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WI DOJ: Lily Peters case did not meet AMBER Alert criteria

The executive director of Missing Children Minnesota says despite some solid response systems, none are regarded as good enough to fit every missing persons case.

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. — Following the details released by Chippewa Falls police about 10-year-old Lily Peters' homicide investigation, there was a public outcry via a petition on Change.org.

"An amber alert was never sent due to the rules, we need something more,” the petition read.

The petition is referring to the AMBER Alert rules in Wisconsin, which are: A child must be 17 years old or younger and be in danger of serious bodily harm or death; and the initiating agency must have enough descriptive information about the child, the suspect and/or the suspect vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast alert will help locate the child.

From the information that was available — at least to the public on Monday — Chippewa Falls police did not have any descriptions of a suspect or a suspect vehicle.

“At this point, we do not have anyone in custody and I want to reiterate that people remain vigilant as there could be a danger to the public,” Chippewa Falls Police Department Chief Matthew Kelm said Monday evening.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, "Strict adherence to the criteria is essential in order to prevent the AMBER Alert plan from losing credibility."

While the AMBER Alert is helpful, Teresa Lhotka, executive director of Missing Children Minnesota, says there could be something better suited for cases that don't fall under AMBER Alert guidelines.

“I think the AMBER Alert is a great tool for the cases it was specifically made to address, but there are a lot of cases where time is of the essence and they don’t meet the criteria. Coming up with a faster response would be good,” Lhotka said.

But it's not like there isn't another missing persons system in place right now.
The Missing and Endangered Person Advisory, or some version of it, is present in every state. That system involves press releases being sent to media partners and social media via law enforcement agencies, like Chippewa Falls initially did early Monday morning.

“Law enforcement within a law enforcement jurisdiction will reach out to partners, they'll have a be on look out issued, they'll put out the picture to make sure all of the people in their law enforcement district or possibly surrounding jurisdiction will be on the look out for that child,” Lhotka said.

Yet, the Peters case ended in tragedy. Lhotka says there's no system good enough to fit and cater to every missing persons case.

“We always need to be on the lookout for ways we can plug those holes and plug those cracks in cases where families fall through,” she said. “And of course when you are the parent of a missing child, when a family member or a loved one is missing, there is no response that is adequate other than every resource being focused on your missing child. It's a desperate feeling and a desperate situation. There's always room for improvement and ways to make families feel they are served — and to serve them better.”

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