L.A. Now

Cellphone Amber Alert has unlikely critic in Polly Klaas' dad

Among the people annoyed this week when the state notified them of an Amber Alert on their cell phone was someone one might think would be more sympathetic to the cause.

California, for the first time Monday, used the state's cellphone network to send out an Amber Alert after firefighters in Boulevard — about 50 miles east of San Diego and five miles north of the Mexican border — found the body of Christina Anderson, 44, of Lakeside, as well as a child's body in a burned-out home.

Authorities believe the owner of the home, James Lee DiMaggio, 40, killed Anderson and abducted her daughter, Hannah, 16, and son Ethan, 8, before fleeing. Seeking the public's help in locating DiMaggio and the kids, officials issued a notification to the vast majority of cellphones in California. 

Some cellphone owners were annoyed by the alerts or felt as if their privacy had been breached.

But Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was kidnapped from her home in Petaluma in 1993 and later found dead, had more fundamental problems with the new Amber Alert system.

"It's an incredibly harsh sound," Klaas said. "And it provides you with almost no information."

Klaas worries people will opt out of the notification program. He believes that activation of an Amber Alert beyond reasonable distances is unnecessary because kidnappers will realistically not be driving over the speed limit.

"I think the intention is good, but the application itself is pretty awful," Klaas said.

The Amber Alert program was created in honor of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in 1996. Amber was abducted and murdered near her home in Texas.


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