Coursey: A plea for help in the night

I didn't know the president could text me – even if I don't want him to – until I read Julie Johnson's story this morning the statewide Amber Alert sent out to cellphones on Monday evening.

I didn't get the Amber Alert. Apparently my phone, now almost three years old, isn't up with the latest technology.

So I wasn't among those "startled" by the cellphone message about a man who allegedly killed a woman in Southern California and then abducted her 16-year-old daughter and possibly her 8-year-old son. This was the first use in California of a new wireless technology that is automatically enabled on some phones, Johnson reported.

Still, I was aware of the alert, because it was all over social media by Tuesday morning. Some people were tweeting the details in hope of catching the alleged killer/kidnapper. Some were posting Facebook complaints about being awakened by their cellphones the night before with an alert that they clearly felt had nothing to do with them.

All of which served to spread the word even further, including to me – someone who didn't originally receive it on my cellphone.

I didn't spot the blue Nissan Versa that was identified as the getaway car in this case, and to tell you the truth I didn't think much about it on Tuesday as I rolled around Sonoma County on both two wheels and four.

But that's not necessarily the point. Amber Alerts are designed to increase the number of eyes keeping watch on our community, whether that community is our immediate neighborhood or our entire state. The alerts are named for Amber Hagerman, who was 9 years old when she was kidnapped and killed in Texas in 1996. They could just as appropriately been named for Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped from her Petaluma home and killed in 1993, or for any number of children who have been taken and harmed before authorities could track down their abusers.

"We know there's power when you engage the public," Stacy Garrett, spokeswoman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told Johnson. "Somebody has seen that child; somebody has seen that car."

An Amber Alert can put a burr in the back of our brains that, hopefully, rubs just a little bit when a blue Versa comes into sight. It's a long shot in a state with 38 million people and more than 22 million registered vehicles, but the alerts have proved effective in a handful of cases. And, as Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm told Johnson, that certainly makes it worthwhile to the victims involved.

"If it were your child, would you want people to pay attention, or would you want people to ignore it?" he asked.

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