MILWAUKEE — In October, five-year-old Prince McCree was reported missing. His body was found the next day in a dumpster. The case got national attention and left many wondering why an Amber Alert hadn't been activated.
State Senator LaTonya Johnson (D) lives just houses down from McCree's family. She remembers him as a happy, hyper little boy who was always excited to see her dogs. She went to talk to Prince's family when he was first reported missing.
"I talked to the dad first because the mom was out searching with police officers. He was just so distraught," she recalled.
At first, she was also surprised an Amber Alert hadn't been issued. In speaking with the family, she knew they didn't feel like enough was being done to find their little boy.
"The more frustrating thing for me and his family was to see them experience this trauma and then for them to feel like not enough was being done," Johnson said.
Johnson later found out that police had requested an Amber Alert. Twice. But Prince's case didn't meet one of the three requirements.
For an Amber Alert to be activated the following criteria have to be met:
- Child must be 17 years of age or younger
- Child must be in danger of serious bodily harm or death.
- Initiating agency must have enough descriptive information about the child, the suspect and/or the suspect vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast alert will help locate the child.
Johnson said she found out the Prince didn't meet the third requirement above, that there wasn't enough information about the suspect or suspect vehicle.
"We have to do better, we have to do more and we have to be held more accountable for these kids," Johnson said.
According to the Wisconsin Amber Alert website, "Strict adherence to the criteria is essential in order to prevent the AMBER Alert plan from losing credibility and becoming less effective."
Still, Johnson felt like more could be done to find missing kids without taking away from the seriousness of the alert. So, she's authored a bill called the Prince McCree Bill.
"It's designed to send a notification to every cell phone within a 5-mile radius of where that child is missing from," Johnson explained. "We want this bill to basically apply to children under the age of 10 who are most vulnerable, who can't safely find their way home and can't maintain their own safety outside."
She said children under age 17 who have mental illnesses or disabilities would also qualify for the alert system the bill aims to create.
"We want to make sure that those children are found," Johnson said.
The bill doesn't make any changes to the existing Amber Alert system. Instead, it expands on the already existing Silver Alert which notifies the public when an older adult with a cognitive impairment is missing.
"For us, it was just easier to use the already existing infrastructure and to build from there and to create another mechanism for children," Johnson said.
When Prince McCree went missing a Critical Missing Alert was put out. Unlike Amber and Silver alerts, Critical Missing Alerts are only broadcast over TV and Radio. A Critical Missing Alert does not send a notification to phones.
"We had some of our neighbors on our block that were informed that Prince was found deceased before they knew he was missing. Our Critical Missing Alerts are not enough," Johnson said.
Although she knows the Prince McCree bill can't save its namesake, she hopes it might just save the next child who disappears.
Johnson hopes to introduce the bill in Madison before the end of the year.