Shutdown knocked Amber Alert offline

JACKSON, MO (KFVS) - How important is an Amber Alert?

Just ask the countless families here and across the country that have had missing children found through the government run program.

However, the government shutdown had many worried those alerts had disappeared.

The Amber Alert System never went away, but the government shutdown knocked the main website off line late last week causing a lot of confusion and concern.

"The Amber Alert system and links to it are extremely important," said Martha Hamilton.

Hamilton knows the pain of searching for a missing loved one, as her sister Elizabeth Gill vanished near her home in Cape Girardeau in 1965. Gill's is Missouri's oldest missing person's case.

Hamilton says she could not believe it when she heard the Amber Alert site went off-line displaying the message: Due to the lapse in federal funding this Office of Justice programs website is unavailable

"For that site to have been off line for even as little as an hour is an injustice to the families and the child who's missing," said Hamilton.

Late Monday morning, the government brought someone in to run the site again redirecting users to the site for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The justice department says the Amber Alert system itself was never interrupted -- just the site. However the shutdown online caused a lot of confusion.

"I think it speaks volumes that they were able to get the system back up and get someone to man it," said Sgt. Toby Freeman, of Jackson Police Criminal Investigations.

Sgt. Freeman says every site is important when a child goes missing. Without the Amber Alert site connections, Sgt. Freeman says they would have managed in the event of an issued alert but it would have been more difficult.

"We would've contacted media put it on road signs. We also use Facebook and Twitter. Social media is huge now with law enforcement because of all the eyes that are constantly on it," said Freeman.

In fact, Hamilton says social media and technology have been key to bring leads to her sister's case in spite of all the years. She now works to not only find her Beth, but also help other families make connections to find their loved ones.

"What goes through my heart is, 'Dear God, please bring that child safely home,'" Hamilton said.

According to a Justice Department spokesperson, the Amber Alert site had funds to run through last Friday. Besides the Amber Alert site, other sites like it were put behind a firewall to avoid hacking.

Again, the system itself never went away.

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