TBI responds to Amber Alert delay criticism

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has released a statement regarding the issuance of an Amber Alert for missing 4-year-old Rebecca Lewis.

On Monday, Donna Wood, spokeswoman for the Polk County (Florida) Sheriff's Office, suggested authorities may have caught the suspect, West Wild Hogs, sooner if the state had issued an Amber Alert earlier.

Late Sunday night, a ranger claimed to have spotted the two in Caryville, Tennessee.

Only later did the ranger see a bulletin and realize that he'd spoken to Hogs, Judd said.

Tennessee declined to issue an Amber Alert, Judd said, because there was no evidence the girl was in Tennessee.

"Here's a news flash, Tennessee: He was there," the sheriff said.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a statement to WREG saying they did issue a statewide AMBER Alert Monday morning once they were able to verify the information that they had been in Middle Tennessee.

"The issuance of an AMBER Alert is a well-planned and calculated strategy conducted at the state level," they said in a released statement. "Since there is not a national AMBER Alert, every state has a different set of standards and processes when determining whether to issue an AMBER Alert. Sometimes, the implications of these processes may not be understood by local level jurisdictions where these type cases are not routinely experienced. Our intention is to reserve AMBER Alerts for verified sightings and specific, actionable information that might result in the successful recovery of missing children determined to be in imminent danger. Here in Tennessee, when we issue an AMBER Alert for other states, they have met our criteria.

The later sent another statement clarifying the timing of the Amber Alerts.

"We actually issued two AMBER Alerts.  Due to the length of the state, we issue AMBER Alert activations by region..West, Middle and East.  After we confirmed the sighting in Campbell County, we issued an AMBER Alert for the east portion of the state. That went out around before 3am this morning Eastern time.  Once we were made aware that Rebecca and Hogs may have been in the Nashville area, we verified that information as well, and issued a statewide AMBER Alert to include the west and middle regions of the state, in addition to the one already issued in East Tennessee."

According to the Justice Department's federal guidelines, Amber Alerts should be issued when authorities have a "reasonable belief" a child younger than 18 has been abducted and is in danger of bodily harm or death.

To issue activations without "significant information" indicating an abduction has occurred would be problematic, the Justice Department says, but "at the same time, each case must be appraised on its own merits and a judgment call made quickly. Law enforcement must understand that a 'best judgment' approach, based on the evidence, is appropriate and necessary."