Family, friends, and police are searching for 16 year-old Cassandra Jones. Cassandra disappeared Monday. She was reportedly last seen around 6:25 a.m., getting on the school bus. That is how the story unfolded on our 10:00 p.m. newscast February 12.
But by then, Cassandra Jones had been missing for three days! At Newsfour we had not learned the details of her disappearance until early that evening. And although Saint Louis police were investigating, they said the case did not meet the requirements for a local SARAA alert or a national AMBER alert, and they did not suspect foul play.
For family members, concern for a missing child overrides policy. And understandably so. Cassandra's family thought she boarded the bus on Monday, but the bus driver told them she had not. School officials say the high school junior never arrived at E.H. Lyle Academy where she is a junior. Cassandra's grandparents reported her missing when she did not come home that Monday afternoon from school.
After hours of worrying and no sign of Cassandra, the family contacted city leaders, citing a lack of urgency from police. Some calls were made, and the police are now investigating, but below are some of the criteria considered before an alert is issued.
To initiate a SARAA alert:
1. The child must be 16 years of age or younger and the law enforcement agency believes the child has been kidnapped.
2. There is belief the child is in danger of serious great bodily harm or death.
3. An investigation has verified a kidnapping.
4. There is enough evidence to disseminate to the public that could assist in a search
To initiate an AMBER alert:
1. There is reasonable belief that an abduction has occurred.
2. Law enforcement believes the child is in imminent danger of serious injury or death.
3. There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
4. The child is age 17 or younger.
5. The child's name and other critical date elements are available.
Those are the rules for issuing alerts. But many times a case is compelling...without meeting the criteria. And certainly, every family whose loved one is missing wants help...whether foul play is suspected or not. Cassandra Jones' is the latest example of a case where the rules are not an exact fit...but finding her is still important. And fortunately, we made the decision to tell you and everyone watching.