said that she was in imminent danger because she disappeared with no money or identification. The alert was deactivated the very next day, but the authorities never informed the public where or how they located her.

On August 16, 2015, the alert was activated to locate José Antonio Arias Gómez, a 9-year-old child. The information provided by the Amber Alert page was that the minor was removed by the mother after losing custody due to “psychological and physical mistreatment. “As a consequence, the minor´s physical integrity is at risk,” continued the document. The alert was deactivated in January this year.

On August 2013, a 14-year-old girl from Los Ricos de Abajo disappeared. Although the Amber Alert was not activated, the local authorities received the information and started a search. The girl was found in Celaya with “a person who had offered her a job as a housekeeper.” According to the minor’s mother, she ran away from the community due to the mistreatment from some teenagers who humiliated her for being poor.

What is Amber?

The AMBER Alert System began in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnaped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, TX, and then brutally murdered. Other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER plans as the idea was adopted across the nation. Later it was adopted in Mexico.

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