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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Attorney General John Ashcroft today designated the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs as the National AMBER Alert Coordinator at the Department of Justice.

At today's first-ever White House Conference on Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children, President Bush directed the Attorney General to designate a Justice Department officer to serve as AMBER Alert Coordinator to help expand the AMBER Alert system nationwide. AMBER plans are voluntary partnerships between law enforcement and public broadcasters to send out messages over the Emergency Alert System notifying the public a child has been abducted and aiding efforts to find both child and suspect.

"Few things grip law enforcement with more urgency than finding a missing child," said Ashcroft. "Rapid response is vital in abduction cases, and taking the acclaimed AMBER alert system nationwide will save lives and thwart would-be predators. I thank President Bush for his exemplary leadership in rallying Americans to protect children from harm."

The current Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, Deborah J. Daniels, has a long and deep-rooted commitment to child protection. Daniels, a former United States Attorney, was the first Director of the Executive Office of Weed and Seed - a Justice Department program initiated in 1991 that attempts to weed out violent crime, gang activity, and drug use and trafficking in target areas, and then seed the target area by restoring the neighborhood through social and economic revitalization.

The National AMBER Alert Coordinator will help develop, enhance, and coordinate AMBER Alert plans across the country. Serving as a nationwide point of contact, the Coordinator will work with states and localities to increase the number of AMBER Alert Plans and ensure that they work together as a seamless network.

The Attorney General will provide approximately $3 million to deliver high-quality AMBER education, training and technical assistance resources to front-line authorities, develop voluntary standards for activating alerts, and provide software upgrades for emergency alert systems around the country.

AMBER Alert Plans are gaining popularity across the country. Since 1996, 66 plans have been established at the local, regional and state levels, and 24 states have adopted a statewide plan. Currently, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children credits AMBER Alert Plans with the safe return of 31 children across the country.

Fortunately, the number of serious child abductions in the United States is not on the rise. There were approximately 58,200 "non-family abductions" in 1999 where children were forcibly moved or detained for a relatively short period of time. Ninety-nine percent of these children returned home safely. Only 115 of all non-family abductions were the most serious and dangerous types of abductions - those perpetrated by strangers where the child was kept overnight, held for ransom or killed. Approximately 56 percent of these children were returned home. Tragically, in 40 percent of these cases, the child was killed. In another four percent, the child has never been found.

AMBER - America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response - was created in 1996 as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas and then brutally murdered. After this heinous crime, Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children.