SPRING HILL — After getting into a bit of trouble at home, 11-year-old Ben R. Tipton took off on his bicycle Tuesday afternoon.
That bike ride led to a search by at least a half-dozen law enforcement agencies and hundreds of local volunteers, followed by a statewide Amber Alert.
Tipton later told Spring Hill Police he had ridden his bike around town until he reached a Dollar General store on Port Royal Road, where he suddenly was chased by three people after leaving the store, then chased again after sheltering a while back inside.
Police Chief Don Brite said officers kept questioning the boy about his story until he admitted that's not what happened.
"He ran away," Brite said. "There was no foul play or abduction involved."
Still, the response was massive, high tech and quickly organized. Tipton left home about 2:15 p.m. His parents called police about 5:15 p.m. to report him missing, Brite said.
Authorities — including Williamson and Maury County sheriff's departments, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the FBI and TBI — began canvassing neighborhoods near his home in the Pipkin Hills subdivision.
Through social media, hundreds of volunteers organized and began helping with the search, so much so that police eventually sent out an online alert saying no more volunteers were needed.
Information led police to a Kroger on Port Royal Road, where they found his blue bike ditched near the entrance to Haynes Crossing subdivision. Then they got a tip that he could be in a wooded area in the Chapman's Retreat neighborhood.
By 8 p.m., the TBI decided to issue a statewide Amber Alert, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said. Interstate information signs, cable television systems, weather radios and news agencies flashed the alert.
Some Comcast subscribers complained that the alert interrupted their TV service for about 30 minutes. Helm said the National Weather Service, which sends out the cable TV alerts, and Comcast were still trying to determine what happened.
Despite the massive response, it was not the Amber Alert, the police, or the volunteer searchers that led to the boy. At about 10:15 p.m., an employee at a Papa John's Pizza on Main Street recognized the child standing in the parking lot from one of the many fliers posted that day by Spring Hill Church of Christ, Tipton's home church.
Margie Quin, who runs the state's alert program for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, has said, "you've got to save the Amber Alert for the worst-case scenarios."
The TBI decides whether to issue an alert based on the situation meeting at least one of three criteria: Having a description of the child, a description of the suspect, or a description of the vehicle. Also, the child must be 17 years or younger and believed to be in imminent danger of bodily injury or death.
Alerts go out through television, news sites, weather radios, digital interstate signs, lottery kiosks, and voluntary text messages.