Local News

Was Amber Alert System Abused?

Posted October 24, 2007

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— Broadcasters are crying foul over the use of the Amber Alert system in the death investigation of an 11-month-old girl last weekend.

Harmony Jade Creech was reported missing from her Spring Lake home last Friday morning, prompting Harnett County authorities to issue a statewide Amber Alert as local, state and federal officials scrambled to find her.

Investigators found the baby's body Saturday afternoon, but the Amber Alert wasn't canceled until about 10 p.m. Saturday. Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins said he didn't want to compromise the death investigation by tipping the baby's mother that the body had been found.

Johni Michelle Heuser, 25, of 1680 Ray Road in Spring Lake, has been charged with first-degree murder in Harmony's death. She told investigators that she found the baby dead in her crib several weeks ago but hid the death out of fear.

"It would have been very counterproductive had we immediately lifted that in the state we were in," Rollins said.

But Bruce Wheeler, president of the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, said the case raises questions about the proper use of the Amber Alert system.

The state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety oversees the system, but relies on local law enforcement authorities to  decide when alerts are issued and canceled. State leaders plan to discuss the matter at the next Association of Broadcasters meeting in December, Wheeler said.

"It's misleading. If the person has been found, then it's just not accurate at that point," he said of maintaining an alert in the Spring Lake case. "There's the issue of the credibility of our reporting and, ultimately, the credibility of the Amber Alert system."

Greg Baker, who oversees the FBI in Raleigh, said he supports Rollins' explanation for keeping the alert in place to help a criminal investigation.

"Had I been there, I would have made the same call," Baker said. "Where we can immediately cancel an Amber Alert, we should do that. There are a lot of resources at play. But in this case, because of what was going on at the time, it was the right call."

Wheeler said he understands Rollins' motives, but he said the system needs to balance between good police work, accurate reporting and the mission to find the missing.

"The last thing anybody wants is for the public to be skeptical about these reports and to stop looking for these missing persons," he said.


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  • mrobertson Oct 26, 2007

    First, I need to say that I am biased towards law enforcement with a career of over 35 years.
    Second, I have some knowledge of the Amber Alert System.
    The "system" definitely was not "abused" by the Sheriff of Harnett County or anyone else. His frst job was to try to locate a missing child. His next was to arrest and prosecute a person or persons responsible for the death of this child.
    The Amber System is to locate a missing and endangered child. In this instance, the investigation was ongoing and at a very critical stage when the unidentified remains were found. The Sheriff made the same decision that any veteran law enforcement officer would have made in this situation (or anyone else with common sense)--that was to clear up the ongoing investigation, then clear the Amber Alert. I have no problem at all with what he did.

    This is an attempt by the media to MAKE news rather than report it. Kudos to the Sheriff and his investigators for a job well done.

  • retired and luv it Oct 26, 2007

    I think clear guidelines must be set by proper authorities to cover all the gray area. It is a good system but lets don t let the public grow passive about it by questionable use.

  • grumpyhermit Oct 26, 2007

    Was Amber Alert System Abused? In my opinion, no, it was not.

    Without having been there (thank God) it sounds like it was appropriate for them to issue an alert. I think better to issue an alert that is ultimately not needed than to wait and dither around and not issue an alert that is needed.

  • Dude Oct 26, 2007

    I am going to have to take the other side of the fence on this one. Being a broadcaster myself, it is WAY too easy for them to issue an amber alert. There have been times where they issue the alert, and find the child just a while later in the house. There is no check and balance system to the amber alert. Whenever they want to hit the button to send one out, they do and I do believe that people will not pay attention to them. It will finally end up like the boy who cried wolf.

  • bonnnie Oct 26, 2007

    NO I donnot think the the Amber System was abused. Police did what they thought was best and sometimes that means eveyone isnot going to be happy.

  • teddybear199 Oct 26, 2007

    People wouldn't be less likely to pay attention to the amber alerts if people would not cast doubt on them. Those of you who think they are wrong will appreciate its use if the situation ever arises you need it.

  • atozca Oct 25, 2007

    Wheeler is over reacting. This isn't a common problem. This is a one time issue where the law found it necessary to do their job first! I appreciate the Amber Alert program and do not feel that we have a "wolf" problem.

  • djofraleigh Oct 25, 2007

    I'm more bothered by the use of it when the child's natural parent is the one who has the child, which was the case in the other of the recent Amber Alerts. I get notices in the mail that are often a case of the non-custodial parent having the child, which I don't get too torn up over.

  • something2say Oct 25, 2007

    Won't you want the AMBER ALERT if your child, niece, nephew or grandchild goes missing! Personally, I will continue to listen to the alerts and be relieved each time a child is found safely! I don't care if it is a custody issue or not. During those battles, children have been hurt or killed!

    Please don't allow this system to call "WOLF" to often! Be on the watch!

  • twinems Oct 25, 2007

    "Abusing" the system would be what her mom did, not Rollins.
    How can anyone look at that beautiful little girl's picture and feel they were mislead because the alert was not cancelled a few hours earlier. I really doubt those of you complaining were actually going way out of your way, riding down the road, searching high and low for little Harmony. Did the alert not being cancelled a couple hours earlier put you out? No!
    The law knew what they were doing and had good reasons. So sorry for those who feel you were mislead.
    BREAKING NEWS! The media does it to you everyday! In this case a sweet little babies life was the subject. I'd be ashamed if I was the one who felt "lied to" because the law decided not to call you personally when they first found the babys body and report to you personally. For those really worried with the mom being charged with murder so soon,am I the only one who doesn't care what they call the charge. She doesn't deserve to breathe tomorrows air!