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IN-DEPTH: AMBER Alert system not meant for custody battles, Lampasas County case scrutinized

Questions focus on the growing number of such alerts.
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Posted at 4:48 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 00:30:45-04

An AMBER Alert was issued 49 days after three children — Christopher Robertson II, Christine Robertson and Kristen Robertson —- disappeared with their biological mother Kristen Whitehead, according to recent AMBER Alert.

The mother claims she took the children, on June 3, to protect the children from their father.

"They're doing amazing," Kristine Whitehead, 35, said about her three young children in an exclusive interview with 25 News. "They're thriving right now."

Whitehead told 25 News anchor Lauren Adams that she took her kids to a safe house and would turn herself in. She claims she took the children to protect them from their father.

"As a mother, I'm exercising my right to protect my children," Whitehead said.

Mom wanted in AMBER alert: 'They're doing amazing'

Guidelines for Issuing AMBER Alerts

  • Is this child 17 years of age or younger, whose whereabouts are unknown, and whose disappearance law enforcement has determined to be unwilling which poses a credible threat to the child's safety and
    health; and if abducted by a parent or legal guardian, was the abduction in the course of an attempted murder or murder?
  • Is this child 13 years of age or younger, who was taken (willingly or unwillingly) without permission from the care and custody of a parent or legal guardian by:
  • Someone unrelated and more than three years older,
  • Another parent or legal guardian who attempted or committed murder at the time of the abduction?
  • Is this child in immediate danger of sexual assault, death or serious bodily injury?
  • Has a preliminary investigation verified the abduction and eliminated alternative explanations for the child's disappearance.
  • Is sufficient information available to disseminate to the public to help locate the child, a suspect, or the vehicle used in the abduction?

The public doesn't pay attention to AMBER Alerts "like they used to," Dee Anderson, co-founder of the Texas AMBER Alert System, told CBS News.

"It had to be used very, very sparingly," Anderson said. "Not because they ran away. Not because the parents couldn't find them at the neighbor's house."

The U.S. Department of Justice's website provides criteria for law enforcement to use.

"AMBER Alerts are used in the most serious cases that meet the AMBER criteria," the Justice Department's website says.

AMBER Alert Field Guide for Law Enforcement Officers by Nick Bradshaw on Scribd

The latest alert in Lampasas points towards a custody dispute. A quick search on social media people post about how frequent amber alerts are issued in Texas.

According to a court docket from Lampasas County, the two have been in a battle for custody since at least September 2021. When we requested the divorce papers from the clerk's office, 25 News was told it was a couple of folders and maybe around 400 pages.

Keeping the public informed

On-Page 24 of the AMBER Alert Field Guide for Law Enforcement Officers, the guide details how the public should be kept informed.

No law enforcement agency should be without a Public
Information Officer (PIO) during these critical incidents.

The PIO’s presence will be particularly prominent during the early stages
of a case when press conferences, media interviews, and similar
events will keep his/her name and face, but more importantly the child’s name and face, in the public eye.

AMBER Alert Field Guide for Law Enforcement Officers

25 News was told several times that the Public Information Officer was out until Thursday and no one else could comment on the case. We also reached out after interviewing the mother, dispatch took our information and hasn't returned our phone call.

In the guide it says: "A law enforcement chief executive officer (CEO) once commented
that 'activating an AMBER Alert is like sending up a flare asking every media outlet to critique the way you are handling your investigation.'"

The History of the AMBER Alert

The AMBER Alert System started in 1996. Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters developed an early warning system to help find abducted children.

It happened long before the days of social media and the smartphone.

Many believe that the alert system is overused for custody battles in the state of Texas.

Other states also battle with the use of the AMBER Alert system.

Utah state Sen. Todd Weiler tweeted back in December his feelings on the Amber Alert system in Utah.

He believes people are losing patience patients with their phones sending alerts — and many people turn them off.

His tweet came after a non-custodial mom was accused of taking her four daughters and was later found near San Diego. Weiler said AMBER Alerts should not be used for custody disputes between parents.

Amber Alerts are part of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) emergency messages. The Texas Department of Public Safety sends the alerts after a request from local law enforcment.