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Last updated on Tuesday, January 3, 2012
(UNDATED)(AP) - Although it may not have saved her life, Aliahna Lemmon’s death may have exposed holes in the state’s Amber Alert system for tracking kidnapped children.
Craig Gill, founder of the Fort Wayne-based Family Crisis Network, last week pondered the requirements for the state to send out a statewide, kidnapped-child alert in the hours before investigators found Aliahna's remains.
A squad of investigators had spent three days searching for Aliahna at that point, but no Amber Alert had been issued.
At that point, Gill said, it seemed like madness that no alert had gone out yet, even as law enforcement and volunteers continued searching the Northway Mobile Home Park.
"The regulation in place for state police should be that any suspected child abduction would warrant an Amber Alert," Gill said. "I don't want it to be seen that I'm bashing the sheriff's department. I think what needs to happen essentially is we need to look at the pros and cons of any kind of reform."
Investigators found Aliahna's remains in a Fort Wayne trailer park and outside a nearby convenience store three days after she was reported missing.
Allen County Sheriff's Department is holding her baby-sitter and family friend Michael Plumadore, 39, on murder charges.
Police state in court filings that Plumadore admitted to beating Aliahna to death with a brick, freezing her remains and then sawing her body into pieces.
Gill, a former Army Ranger whose group helps law enforcement track missing children, said an Amber Alert clearly would not have changed the circumstances for Aliahna.
But he was still surprised when no alert went out after she was first reported missing and the case exposed a gap in state law.
The Indiana State Police make the call whether to issue an Amber Alert based on four factors: 1) the child must be younger than 18, 2) the child must be believed abducted and in danger of harm or death, 3) there must be a good enough description of the child and abductor to believe a broadcast will help and 4) local law enforcement must recommend the alert to state police.
"Clearly on any type of missing child case there's a lot of initial investigation to try to answer the pieces of that puzzle," said Capt. Dave Bursten, Indiana State Police spokesman. "And I'm sure it was done in the case of this little girl and the circumstances of her death and the circumstances of any child being injured or killed, it's never acceptable. I understand people being upset and wanting answers and saying, 'Well, let's change this.' But you've got to look at what that will accomplish."
Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel, Allen County Sheriff's spokesman, said he was unsure if his office forwarded a request to the state police for an alert for Aliahna. Although the process is pretty clear, he said: "We basically report the facts that we have, then they will have to make their determination."
State lawmakers passed the Amber Alert law in 2002. In 2003, Congress approved a federal Amber Alert setting up a coordinating office in the Justice Department but leaving the details to the states.
Since then some state lawmakers have attempted to broaden the scope of the program. In New Jersey, a pair of Republican state lawmakers sought a change to cover parental abductions of children. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is likewise considering an expansion of her state's law to cover parents who abduct their children.
"You can tighten it up but you would need to do some research before you do," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Bray, R-Martinsville. "It's the boy who cried wolf. You don't want to clog the pipeline with things that are not truly serious. That would defeat the whole purpose right there."
It's been a few years since local law enforcement have talked about changes to the Amber Alert system, said Steve Luce, executive director of the Indiana State Sheriffs Association.
The last major change in Indiana added missing elderly residents to the law, with the "Silver Alert" system.
"Sometimes we need to go back and revisit what we are doing," Luce said.
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