Statewide Amber Alert: Super annoying, but a potential lifesaver

Photos released by the San Diego Sheriff's Department show James Lee Dimaggio, 40, left, Ethan Anderson, 8, and Hannah Anderson, 16.
(Associated Press)

I was sitting in bed reading Monday night when a hideous and unfamiliar noise jolted me upright. It seemed to be emanating from inside my room. It was a loud, insistent and intermittent, like a test of the emergency broadcast system, but my radio wasn’t on.

My adrenaline pumping, I finally looked down and realized the noise was coming out of my phone. But why?

A text message on my screen seemed to be associated with the noise. It appeared to be an Amber Alert, with some context-free vehicle identification information.

As I learned Tuesday, I had been jolted into alertness by California’s first statewide invasive Amber Alert.


But a lot of good it would do the two children who were believed to have been abducted by a man suspected of killing their mother in San Diego: As soon as I typed in my password into my iPhone to get to my text list, the message disappeared.

I had not even had a chance to fully grasp what the alert was before it was gone. I checked my settings to see if it could be located, but found nothing.

I called California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Fran Clader to complain.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “We understand it may have created some alarm on part of some people who received it in the middle of the night. That’s not what we set out to do, but the ultimate goal is to safely recover those children who have been abducted. We have two children whose lives are particularly in danger and that’s why we issued the Amber Alert.”


At that point, feeling very small, I sheepishly thanked her for her time.

Clader said she wasn’t sure why the message disappeared and suggested I contact my carrier to find out. While the CHP authorizes the alert, the agency does not handle the technical details. I decided not to spend the afternoon in Verizon phone hell, so the text disappearance mystery will have to be solved another day.

Though the statewide Amber Alert came as a surprise to most Californians, Clader said, a press release had been sent out at the end of last year by the coalition of groups responsible for creating and disseminating them. Apparently, no one noticed.

I want to gently suggest that blame for that should go to whoever composed the headline on that release: “CTIA-The Wireless Association® , the Wireless Foundation, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Syniverse Announce Transition Plan for AMBER Alert Program™.”


(Personally, I think they would have gotten a lot of attention with a more creative approach: “We’re going to terrify you with awful noises in the middle of the night. But don’t worry, it’s for a good cause.”)

As of Wednesday morning, the suspect, James Lee DiMaggio, was still at large and believed to be driving a 2013 blue Nissan Versa, with California license plate 6WCU986. The two children, still missing, are 8-year-old Ethan Anderson and 16-year-old Hannah Anderson. The body of their mother, Christina Anderson, was found Sunday night in the burning rubble of a home in Boulevard, a tiny rural town in east San Diego County along the Mexican border. A child’s body was also found and is believed to be Ethan’s, although the medical examiner said autopsy results are sealed.

And one more thing: If you are on the road and happen to spot a suspect who is the subject of an Amber Alert, don’t hesitate to use your cellphone to call 911.

Any time there is an emergency, you are permitted to use your phone while driving.


“We regret it was a statewide alert in the middle of the night that promoted this educational moment,” said Clader. “But we appreciate everyone’s help when a child is abducted.”


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Twitter: @robinabcarian