Editor's note: Due to the horrifying nature of this crime and the fact that the victim is a minor, WFAA will no longer show Salem Sabatka’s picture.
A fax machine error at the scene of a Fort Worth kidnapping Saturday night was the reason why an Emergency Alert Notification never went out over the airwaves of local radio stations, and a statewide Amber Alert was also planned for Sunday at 6 a.m. — 12 hours after the abduction — if Salem Sabatka was still missing, Fort Worth Police said Tuesday in a statement.
"We are also responsible for faxing the Emergency Alert information to Region 6 local radio stations, which include WBAP and KRLD," part of the statement reads. "During this time, the detectives were having difficulty with the fax machine available on the scene; the fax step was never completed, and for this we do apologize. Fax is the only mode that the radio stations can receive the alert information. To correct this in future occurrences, we will electronically mail the submission to the FWPD Communications Division who will have the primary responsibility and equipment to ensure the fax is delivered to the appropriate outlets."
Much has been made about who did and did not receive an Amber Alert Saturday night when the girl went missing. At 9:14 p.m., almost three hours after the original call for the police, the department's Major Case Unit completed and emailed an Amber Alert notification to the Amber Alert Center at the Department of Public Safety in Austin, according to police.
From there, DPS is responsible for sending the Amber Alert information to both the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and also to the Joint Crime Information Center (JCIC), which is the entity responsible for sending cell phone Amber Alerts.
The DPS confirmed receipt of the information, police said, and told police they were prepared to send a statewide Amber Alert at 6 a.m. Sunday, regardless of the limited information the police had on the suspected kidnapper.
Amber Alerts must meet a very specific criteria:
- Law enforcement must confirm an abduction
- There must be a "risk of serious bodily injury or death"
- There must be "sufficient descriptive information" of both the suspect and the victim. "This element requires as much descriptive information as possible about the abducted child and the abduction, as well as descriptive information about the suspect and the suspect’s vehicle. Issuing alerts in the absence of significant information that an abduction has occurred could lead to abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness," the guidelines read.
- The abduction must be that of a child who is 17 years old or younger
- Data must immediately be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.
Since the initial description of the suspect was vague and there was no license plate number on the suspected kidnapper's car — later identified as a car driven by Michael Webb, now in federal custody — no widespread Amber Alert was issued.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a press conference Sunday after Salem was found and Webb was arrested that the Amber Alert "probably need[s] to update" its guidelines.
"The system works if you have a tag number, and in this instance we had a vehicle description, but not a plate," Price said. "So we were able to leverage what we could out of the license plate and social media, and that’s what really helped us.
"There was apparently an alert that was issued and received by media members, but it was not received to the general public, which concerns us. We will work endlessly to find out why the criteria is that way...The Amber program developed years ago before cell phones and video."
Read the Fort Worth Police's full statement below:
"The Fort Worth Police Department has received inquiries about the May 18, 2109, Amber Alert stemming from the reported abduction of an 8-year-old child at 2900 6th Ave. Responses were provided at the time with the information available. Reviewing our actions on all types of calls to identify errors or areas for process improvement is a continual police activity. In order to provide current, correct, and timely information of actions this clarification is provided:
The original call for service was received at 6:37 p.m.
Amber Alert - 9:14 p.m. The Fort Worth Police Department Major Case Unit completed and emailed the notification to the Amber Alert Center at DPS in Austin. DPS is responsible for sending the information to both the NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) and also to JCIC (Joint Crime Information Center). The JCIC is responsible for sending cell phone alerts. Our Major Case Detective was in communication with the State and verified that they received the information. We were informed the State would broadcast at 6 a.m. – with whatever limited information we had.
Emergency Alert Notification - We are also responsible for faxing the Emergency Alert information to Region 6 local radio stations, which include WBAP and KRLD. During this time, the detectives were having difficulty with the fax machine available on the scene; the fax step was never completed, and for this we do apologize. Fax is the only mode that the radio stations can receive the alert information. To correct this in future occurrences, we will electronically mail the submission to the FWPD Communications Division who will have the primary responsibility and equipment to ensure the fax is delivered to the appropriate outlets.
We will further work diligently to assist in recommending changes to make the alert notifications to the local radio stations more efficient and up to modern standards.
The Fort Worth Police Department is committed to the safety and well-being of our citizens. We are extremely thankful for the successful recovery of the missing child and the apprehension of the suspect who kidnapped her. Going forward, we will be reviewing the overall response to this incident to ensure we have the best policies in place for a successful outcome in the future."