Greece, N.Y., police investigate on Monday after an Amber Alert was issued when a teenage girl was believed to be missing. / Shawn Dowd, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Child advocates say they hope the apparently faked abduction of a local teenager doesn't sour the public on the power of the Amber Alert.
While police released no additional details Tuesday regarding the case, questions about the incident and the alert it sparked remain.
"A great fear would be seeing the Amber Alert system go the way of the car alarm, where nobody really pays attention to it," said Ed Suk, executive director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children/New York. "We want to be cautious about using the system so we don't get to the point where people are irritated by it, but clearly when that Amber Alert came out yesterday, people paid attention."
Cassidy N. Geffert, 16, was arraigned Monday evening in Greece Town Court on a single charge of fourth-degree grand larceny in connection with a handgun the teen allegedly took when she left her home earlier that day. Cassidy pleaded not guilty and was released on her own recognizance to her mother. She is scheduled to appear in court again Thursday.
Police initially thought Cassidy may have been abducted, and an Amber Alert was sent using the Wireless Emergency Alert system, pushing an urgent message at about 1:30 p.m. to cellphone users in western New York. On many phones, the alert set off a siren-like tone, accompanied by a text message with the alert.
Suk said that may have been the first time the WEA system was used for such an alert in this region. He said whether to use the WEA cellphone system is up to State Police, but it is more often used when there is vehicle information that should be in the public consciousness as soon as possible.
"This is something you want to use judiciously, with caution," he said, noting that there are only a handful of Amber Alerts usually issued in the state each year.
Cassidy was found less than an hour after the alert, safe and alone at a motel in Brockport - thanks to a called-in tip.
But almost immediately after police announced there had been no true abduction, people took to social media, questioning on Twitter and Facebook the law enforcement decision to deploy the alert system for an apparent hoax.
Police defend their decision and said if presented with the same circumstances, they would make the same decision.
"Our main concern was finding Cassidy as quickly as possible," said Sgt. Jared René, public information officer with Greece Police. "This resource was a way for us to get that information out there, and at the time, we thought the situation warranted it. We had a credible possibility that she had been abducted, and that was what we were dealing with."
René said he could not address seemingly contradictory information other police gave media outlets about the Amber Alert, such as a bloodied note being left at the scene or the home appearing in disarray.
He said the department's investigation has concluded, and no additional information would be released.
"No matter how this turned out, the situation was still that there was a child at risk," said Suk. "And on the bright side of this, the system works."
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