JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KCTV) -- A Missouri House committee on Monday passed a bill that would revamp the state's Amber Alert system in honor of Hailey Owens.
The 10-year-old Springfield girl was abducted on Feb. 18, 2014, as she was walking in her neighborhood and later found dead inside the home of a Springfield school district football coach. Craig Wood is facing the death penalty if convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing the girl.
It took about two hours for a statewide Amber Alert to be issued in part because of the cumbersome process that the vast majority of police departments have to go through to get the Missouri Highway Patrol's blessing to issue an Amber Alert. Witnesses saw the abduction, tried to stop it and and provided a detailed description of the suspect and his vehicle. But precious moments went by before their accounts were verified by police and shared with the public.
Among those testifying Monday night was Hailey's stepfather, Jeffrey Barfield. Her mother, Stacey, attended the hearing in an effort to ensure her daughter's gruesome death wasn't in vain.
"By the time the Amber Alert went out, there was no chance. Hailey was already deceased," Barfield said. "If could get the Amber Alerts done quickly, we give them the chance to retrieve kids and bring them home safely."
In addition to streamlining the process for issuing an Amber Alert, the overnight committee would have to meet annually to discuss any flaws and needed improvements.
"What we've been through over the last year is more pain than any family needs to go through, and we continue to walk it every day," Barfield said. "No family needs to go through this."
Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, is sponsoring the bill. He remembers those agonizing hours leading up to the discovery of Hailey's body.
"I'll never forget that night and I don't want to ever see that ever happen again to another family," he said. "Hopefully this will improve the number of children that are going to be found."
The House committee that oversees public safety immediately took a vote after the hearing to recommend the full House pass it. Votes are typically held at a later date, but lawmakers want to get this bill on the fast track. It will be held by another committee before it's sent to the full House.
Once it passes the House, as expected, it then goes to the Missouri Senate. The Missouri General Assembly meets until late May, but this bill is expected to be adopted and on Gov. Jay Nixon's desk well before that.
"There are no excuses. Either we do something or we don't," Barfield said.
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