(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – The remains of Jessica Marie Lunsford, the latest juvenile victim of kidnapping and murder, were found last week after John Evander Couey, 46, confessed to committing the crime. This case is the most recent to bring to light the AMBER Alert Plan, which has been in effect since 1997 when 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was kidnapped and brutally murdered while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas.
Jessica had been missing since Feb. 24, and the suspected sex offender was not identified by the police until more than two weeks later. Couey was finally arrested on March 17 in Augusta, Ga., on two warrants charging him with the violation of probation, and failing to tell probation officials that he was leaving Florida. Couey confessed to abducting and murdering Jessica the next day.
As part of the investigation, detectives had begun contacting Citrus County, Florida’s 40 registered sex offenders, and Couey was the only one they couldn’t locate. Sex offenders are required to tell probation officers when they leave the county.
According to the Tampa Tribune, Couey had failed to inform them of his change in location. Couey fled on a bus ticket under a false name, and was stopped by the police in Savannah, Ga. However, they had no warrant for his arrest. He was finally arrested in Augusta after a Salvation Army shelter worker told police of his whereabouts.
Couey took an FBI polygraph test the day after his arrest, but confessed to the crime before hearing his results. He also told the police where to find the body. Couey had previously been arrested 24 times, and was a two-time child sex offender.
“He was convicted of attempted lewd and lascivious behavior in the presence of a 14-year-old girl in Kissimmee in 1991, received a five-year sentence but only served about two years in state prison,” according to the Tampa Tribune.
The Lunsford case has created an intensified concern of notification methods, especially in the Tampa area. Some have taken more active steps than others. For example, Tom Jones, the property manager of a community development called the Plantation in Carrollwood, Fla., regularly updates a bulletin board informing residents of the sex offenders who move in and out of their community. However, according to the St. Petersburg Times, Plantation is believed to be the only community in its area with such a system.
The AMBER Alert Plan is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies and broadcast institutions to activate an urgent alert system in the case of a serious child-abduction. Broadcasters use an emergency alert system to air a description of the abducted child and the suspected abductor. After the 1997 incident, residents contacted radio stations in the Dallas area to suggest that they broadcast these alerts to help prevent future abductions of children 17 years or younger.
According to a press release from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, they recently launched a new system, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and Intrado, Inc. to redistribute AMBER Alerts to secondary distributors, such as online providers. This new system will allow citizens to receive geographically targeted messages if a child has been abducted in their area, in hopes of increasing the audience of those who can be on the look out for missing children. To date, there have been 198 recoveries of missing children thanks to the system.
Copyright c2005 U-WIRE via U-Wire