NASHVILLE, TN (WJHL) – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is defending its handling of an Amber Alert this week for a kidnapped girl from Florida.
Police in Lakeland, Florida said 4-year-old Rebecca Ann Lewis was taken from her home by West Wild Hogs.
A hospital employee spotted them in Memphis, recognized them from an Amber Alert issued earlier in the day, and called police.
Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida said investigators had strong suspicions that Hogs would take the girl to Tennessee, so they asked the TBI to issue an amber alert.
But the Sheriff says the TBI initially refused to issue the alert.
“The State of Tennessee chose not to do an AMBER Alert when we asked them to because they said there was no evidence at the time that Rebecca and West Wild Hogs were in Tennessee. Here’s a news flash Tennessee. He was there.” said Sheriff Judd.
This afternoon, a TBI spokesman defended the agency’s process.
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Josh DeVine told reporters in Nashville the TBI alerted police to be on the lookout for the girl and her alleged abductor. He said when they got a credible sighting, they issued the alert right away.
“Early Monday morning, immediately after receiving information about a credible sighting of Rebecca Lewis in Campbell County, we set about utilizing our established processes to expand the reach of Florida’s AMBER Alert, specifically in East Tennessee,” said DeVine. “That took place at approximately 2:00 CST Monday morning. The notification included interstate signage, social media, website (www.tn.gov/tbi), and secondary notifications – such as cell phone alerts – offered by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
The Amber Alert is the highest level of alert states can issue.
“When asked if they had reason to believe Rebecca Lewis and West Hogs were in or headed to Tennessee, they said no. They also stated that West Hogs had no known criminal history. For those reasons, the TBI indicated that an AMBER Alert could not be issued. We did, however, agree to issue a BOLO (Be-On-The-Lookout) for law enforcement, which we did immediately,” said DeVine.
DeVine said the TBI refrains from issuing Amber Alerts until it gets concrete proof that the alert is needed.
“It is critical that we follow the policies and procedures that are in place when it comes to issuing an AMBER Alert. 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,” said DeVine. “This is done to ensure the public does not become desensitized to the program and that we do not fatigue our AMBER Alert resources. Our system has a 95% success rate in recovering children. That statistic speaks for itself.”