Amber Alert hoax cost taxpayers; could hurt the system
Posted May 20, 2008 10:35 p.m. EDT
Smithfield, N.C. — An Amber Alert that sparked a two-day search for a 3-year-old boy in Johnston County was a hoax. With the boy's safety no longer in question, people are starting to question why it happened and what it cost taxpayers.
State authorities issued the Amber Alert on Sunday after Siraj Munir "Roji" Davenport was reported missing from the Brightleaf Flea Market.
They canceled the Amber Alert at 12:27 a.m. Tuesday after police said the boy was safe – though they have not said where.
Smithfield Police Chief Steve Gillikin didn't say much about how this all came to be, just that Roji is safe and with family members. A close friend of the boy's family told WRAL he was overseas.
Roji was never even at the flea market, Gillikin said. That is where a woman identified as the boy's mother, Rosnah Thomason, said he disappeared while she was loading her car.
“It upsets us. We just don't know what to understand by that. We don't know what to think,” said Paula Allen, director of the pre-school the boy attends.
Local, state and federal investigators searched Sunday and Monday by air, ground and water for the child, and FBI investigators spent most of Monday interviewing Thomason.
“There's been a lot of man-hours spent. There's been a lot of money spent,” Gillikin said.
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said his department alone spent thousands of taxpayer dollars looking for the boy.
“Unfortunately in situations like this, it makes the next one that comes along that much more difficult,” Gillikin said.
It's not possible, the chief said, to put a price tag on what the cost of the false report will be in the long term for credibility in the community.
“I think it desensitizes the public to these situations – that when they see these in the future, there's more of an inclination not to pay that much attention to it. So it hurts all around,” Gillikin said.
Short-term, however, everyone with whom WRAL talked was just thankful the boy was safe.
“I don't feel like we wasted time because I feel like whatever comes of this, we helped in some way,” former pre-school teacher Karen Barbour said.
Gillikin declined to elaborate about the case, saying only that a joint investigation with the FBI is ongoing. The FBI, also, would not comment. Neither Gillikin nor the FBI would explain what brought the federal agency into a local missing-child case right away.
It is still unclear whether charges will be filed against Thomason. Gillikin said that would likely be determined at the conclusion of the investigation.