Instagram adds Amber Alert feature -- Michigan officials hopeful it will help

Instagram launches Amber Alerts
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 6:22 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) -There have been 20 Amber Alerts in the state of Michigan since 2017. Of those 20, all of the children were found before or after the alert was sent. In many cases, social media played a role in tracking them down.

Starting Wednesday, Amber Alerts will now show up in our Instagram feeds.

Jolene Hardesty, with the Missing Children’s Clearing House, has seen her fair share of missing children cases. Her unit -- a branch of the Michigan State Police -- said she thinks this new feature could aid in Amber Alert efforts.

Hardesty has been a part of the department since 2017. She has a lot of stories but one sticks with her the most.

It was her first Amber Alert. A Detroit child was abducted by her own mother’s boyfriend. The man drove himself and the child to Ohio while he was armed with a machete.

“So I can only imagine this child being so terrified of this big machete -- it was probably bigger than she was,” Hardesty recalled.

She remembers calling Ohio officials to send out an Amber Alert. They watched as the abductor drove back over Michigan’s border. The child was recovered and unharmed.

“It was such a rush of, ‘Oh, my gosh, we all did this. All of us together, we did this as a team,’” Hardesty recalled. “It was great. There’s no better feeling.”

She’s been chasing that rush ever since. Since she started her work in 2017, Michigan Amber Alerts have had a 100% recovery rate. Now that Amber Alerts will be posted on Instagram, she’s hopeful they’ll reach more people.

“The saying is a picture is worth a thousand words. If you have a picture of a missing child, most people are visual so they’ll be able to take that picture and associate it with what they’re seeing in their community,” said Hardesty.

She adds that there’s power in numbers. “A thousand words is now thousands and thousands of shares.”

The more a missing child’s picture is shared, the better chances police can locate them. She’s also hopeful the Instagram feature will reach different audiences -- like kids.

“They want their friends found just as much just as much as the parents and the families of these missing children,” said Hardesty. “I would think that having a younger audience base would help share information.”

Of the Amber Alerts in 2019, 6% of them were of Native American Children according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. That number is believed to be higher as there is little known data existing on the number of missing indigenous children.

There are 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan. Hardesty said she believes Instagram can help these cases reach larger audiences faster. That’s important because the first hours a child goes missing are the most crucial.

“I think that this is going to help not only the citizens of Michigan, but also our Native American citizens, our Native American partners.”

The Instagram feature launched Wednesday and will be available in 25 countries.

As of 2021, Amber Alerts have been directly responsible for recovering 1,111 children in the United States.

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