Acacia's Father says Amber Alert Not Issued Quickly Enough

Acacia's Father says Amber Alert Not Issued Quickly Enough

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The father of a missing toddler, feared drowned by her grandmother in Idaho's Snake River, said guidelines for issuing Amber Alerts should be changed to more quickly allow alerts for children abducted by relatives.

Adam Bishop, father of 19-month-old Acacia Patience Bishop who has been missing since Sunday evening, said police waited too long when they issued an Amber Alert 4:40 a.m. Monday -- about 10 hours after the girl allegedly was taken by her grandmother, Kelley Lodmell.

Questions about the amount of time between the disappearance and the alert point out the dilemma faced by police who want to act quickly but worry that unnecessary alerts could diminish their effectiveness.

The problem is compounded, officials say, by apparent abductions that turn out to be false alarms or common domestic disputes.

Lodmell, 38, is charged with first-degree murder in Idaho, where authorities believe Acacia drowned in the 47-degree water of the Snake River at Idaho Falls on Monday. Prosecutors say Lodmell, described as a paranoid schizophrenic who had been taking anti-depressant medication, jumped into the water in an apparent murder-suicide attempt.

Police say the time taken to issue the alert was necessary to verify that Lodmell -- who once before had taken Acacia before the child's parents found her after about 30 minutes -- hadn't innocently taken the child.

Bishop said he and Acacia's mother, Casey Lodmell, lost precious hours overnight when more people could have known about the abduction.

"We're going to press for a difference in this Amber Alert because I don't think it pertains very well to the people who are related," Bishop said.

No charges were filed after Acacia was taken the first time, about a year ago, but since then the girl has had only supervised visits with her grandmother.

Amber Alerts are issued by the head of a police agency -- Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard, in this case. Bishop said the first responding officer suggested an Amber Alert.

But Kennard said his department first had to verify that the abduction was more serious than Acacia's previous disappearance.

The family called its first news conference about Acacia's recent abduction on Monday around noon -- the same time that police say Kelley Lodmell ran to a hydropower station claiming that she had lost her granddaughter in the Snake River in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Idaho Falls is about 200 miles north of Salt Lake City.

A power plant employee heard the woman's story and called police, who then recognized Lodmell from the Amber Alert description.

Before police can issue an Amber Alert, they must have information that makes them think the child, younger than 18, was abducted. Alerts are not issued for runaways.

Police must also consider the child to be in imminent danger of serious injury or death, and authorities must have enough information for an alert. Most often, alerts include license plate numbers and car model information that broadcasters and signs can easily transmit.

Kennard issued the alert after waiting to confirm what he called vagueness from the family about whether Acacia was in danger.

"The discrepancies are that this had happened before -- was this the same thing that happened before?" Kennard said. "Who do you believe, and who do you put more credibility to their statements?"

Crews spent a fourth day Thursday searching the Snake River, in an area miles downstream from the point where Lodmell and Acacia reportedly entered the water.

Lodmell is being held without bond at least until a preliminary hearing June 10.

Family abductions are difficult for police because it's tough to know when to issue an alert. Kennard didn't want to "cry wolf" but says his department will take a close look at what it could have done more quickly.

"You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't," Kennard said. The alert's timing was "a decision that I made, and we made the best decision we could at the time with the information that we had."

Officers knew about Acacia's abduction almost immediately after her parents reported it, through an alert distributed to deputies across the county. But it was the Amber Alert, which crossed state lines, that eventually led Idaho Falls police to detain Lodmell.

The Justice Department, which administers the alert system, has not yet reviewed the various standards guiding alerts throughout the country. Criteria for issuing Amber Alerts is left to states or regions, said Mary Louise Embrey, a department spokeswoman.

A national conference scheduled for August in Dallas will give officials their first wide look at the federal law that President Bush signed April 30.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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