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Amber Alert vs. 'Athena Alert': What would be the differences?

HB 3556 heads to the governor's desk for signature. The measure would allow law enforcement to issue regional missing child alerts, without criteria of an abduction.

DALLAS — A bill that some have said could help law enforcement and families at the center of missing children investigation is on the way to Governor Greg Abbott's desk to be signed.

Lawmakers recently passed HB 3556, or the “Athena Alert” bill. This would allow law enforcement to issue a regional alert when a child is reported missing without the criteria or confirmation of an abduction.

The bill is named after Athena Strand, who is the North Texas 7-year-old abducted and murdered last November. The bill passed the Texas House overwhelmingly, making it one step closer to codifying what would be called an "Athena Alert" into law.  

“My daughter was taken from her father’s front yard. She wasn’t out on the street,” Athena's mom Maitlyn Gandy told the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety in April 2023.

Gandy explained how she pleaded with investigators to issue an Amber Alert for her daughter, who deputies later said was abducted and killed by a FedEx worker.

“Unfortunately, I kept getting met with the same response that she, in her case, did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert to be issued,” Gandy said.

Under the Amber Alert criteria in Texas, law enforcement must show that a child has been kidnapped or abducted before an alert can be activated.

The new Athena Alert system removed that specific criteria. It would allow a police chief to issue warnings within a 100-mile radius of where the child was reported missing and across neighboring counties.

“I think this particular bill makes perfect sense. I’m glad the legislators took it seriously,” said Dr. Alex del Carmen, an Assistant Dean at Tarleton University and expert in Law Enforcement.

“Clearly, there’s going to be some ingredients in place, that are going to have to take place for that Chief of Police to make that call," Carmen also said. "One of which is obviously that all the other levels of seeking that child, that missing child have been exhausted,” 

Former Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson has some concerns with this type of alert system.

“From the day we even envisioned Amber Alert, before it ever even existed, one of our main concerns was are we going to keep this to where people pay attention to it,” Anderson said.

Anderson was instrumental in helping to create the Amber Alert system. He said he’s concerned some members of the public may see another statewide alert system as a distraction and potentially ignore it.

“My concern is, and again, I don’t want to ever say I don’t want to find every lost child, but my concern is adding another layer to this will make it where people are going to be less interested when a true Amber Alert comes out," Anderson said. "When the public is truly needed to find a child whose life is in imminent danger."

Once signed, the Athena Alert system is expected to begin on September 1.

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