Local News

Delay in Amber Alert Questioned

Posted January 30, 2007 11:57 a.m. EST
Updated January 30, 2007 6:28 p.m. EST

— A day after a man stole a Jeep with a toddler inside from a north Raleigh gas station, questions arose about the delay in issuing an Amber Alert in her disappearance.

Jemica Bell had gone inside a Kangaroo-BP gas station on Wake Forest Road to pay for a fill-up Monday afternoon when a man drove off in her 1998 Jeep Cherokee, police said. Bell's 3-year-old daughter Jamyah Jones, was strapped in her car seat in the back of the Jeep, police said.

"I was pumping gas and I went in to pay for it, and someone drove off with my car just like that," a frantic Bell told a 911 dispatcher.

"And your daughter was in the car?" the dispatcher asked.

"Yes, she's asleep," Bell said.

The Jeep was found after about 90 minutes outside a shopping center at the intersection of Creedmoor and Strickland roads -- about seven miles from where the car was stolen. The toddler was still in her car seat and was unharmed, police said.

"This is a dramatic example of just how wrong things can go and how quickly they can go wrong," said Jim Sughrue, spokesman for the Raleigh Police Department.

A statewide Amber Alert wasn't issued until more than an hour after the child's disappearance, and some people have questioned whether authorities acted fast enough.

"There are some things that qualify for an Amber Alert and other things that don't, so we have to make sure when something happens that it is something that qualifies," Sughrue said.

Investigators said they are concentrating their efforts on finding the suspect and said it's too early to determine if Bell could face child neglect charges.

Last fall, a Rocky Mount mother was charged with misdemeanor child abuse after she left her daughter in a running car outside a convenience store and the car was stolen. The car was later recovered in Richmond, Va., and the girl was unharmed.

Police on Tuesday released surveillance pictures taken from the inside of the Kangaroo store on a man who matches the description of the car thief.

Witnesses said the man simply walked up to the Jeep, got in and drove off. He is described as about 6 feet 1 inch tall with medium build and was wearing a three-quarters-length dark coat.

Anyone with information in the case is asked to call the Raleigh Police Department at 919-890-3555.