You deserve to be woken up by Amber Alerts

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In the early morning hours of July 11,an Amber Alert was issued across Ontario notifying the province about a missing grandfather and his two grandsons, aged two and four. A mere hour and a half later, the York Regional Police successfuly found the three and returned them home. Police later said they were located as a direct result of the Amber Alert. 

While I wish I could write this piece about how phenomenally the Amber Alert system worked in this case, this story  as many Amber Alert cases now often do  took an unfortunate, bitter turn. 

9-1-1 dispatchers that night were greeted by a plethora of complaint calls by those irritated that the 3 a.m. alert had woken them from their sleep. According to dispatchers that night, the calls came from a large area, not just the area from which the three had gone missing. 

These Amber Alert complaints are nothing new, but the constant resurgence of anger toward those who complain gives me hope that as a collective, we know that the concept itself is ridiculous. 

I find it hard to wrap my brain around the idea that someone would feel so irritated that they were notified that a child is missing that they would treat 9-1-1 like a complaint hotline. Maybe it’s because these people don’t know that an Amber Alert is only issued in Canada when the child is “believed to have been abducted” and is believed to be “in grave danger” as stated by MissingKids.ca, meaning that in Canada, Amber Alerts are only issued if a child has gone missing under suspicious or dangerous pretences. 

While I do believe a large factor in these complaints stems from an uncanny sense of entitlement, I unfortunately believe it also stems from people forgetting how Amber Alerts came to be. If people did, maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to slander law enforcement. 

The name “Amber” in Amber Alert stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response,” but is also intended to honour Amber Hagerman; a nine-year-old from Arlington, Texas. While Amber was out biking on Jan. 13, 1996 in a grocery store parking lot, a man in a black truck jumped out of his vehicle, grabbed her, and tossed her inside. There was only one witness to the kidnapping, bystander Jimmie Kevil who then called the police. 

Despite tens of officers searching for the missing girl, days passed, and they came up with nothing. That was until five days later, when her body was located in a creek. 

After Amber’s murder had been announced, it was a woman unrelated to Amber–Diana Simone–who questioned why radio stations had been issuing weather warnings surrounding a storm and yet hadn’t issued an alert for the missing child. This suggestion grew to become the Amber Alert system, implemented later that year. 

The assumption regarding the program’s creation was that if more people had known about Amber’s abduction, there may have been a greater chance of her coming home that evening alive and her captor, and now murderer, being apprehended. To this day, Amber’s murderer has never been found. To this day, because not enough people were notified of her death, not only was Amber killed, but the person who did it has been able to roam free. 

Complaining about an Amber Alert is unfathomable to me. Maybe it’s because I read more about cases where missing children are found after the fact, their bodies in horrible condition, or maybe it’s just because I have a heart. It shouldn’t take a great deal of thought to consider why complaining about a missing child notification is sick. 

I witnessed a complaint during the midst of this that stated: “No one is looking for missing children at 4 a.m.” Maybe you’re right. Maybe the alert isn’t telling you to get outside and start searching, but rather it is simply notifying you of something to be on the lookout for. It’s called an alert for a reason. It’s alerting you of something that’s happening. It’s not a call to action. 

I also saw the same person argue that people are going to be “sleep deprived the next day.” To that, I need to ask: you do know that going back to sleep is still an option, right? You can wake up and read an alert and  brace yourself for this part, it’s a little crazy  go back to bed. 

Possibly the worst part about people calling to complain was that the Toronto Police Operations shared on Twitter that they “have been receiving dozens of complaint calls” and needed to ask people to “not block 9-1-1 lines with non-emergencies, as you are risking the health & safety of others.” 

I can’t tell if it horrifies me more knowing that dozens of people called to complain, or that they willingly blocked emergency 9-1-1 lines to complain that they were notified about a parent’s worst nightmare. Imagine viewing the potential kidnapping of a child as a detriment to your sleep; as if the disappearance of another human life was such a burden to your precious replaceable, adjustable sleep schedule. Because the truth of the matter is that your sleep can be made up. You can get the sleep you lost back, but if a family loses their child because no alert was released, they don’t get to have that child back. There is no making up for that. 

So, to those who complain about Amber Alerts waking your precious sleep, I post one question to you: how does it feel wearing those rose-coloured glasses? Would you keep them on if it was your child that had gone missing? Because I have a hunch that no, you wouldn’t. 

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