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MADISON -- It was January 13, 1996, when nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was pulled off of her bicycle by a man in a pickup truck. She was found murdered four days later. The national AMBER Alert program now bears her name. This month, I encourage you to talk to your children about the AMBER Alert program. Each year, more than 1.3 million children are reported missing. Thankfully, most of those children return home safely but sadly, some never make it back to their families.
Since 2003, when it was established, Wisconsin's AMBER Alert program has been activated more than 20 times. The last activation happened only weeks ago when a Lake Geneva teen was reported missing. Within hours, law enforcement located the 13-year-old and the teen made it home.
Whenever a child is reported missing, time is critical. Recently, the Department of Justice unveiled its new Crime Alert Network. With the new network, local law enforcement officers across Wisconsin may issue alerts -- at no cost to them -- by fax, e-mail or text message to subscribers. Anyone may subscribe online for $12 per year at: http://www.wisconsincrimealert.gov/. I learned about such a network several years ago when four children, missing from Wisconsin, were found in Minnesota after our AMBER Alert was broadcast over our neighbor state's similar network. Now, with your help, our new network offers another tool to keep kids, and communities at large, safer.
As we know, threats exist everywhere. Our Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is a national leader in tracking down offenders using the Internet or other online technology to sexually exploit children. However, law enforcement can only do so much. It's also up to us as parents, educators and caring individuals to teach our children.
Later this month, I'll kick off the annual statewide AMBER Alert poster contest, which is administered through the Department of Justice's Missing Children Clearinghouse. All fifth graders have the opportunity to create a poster that reflects the theme, “Bring Our Missing Children Home.” A state winner is selected to compete nationally. In April, a national winner is chosen and, later, flown to Washington, DC, to attend the National Missing Children's Day ceremony. The winner also is awarded a certificate and a U.S. Savings Bond. It's a big honor for any fifth grader but a bigger victory for all of us to know that countless young people will know more about protecting themselves.
Posters are due at the Wisconsin Department of Justice by March 12, 2012. For information about how to submit a poster in the statewide contest, visit: