Lily Peters did not meet Amber Alert criteria, campaign pushes for “Lily Alert”
ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – In any missing children’s case, the goal is always the same: find them safe, and return them home. But, that’s not always the reality.
Monday morning, Chippewa Falls Police announced a missing 10-year-old girl, Lily Peters, was found dead. She was reported missing the night before. Thursday, her death was officially ruled a homicide, with preliminary autopsy results confirming she died by strangulation.
While Lily was missing overnight, an Amber Alert was never issued. According to the Wisc. Department of Justice, her case didn’t meet the criteria. To issue an Amber Alert, the child must be 17 years of age or younger, the child must be believed to be in danger of serious bodily harm or death and there must be enough descriptive information about the child, the suspect or the suspect’s vehicle so the public can help. While those requirements can change from state to state, in Minn., it’s essentially the same.
“Most missing children cases don’t get an Amber Alert,” Missing Children Minnesota executive director Teresa Lhotka said. “It’s really in that specific cases where police believe that a child is in danger.”
Olmsted County Sheriff Capt. James Schueller said the criteria is specific for a reason.
“The reason the Department of Justice set those guidelines is to separate the false alarms and cry wolf situations. So, the general public doesn’t get so many that they start to ignore them,” Capt. Schueller said.
Since Lily’s death, there’s been a push to create a “Lily Alert.” It would be for cases like hers, that don’t meet the criteria and can be sent out locally. A campaign for “Lily Alerts” got started by a Chippewa Falls father on change.org. The petition has more than 63,000 signatures.
“Every time something like this happens, first and foremost that blame is on the person who decided to harm Lily,” Lhotka said. “That is the person who is responsible. But, we can always look at individual cases. Is there something we can do to improve our response? Improve our effectiveness? Have a better outcome?”
Lhotka said there are ways the public can address missing child cases more efficiently, like education.
“The part of my job that I find most energizing is the prevention work. The prevention education,” she said. “The opportunity to help children gain skills and give them information that will help them be safer. We never say safe because no one is 100 percent safe. There are avenues where children can be empowered to contribute to their own safety.”
Schueller doesn’t think getting rid or replacing the Amber Alert to be the solution, but he does believe there’s always room for improvement.
“In the 23 years I’ve been doing this, an Amber Alert is probably the biggest step forward that we’ve been able to take,” he said. “But again, we should never be just satisfied with the status quo. We need to be open to doing that too.”
In Wisc. an Amber Alert is not used for a runaway or family abductions, unless the child’s life is in danger. Under Minn. law, it is a crime for a parents to take a child, even if they have joint custody, or if custody has not yet been determined.
Under Minn. law, there is no time requirement to report a missing person. It’s a myth that you must wait 24 or 32 hours to call police. Schueller encourages anyone who has a concern about a loved one to call authorities right away.
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