SALT LAKE CITY: The recovery of Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart has given missing-child organizations a media relations boost and ammunition to pressure the US House of Representatives to take action on so-called "Amber Alert" legislation.
The Association of Missing and Exploited Childrens Organization (AMECO) certifies 48 groups in the US and Canada, many formed by the parents of missing children. After Smart's recovery, these groups fielded so many media calls that some had to schedule impromptu press conferences, said AMECO's executive director Barbara Smith. Such organizations used the opportunity to publicize their activities or other missing-child cases.
"Media relations definitively has a role to play in recoveries," explained Tina Schwartz, public affairs director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The Smart family was able to keep Elizabeth's story in front of the press for a substantial amount of time, but not all families enjoy such media access.
"(Child abductions) happen on a regular basis, and nobody hears about it," lamented Jeff Griesemer, national director of Child Watch.
Ed Smart supported Amber Alert legislation before and after his daughter's recent recovery in a suburb of Salt Lake City. Dallas/Fort Worth radio stations and police developed the missing-child alert system after the 1996 abduction of Amber Hagerman. More than 80 jurisdictions have since adopted similar alerts, and the Senate passed a bill funding a national program.
The US House Judiciary Committee, however, bundled the bill with other measures less popular among Democrats.
Some public figures, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), have been applying public pressure to the get the House to pass the legislation.
House action was expected late last week or early this week.