The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 2, 2013

Sumner puzzled by Tomblin’s inaction on legislation that would expand Amber Alert

CHARLESTON — A teenager’s plea to murder Wednesday prompted a Raleigh County lawmaker to question why Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hasn’t signed legislation expanding the Amber Alert, a bill inspired by the victim.

“I don’t understand his hesitation,” said Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, a co-sponsor of HB2543, titled “Skylar’s Law.”

Skylar Neese vanished from her Star City home in Monongalia County last July, but police initially considered her a runaway and didn’t launch a search, even though she hadn’t taken any personal effects, including contact lenses paraphernalia.

Her remains turned up Jan. 16 in Pennsylvania, prompting Delegate Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia, to offer legislation that enlarges the Amber Alert so that a missing child can immediately be a subject on the public notification.

Supporters pointed out that Amber Alert itself is amplified on social networks such as Facebook in helping police locate missing children.

Rachel Shoaf, 16, pleaded guilty in Monongalia Circuit Court in a Wednesday hearing to second degree murder in Neese’s death.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II in the Northern District explained that her identity was released because she agreed to be elevated to adult status.

A second juvenile is facing charges in Neese’s murder, and remains in custody, but the attorney’s office wouldn’t identify the suspect’s gender, or spell out specific offenses that are pending.

Nor would the attorney general’s office discuss a potential motive in the slaying.

Marshall, the lead sponsor of HB2543, said the victim had served as a page to her eight years ago during a legislative session.

“This was designed to find children quickly, to put out an alert to save their lives,” Sumner said of the bill.

“The first 24 hours are critical. I don’t know why he (Tomblin) hasn’t acted.”

Under the bill, State Police would have discretion in deciding to add a missing child to Amber Alert, regardless of whether an abduction is suspected. The child must be 17 or younger and must be believed in danger or serious injury. Any law enforcement agency must contact the State Police when a child is reported missing and the Amber Alert coordinator must decide if criteria have been satisfied.

“Parents know when something is not right,” Sumner said.

“Most people can tell if their pet is not right, or if the dog is gone, where would it go? People know these things intuitively.”

An examination of past cases likely will show that other children have met a bad fate after they were initially viewed as runaways, she said.

“Sometimes you can wait too long for children to be missing and your window of opportunity is gone,” the delegate said.

“We’re always worried about children’s safety. We do the predator laws. We do everything like that. School bus safety. Anything we can think of to keep children safe, we’ve done. To me, this is just another one of those bills that needs to be acted on quickly. I’m surprised he hasn’t signed it yet.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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