Danger is the difference between Silver, Amber Alerts - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Danger is the difference between Silver, Amber Alerts

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TORRINGTON, CT (WFSB) -

When a child goes missing, many times police have to make a decision to issue either an Amber or a Silver Alert, and Eyewitness News explains the difference between the two.

Last Friday, five children were reported missing in Connecticut with Silver Alerts issued for each one.

State police told Eyewitness News it all comes down to whether or not they believe that child's life is in danger as to whether an Amber Alert or a Silver Alert is issued. The Amber Alert system was developed specifically for stranger abductions.

However, a mother of the two little girls in Torrington told Eyewitness News that the alert system should be used for all kids.

On Friday, Jennifer Wheeler, 27, took her sister's two kids and went on a "drug binge."

"I could not stop crying," said mother Melissa Sturz. "They told me to let them go. They were just on a sleepover."

The 3- and 5-year-old children, who were the subject of a Silver Alert, are home safe with Sturz.

The problem is that sleepover wasn't supposed to happen. Police said instead of returning the girls to their mother, their aunt took them overnight to a house in Waterbury where she did drugs.

Now the girls are starting to talk about what they saw, including some needles.

"Where they were somebody was giving people shots," Sturz said. "I asked them if they had any. They said no. They don't like shots."

The question is being raised of whether alerts such as these should be classified as an Amber instead of a Silver Alert. Silver Alerts were traditionally sounded for the elderly, but now include anyone who may be in need of help.

The United States Department of Justice lists specific recommendations for when an Amber Alert should be issued. The following items are needed:

  • An actual abduction
  • Risk of serious bodily injury or death
  • Good descriptions of the suspect and victim
  • Victim needs to be under 18

"There's no research to show with Amber Alerts even, that they're highly effective, other than making everyone aware," said Central Connecticut State University professor of Criminology Stephen Cox.

Cox said he feels more research needs to be done on Amber Alerts. 

According to a 2007 University of Nevada study, "The alerts appear to work better when the suspect is a family member, instead of a stranger."

"The danger is, when the Amber Alert system was passed, not to overuse it, if we get bombarded with these messages we're just not gonna think about it, take notice."

However, Sturz said she thinks Amber Alerts should be issued faster and more frequently.

"I just don't want to see anybody else go through what I went through," Sturz said.

Sturz said she plans on getting the girls counseling, but physically, they checked out OK at the hospital.

Wheeler was arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia as well as two counts of risk of injury to a minor and reckless endangerment.

Wheeler was arraigned in Bantam Superior Court Friday. Her case was transferred to Litchfield Superior Court because she has pending charged there. She is being held on $50,000 bond.

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