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How a missing child becomes an AMBER Alert

A lot of children go missing. Not all become an AMBER Alert. Here's how the TBI decides the difference.

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. — On February 19, 2020, the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office asked the public to help them find a missing 15-month-old girl. The sheriff's office noted that the case had not qualified for an AMBER Alert. Hours later, the AMBER Alert was issued.

So what changed?

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation sets the criteria for all AMBER Alerts issued in the state. Those are as follows:

1. The child must be 17-years-old or younger.

2. There is accurate information on a description of the child, suspect, or vehicle; and one or both of the following factors exist:

     a. There is a reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.

     b. There is a reasonable belief by law enforcement that the child is in imminent danger of bodily injury or death.

In the Sullivan County case, the child was reported missing before investigators gathered information that led the TBI to believe the child was in imminent danger. Once that information was gathered, the TBI issued the AMBER Alert to help make more of the public aware of the case.

Note that the TBI was able to issue this AMBER alert without confirmed descriptions of a suspect or vehicle, or a confirmed suspicion of an abduction. That does not preclude the TBI from adding that information as a case develops.

The focus of this article is only the criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts. If you're looking for the latest information on the Sullivan County missing child case referenced in this story, click here.

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