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Tangipahoa Sheriff says delayed Amber Alert is evidence of a ‘broken’ system. • Unfiltered with Kiran

TANGIPAHOA – A somber atmosphere surrounds Tangipahoa Parish as new details emerge about the horrific incidents that resulted in the deaths of Callie Burnett, 29, and her 4-year-old daughter, Erin.

An official investigating the disappearance of two young girls expressed frustration and concern as questions arose about a delayed AMBER Alert. The alert was released almost three hours after the girls were reported missing. Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said Friday that they did everything they could to get the warning out and that it is evidence of a systemic problem.

“Something’s not right,” Edwards said. “The system is broken. We have to try to solve the problem.”

A Louisiana State Patrol representative said they waited to release the AMBER Alert because they did not have all the information. Edwards said Friday that the state guided them in fully completing the AMBER Alert application form and was continuing to follow up. They thought they were ready to go, the sheriff said.

“If they provide a form, and you fill out the form, and you call them and say, ‘If you need anything else, let us know’ — I’m not sure what else we should do,” Edwards said.

He said the state never requested additional information and that “eventually” the AMBER Alert was issued.

Unfiltered with Kiran obtained the AMBER Alert application forms through a file request. The documents showed that Lt. Elizabeth Russell filed and filed the documentation and emailed the paperwork at 10:16 a.m.

“The vehicle arrived at Bryram (license plate reader) yesterday afternoon at 6 p.m., MS this alert can also be sent to (Mississippi),” she wrote.

The email contained attachments with photos of the children. The photo of the suspect vehicle came from the license plate reader, Edwards said.

Every field was filled in except for the description of the suspect and any landmarks where the children were last seen.

Please read the AMBER Alert application forms above.

It is also unclear whether the problem was due to the lack of a suspect description. The Louisiana State Police website says details are wanted.

“There must be sufficient descriptive information about the child, abductor and/or suspect’s vehicle to believe that an immediately broadcast alert will assist in the recovery of the child,” the website said.

Edwards said they were never told what additional details LSP needed to send the alert earlier.

“If they wanted more information, they should have told us specifically what else they wanted,” he said.

Phone logs and emails showed that multiple members of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office repeatedly attempted to contact state officials responsible for distributing AMBER Alerts. An LSP representative did not immediately return a request for comment.

“We can’t solve the case before it starts.”

Edwards said at 8:30 a.m. they knew Callie Brunett had been killed, the children were missing and the car was gone. Investigators needed the public’s help to search for the girls and the car.

“We can’t solve the case before it starts,” he said. “You know, I don’t know what else they want, but what I’m telling you is that the form told them what I just told you. And if that isn’t an AMBER Alert that needs to go out immediately, I don’t know what is.”

The AMBER Alert was issued hours later at 12:28 p.m. It’s unclear whether issuing the notice earlier could have resulted in a quicker rescue, but Edwards said it helped the case immediately.

“As soon as the AMBER Alert went out, those people in Mississippi knew him, knew where he lived, and they went to his house and damn it, the car was there,” he said. ‘And that’s how we found the surviving girl. And that’s how we found Callihan.”

Daniel Callihan is accused of killing Brunett’s ex-girlfriend, kidnapping her children and killing one of the girls. He was arrested in a wooded area in Mississippi after a manhunt across state lines.

LSP said they were trying to issue the AMBER Alert as quickly as possible.

“In the event of an AMBER Alert, LSP works diligently to gather factual information from the investigating agency to disseminate information to the public as quickly as possible,” said LSP Trooper First Class William Huggins.

Edwards said they relayed the necessary information to state police around 9:30 a.m. He called the delay of almost three hours ‘unacceptable’.

A controversial timeline

Louisiana State Police said part of the delay was due to an incomplete application sent by Tangipahoa officials after the AMBER Alert was requested. LSP indicated this in an email UWK a timeline of yesterday’s events.

· 09:14 Louisiana State Police – Investigative Assistance Division contacted TPSO and requested assistance from the Louisiana Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children (LSP-LACMEC) regarding the two missing children.

· 09:21 TPSO has requested that LACMEC contact them to initiate the AMBER Alert process.

· 09:27 LACMEC contacted TPSO and instructed them to complete the AMBER Alert request form and attach photos of the children.

· 10:30 am LSP-LACMEC has received an incomplete AMBER Alert request from TPSO.

  • Please note: Once an AMBER Alert request is received, it must be reviewed to ensure there is sufficient information, that the information is correct and that it meets the criteria for an AMBER Alert.

· 11:45 am The LSP Fusion Center sent a Level II Advisory for Endangered/Missing Children to all law enforcement agencies statewide and surrounding states.

· 12:18 LSP Public Affairs distributes the AMBER Alert press release via email and social media.

· 12:28 pm First AMBER Alert issued to the emergency alert system.

Edwards disputed this timeline. He said they filled out a form from LSP and submitted all the information at 10:16 am. Subsequently, TPSO officials continued to call to attempt to issue the AMBER Alert as quickly as possible. Edwards said state officials told his office that “these things take time,” that “it’s on us” and that they didn’t need anything else from the sheriff’s office.

Edwards said this case showed that state police need to investigate how to improve the process.

“If they don’t say we could have done something better, they are lying to themselves and the public,” he said.

According to the state police website, the following criteria for an AMBER alert must be met:

  • Police confirm that a child aged 17 or younger has been abducted.
  • Police believe the circumstances surrounding the abduction indicate the child is at risk of serious bodily harm or death.
  • There must be sufficient descriptive information about the child, abductor, and/or suspect’s vehicle to believe that an immediately broadcast alert will assist in the recovery of the child.

UWK spoke with Stacy Pearson, former LSP AMBER Alert Coordinator, who says it is important that State Police follow their process before releasing an AMBER Alert and that delays are standard.

“I reviewed 154 AMBER Alerts issued in the state. Of those for which reporting times were known, in more than 60% of cases the time between the missing children and the activation (AMBER Alert) was greater than three hours,” she says. “I can say that no AMBER Alert should ever be issued until all relevant information has been received and confirmed and law enforcement has determined that issuing an AMBER Alert is in the best interests of this abducted child.”

Pearson says AMBER Alert is one of many tools authorities use to solve a case involving a missing child. She says that while the first three hours are crucial in any kidnapping, it is important to keep the focus on the two most important factors in any child kidnapping case.

“We must remember that the two most relevant factors in child recovery are the abductor’s relationship with the children and the abductor’s decision-making. A perfect law enforcement investigation sometimes cannot overcome the kidnapper’s decision to harm a child,” says Pearson.

MORE FROM UWK: ‘It runs in the family’: Man charged with kidnapping, murder has stirred history

The AMBER alert system, developed in 1996, is an early warning system to help locate abducted children. It is now used in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Indian Country, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and internationally in 31 countries.

“As of December 31, 2023, 1,200 children had been successfully recovered through the AMBER Alert system and at least 180 children were rescued through wireless emergency alerts. There are 82 AMBER Alert plans in the United States,” the website said.

Sheriff Edwards said AMBER Alerts are most effective when they are rare and understands there must be specific criteria before they can be sent. Otherwise, people may become desensitized and ignore them. But – the process is set “too tight”, preventing the necessary alerts from being sent.

“The system is set up in such a way that when a call comes in for a response to ask for an AMBER Alert to go out, there is a huge assumption that it will not meet the criteria,” he said .

Megan Kelly contributed to this report.

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