A state police official said Tuesday that an Amber Alert sent to smartphones last week “was not supposed to go statewide.”
Public Information Officer Beau Duffy said an error by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the agency responsible for relaying Amber Alerts as "wireless emergency alerts" to the appropriate zones, was the cause of the alert, which simply stated, “AMBER Alert check your local media,” below the Amber Alert subject line.
“There’s really nothing else that needs to be done,” Duffy said of the error, which was reportedly addressed by NCMEC over the weekend in consultation with state police. “There may have been a little confusion from folks out of the region who went to local media and didn’t see anything right away.”
A spokesperson for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was not available for comment Tuesday. The agency has a satellite office in Saratoga Springs; officials at that office did not return calls seeking comment.
Duffy said the alert was only supposed to go out to select zones regarding the disappearance of 14-month-old Owen Hidalgo-Calderon and his mother, Selena. The Amber Alert has been subsequently called off, as the main suspect in the case has been caught and Hidalgo-Calderon's body was recovered. The search continued on Tuesday for the infant, however.
News outlets in and around Wayne County and the greater Rochester-area were provided details for the alert, but those notices did not go to media statewide, according to Duffy.
Newsrooms got some calls from concerned citizens about why there was no news about the alert. For local law enforcement, the non-specificity of the statewide alert left them with few options.
“There was no vehicle information attached to the alert, so there wasn’t much we could do,” Warren County sheriff's Lt. Steve Stockdale said. “Our resources were already tied up with the influx of people for the holiday weekend.”
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said that, while his office did not get a lot of calls about the alert, people tend to confuse his county with the city of Fulton in Oswego County, closer to the area where the Amber Alert was centered.
Amber Alerts begin with local law enforcement officials, who notify state police and other relevant agencies from the state Department of Transportation to the FBI. They are also displayed on TVs, highway screens and other public venues.
“The decision on where and what regions to issue an Amber Alert are made based on the investigation that’s done by the local agency, based on their case," Duffy said.
The wireless emergency alerts are limited to 90 characters and fall under the jurisdiction of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Duffy addressed any possible ramifications of the mistaken alert:
“In terms of the harm done, we’re told there wasn’t really any harm done,” Duffy said of any possible confusion or misallocation of public resources. “The issue has been corrected.”