The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 22, 2013

Amber alert bill could expand program to include missing children

By Mannix Porterfield
For The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON — Missing children could be objects of the Amber Alert, now reserved only for the abducted, in a bill sent to the House floor Friday, inspired by the death of a Morgantown girl nine months ago.

Delegates hailed HB2453 as a critical move to enable the public and all law enforcement agencies to zero in on missing children.

Known as “Skylar’s Law,” it draws the title from the tragic loss of Skylar Neese, 16 when she vanished from her Morgantown home last July 6.

Remains found in Pennsylvania two months ago proved to be that of the missing teenager, who was a House page eight years ago of the lead sponsor, Delegate Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia.

Now headed for a vote by the full chamber, the bill stipulates that a special coordinator for the State Police must decide on each individual missing child case before posting it on Amber Alert.

Delegates are assigned numerous pages over the years, and Marshall acknowledged the name didn’t ring a bell at first, until she saw a photograph taken with Skylar.

Skylar’s disappearance wasn’t brought to the attention of State Police for two months, Marshall told fellow members of the House Finance Committee, and this new law would expedite matters.

“As with anything else, we need to start searching right away,” she said.,

“You’d want someone to look for your child as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. We need to be out there looking right away.”

Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, recalled how his 11-year-old daughter became separated from him at the Capitol.

“I was frantic,” he said, until learning the girl was in the company of a fellow legislator.

“I would hate to think I would have to wait days before someone would start looking for her and get help to find my daughter,” he said.

“If this will help us to find any child in a quick manner, it is well worth our effort.”

Two other panelists — Delegates Carol Miller, R-Cabell, and Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha — hailed the speed of communications in the 21st century and its value in assisting law enforcement.

“We live in such a fast electronics age any more,” Miller said.

“I remember as a young person seeing missing children on milk cartons.”

Skaff said Amber alerts can be augmented vastly and rapidly through social network from Twitter to Facebook.

“We think of the reach this bill will go, based on the social media,” he said.

Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, said lawmakers often take up legislation that appears on the surface to be minute, “but we make little, itty, bitty changes that will make a big difference.”

Legislation such as Skylar’s Law “goes to the heart and soul” of efforts to help West Virginians, she added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com