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Explainer: Missing/Endangered Person Advisory vs AMBER Alert

Posted at 7:20 PM, Feb 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-27 21:20:14-05

MISSOULA — Stories about missing people in Montana are not uncommon as hundreds are reported every year across the state.

Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to alert the public that someone is missing and might be in danger.

So, we thought this might be a good time to explain the process of reporting and finding a missing person.

We wanted to start with a Missing and Endangered Person’s Advisory (MEPA). They are the kind of alert you’ll often see on social media or one of our newscasts.

A MEPA is used to track runaways and missing children, children involved in custody disputes and missing adults.

What’s confusing is a MEPA expires 24 hours after it's been issued even if the person hasn’t been found. So we wanted to find out why, because it might give the impression once an advisory expires then no one is looking for that person anymore.

Turns out, that’s not the case as we learned from Lieutenant Detective Robert Kennedy from the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.

“It can be extended by the investigating officer or canceled or updated. The reason for that, the info is out there, if we have anything different, we do an update,” Kennedy explained.

The missing person’s information goes to all Montana law enforcement agencies, the National Weather Service, the Montana Department of Transportation, the Montana Lottery, often the Border Patrol.

The media also attempts to get any information on social media and our web page as fast as we can and provide updates.

Additionally, there’s the Amber Alert system and if you get those alerts on your phone, they certainly get your attention.

Those are issued based on criteria that include:

  • A reasonable belief by law enforcement that a child has been abducted or has disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
  • The missing child is age 17 years or younger, or has a proven mental or physical disability.
  • The law enforcement agency believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

So, what do you do if someone is missing and you’re worried? Call 911. They’ll send out an officer to get the information and they’ll assess the situation to determine the next steps.

Some believe you must wait 24 hours to report someone missing. You absolutely do not.

“The responding officer, the police officer, will take the report and look into all the circumstances surrounding the missing person,” Kennedy said. “Is this an abducted child or an older person who is just missing on their own circumstances, nothing suspicious?

So again, you don't have to wait any length of time before you report a missing person.

According to the Montana Department of Justice, most missing people are runaways -- 81% of them to be exact. The statistics also show most usually found. But still, there are hundreds of missing teenagers and adults in Montana.

You can look for yourself on the Montana Department of Justice webpage where you'll be able to see who is missing, when they were last seen, look at their picture and other important information.

These days, with the growing effort to find missing and murdered Indigenous people or sex trafficking victims with the help of the Lifeguard Group, and even the reach of social media there are more resources than ever to get the word out.

As far as the media is concerned, we wait until we get the information about a missing person from the investigating law enforcement agency.

We do that because incorrect or misleading information could hurt in the search for that person. But we will reach out to law enforcement and ask them “what's going on” when we hear of a missing persons case that hasn’t been officially issued yet.