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New bill aims to expand statewide alerts to protect more missing children

Prince McCree bill hopes to expand Silver Alerts to protect more kids in danger
Posted at 11:42 AM, Jan 30, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-30 12:42:23-05

When a statewide alert goes off, you know it.

Phones buzz and ring with an ear-piercing alert until you acknowledge it. However, in Wisconsin, those alerts for missing children are few and far between.

AMBER Alerts in Wisconsin have a high threshold. The child must be 17 or younger, in danger of serious bodily harm or death and there must be enough descriptive information about the child, the suspect and/or the suspect vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast alert will help locate the child.

Since 2003, there have only been 54 AMBER Alerts issued. According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, 76 children aged 8 or younger go missing in the state every year.

Prince McCree
Prince McCree, 5, did not qualify for an AMBER Alert because there was no suspect or vehicle description. He was found dead a day after going missing.

One of those cases were Prince McCree, the 5-year-old killed in a horrifying case last October. He was reported missing on Oct. 25 but because there was no suspect to identify, an alert never went out.

He was found dead the next day.

“It’s been pretty hard,” Darron McCree said. “It’s been rough.”

Prince’s parents, McCree and Jordan Barger, wear matching crosses around their necks with their son’s ashes inside. The front of those crosses are engraved, “Always on my mind.” The news of this bill has them hopeful; Prince’s name will be on the minds of everyone in the state since his story is so intertwined with the creation of this bill being circulated through the legislature.

“You hear a Prince alert, that would be amazing,” Barger said. “To hear my baby’s name over here saving someone else’s life, I don’t know how to put it into words. I just know, my baby’s name will help someone else out here.”

Prince's Parents
Prince's parents wear matching crosses with their son's ashes inside. It is engraved with the words, "Always on my mind."

The bipartisan bill would expand Silver Alerts to include children not covered by AMBER Alerts. If the missing person is not covered by an AMBER Alert, they would qualify to have a Silver Alert issued for them if they are under 10 years old or are under 18 years old and believed to be incapable of returning home without assistance due to a physical or mental condition or disability.

This way, nearby cellphones would ping to be on the lookout for the missing child.

“They needed a certain type of description, everything else, and have to wait,” Barger said. “There should be no waiting. These are kids, these are babies. They cannot help themselves. They cannot defend themselves. So, they need that help.”

“I wanted to make sure that we found a way to make sure that any child that was in need of help was actually able to receive the help that was needed,” State Senator LaTonya Johnson said.

Johnson is one of the bill’s authors. She’s also a neighbor of the McCree family so this case hit especially close to home for her.

“We were told [Prince] was not eligible [for an AMBER Alert] because there wasn’t a suspect description or a vehicle description,” Johnson said. “So, you can imagine the frustration that everyone had to find out that a five year old didn’t qualify for an AMBER alert.”

While Johnson says this kind of alert may not have saved Prince’s life, it’s sparked a bigger conversation about doing more to protect kids who are in danger like Prince was.

“We do know that there will be other children that are going to come up missing,” Johnson said. “There will be other Princes. There will be other Lilys. This alert system will save a child’s life.”

Lily Peters was a 10-year-old girl killed in Chippewa Falls in 2022 allegedly by a 14-year-old relative. She too did not meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert. This bill keeps their names alive which gives Barger hope.

“What happened to my baby is tragic,” Barger said. “But for this petition to go by and for him to have his name out there, he will be a hero for everybody.”