Local News

Sheriff Defends Slow Amber Alert Request For Missing Twins

Posted December 8, 2005 6:54 a.m. EST

— The Amber Alert that helped officials safely recover twin boys on Wednesday clearly met state guidelines for issuing emergency notification to media and law enforcement agencies.

But authorities did not request the alert until Wednesday, almost 24 hours after the Department of Social Services was awarded custody and nearly two days after their father threatened to harm the boys and others.

Granville County Sheriff David Smith on Thursday defended the delay.

"We didn't have any reason to believe that he (the father) actually had fled the area," he said. "A father's involved that loved these children. It wasn't like we had information they took the children and were gone."

State officials that oversee North Carolina's three-year-old Amber Alert program say this week's incident left no doubt it was worthy of an alert.

"When it came to us it was a no-brainer," said Bill Chandler, deputy director of the state Alcohol Law Enforcement department, which oversees the N.C. Center for Missing Persons that issues the alerts.

"We guard these very jealously because if we put out too many ... people are not going to pay attention to them."

The U.S. Justice Department says time is of the essence in abductions, citing statistics that show three-quarters of the children killed by their kidnappers are slain within the first three hours of their disappearance.

The N.C. Center for Missing Persons can't issue the alert until it's requested by local law enforcement. Officials at the center then filter requests to ensure they meet state criteria, including that a threat was made and it involves a person under 17 years old.

The system uses a state's emergency notification system to give broadcasters a description of a missing child and of a suspect's vehicle. That description can also be displayed on electronic highway signs and, in some states, on the scrolling message of electronic lottery machines.

The father, Byron Joseph Reed, while talking to a social worker on Monday threatened to harm his boys, 2-year-old Devin and Donovan Reed, himself, their mother and DSS workers after learning they would lose custody the next day, officials said.

But the Granville County social services department didn't notify the sheriff's office about the threat until Tuesday.

And it wasn't until Wednesday that the sheriff's office asked state authorities to issue an Amber Alert.

The Reeds left with the boys because the department had been awarded custody Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

Officials said they were concerned about the lack of utilities and deplorable conditions at the couple's mobile home just north of the Durham County-Granville County line.

Smith said deputies went to the couple's home on Tuesday, but no one was home and the power was off.

Officers monitored the home overnight and Wednesday morning before they and social services officials decided to issue the alert.

The boys were found Wednesday afternoon at the home of their grandparents in Durham County.

Byron Reed, 38, and the boys' mother, Linda McCotter Reed, 35, had taken the boys to their grandmother's house and called authorities to alert them of the boys' location after learning that an Amber Alert had been issued, Smith said.

The parents were stopped by Durham County sheriff's deputies Wednesday afternoon and were turned over to the Granville County sheriff's department.

Byron Reed was booked at the Granville County Jail and held on $50,000 bond for a felony threatening of a social worker, Smith said. A court date was set for Wednesday.

Linda Reed was being held in the Durham County Jail in lieu of $1,000 bond on a charge of failing to appear Nov. 30 in Durham County court on one count of misdemeanor larceny, jail officials said.

"We did exactly what we should have done; it worked out exactly like it was supposed to," Smith said.

In the past three years, there have been 16 amber alert cases in North Carolina. In every case, the missing child was found safe.