GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan State Police’s AMBER Alert coordinator told 24 Hour News 8 Monday she doesn’t regret sending out a loud, early morning text alert over the weekend and that she would do it again if it would help a child.
Thousands of Michiganders got an electronic text AMBER Alert, accompanied by a loud alarm, at about 5:20 a.m. Saturday. The alert went to phones within a 200 mile radius of Bancroft, which is southwest of Flint. Hailey Betts, 6, was feared to have been abducted from Bancroft by her father and was thought to be in immediate danger. She was later found safe.
It was the first time many people realized their phones had the capability to automatically send such an alert.
“Any time you hear the tone that comes across on the phone like that, you immediately awake in that state of shock and terror: ‘What do I do, What do I do?'” Randy Sheldon said.
Sheldon was sound asleep when the alert went off and woke up thinking there was a severe weather situation.
When he realized the alarm was an AMBER Alert, “I was a little bit miffed,” he said.
“I like the idea that it reached me, which means it probably reached everybody the same way, but the whole shock that the tone gave across was kind of alarming,” Sheldon said.
MSP Detective Sgt. Sarah Krebs is the police agency’s AMBER Alert coordinator. It’s her division that decides to issue an AMBER Alert and then if a wireless text alert will be sent.
“Anybody that lost sleep or who was stressed out from the anxiety the alert caused, it worked,” Krebs said. “Just know that it wasn’t just for us thinking it would be fun for us to wake up people. The child was safely recovered because of the AMBER Alert.”
She said the AMBER Alert was activated about three hours before the wireless message was sent. She said it’s just another tool in their toolbox — one they don’t want to overuse. There’s a very specific set of rules required to issue an AMBER Alert; perhaps most importantly that the police agency must think a child is in imminent danger.
Krebs said a key reason a wireless alert was sent out in this case was because there was text information the agency wanted to get out — the make, model and license plate number of the vehicle Hailey’s father was thought to be driving. The wireless alerts can’t send pictures, but rather only texts.
The alerts themselves come from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but are requested by a police agency like MSP.
Krebs said the text alerts worked and she wouldn’t hesitate to issue another one in a situation where a child may be in danger.
“Unfortunately, kids don’t get abducted during banking hours very often, so the probability that it’s going to go off in the middle of the night is pretty high,” Krebs said.
She also said that if people want to turn off the alert on their phone, they have that right.
“Everybody has their own decision. That’s why they enable you to turn it off,” said Krebs. “If you don’t have a vested interest in bringing children home, then turn it off. Those of us that would like to see children recovered safely and be on the same team keep it on.”
Social media blew up after the alert.
“The majority of the conversation was around, ‘That scared me. That was loud. I’m awake now.’ There was a lot of positive conversation and a few detractors,” said Derek Devries, a social media expert with Lambert Edwards and Associates.
He performed an analysis of the social media response to the alert. He said he found some annoyance, but mostly compassion for Hailey and confusion. He said there were many questions about how often the text alert will be used in the future.
“I think that it would be really great if [MSP] could get out there and tell the story that this had a happy ending, and that this is a service that they’re going to be using judiciously — only in cases when it’s really important — and assuage some concerns that people might have that it would become a frequent intrusion,” said DeVries.