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Marc Klaas, father of murdered child Polly, says Amber Alert system is broken

If there is anyone who understands the pain, grief and torment of losing a child it is Marc Klaas. Klaas’ own hell began when his daughter, Polly Hannah Klaas, was abducted at knife point from his ex-wife’s home in Petaluma, CA, on Oct. 1, 1993. Richard Allen Davis would ultimately be convicted on charges of Murder with special circumstances (robbery, burglary, kidnapping and lewd act upon a child) and receive the death penalty. His execution awaits as Davis currently resides at San Quentin on death row.

Marc Klaas speaks at the New Yorker Festival panel discussion 'Capital Punishment: Is the Death Penalty Dying?' at DGA on October 1, 2011
Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The New Yorker

When Hailey Owens was abducted on Feb. 18, 2014, one of the first people HLN host Nancy Grace interviewed was Marc Klaas. Marc Klaas spoke about the ineffective methods police use in tracking child predators. The Hailey Owens’ case has drawn great concern from the national public, as the alleged perpetrator, Craig Michael Wood, was a substitute teacher and middle-school football coach. He had worked with the Springfield, Missouri public school system for 16 years. When investigators obtained a search warrant and entered his home, they found Hailey Owens’ deceased body, a cache of weapons and ammunition and a large amount of child pornography, including but not limited to DVDs and photo albums full of child porn.

Marc Klaas spoke about law enforcement being ill equipped to deal with the outbreak of child pornographers in the U.S.A. He stated, “Well, Nancy, unfortunately, child pornography is epidemic in this country. There are millions of people that are file sharing this kind of information. And law enforcement oftentimes knows who they are. They just don`t have the resources to be able to arrest and convict and imprison these individuals. It`s the task forces, the crimes against children task forces, that have been requesting this money for well over a decade now.”

Nancy Grace responded, “Marc Klaas, so many children have literally been taken out of the front yard. You know, I`m afraid to even let the twins go play -- I don`t let them go play unless I`m with them, Marc, I`m so worried.”

Klaas answered, “And I think you have good reason to be worried, Nancy. I mean, even my own daughter was taken out of her bedroom. Oftentimes, we let people out onto the streets again knowing full well the kinds of crimes that they will commit, yet we don`t put the resources necessary to protect our children, either through laws, through even things like neighborhood watch programs, even increased law enforcement. We just don`t put the resources out there to protect our kids from these individuals.

“People say, ‘Well, the child should have been doing this, the child should have been doing that.’ The trouble is, they`re children. We don`t put the burden of the issue on the shoulders of the innocent kids. It`s our job to protect them, and quite frankly, we don`t do a good enough job of it.”

Klaas touched on one of the most troubling aspects of the Hailey Owens case. Ten-year-old Hailey Owens did not simply vanish into thin air without a trace, as so many unfortunate victims of abduction do. Two witnesses saw the abduction and even called to Hailey Owens and her alleged abductor Craig Wood. They wrote down the suspect’s vehicle license plate number. Another neighbor leaped into his car and followed the truck until he was obstructed by traffic. Police had all the information needed to issue an Amber Alert. By the time everything was in place and research led authorities to Craig Michael Wood’s home, authorities observed what appeared to be a “clean up” scene. Hours later, after obtaining a search warrant, Hailey Owens’ body was found deceased and stuffed in a storage container. Marc Klaas indicates this is a problem.

Nancy Grace spoke to Klaas of his daughter Polly. She asked, “Marc, how old was Polly, your daughter, when she was kidnapped? Was she 10 or 12?”

He stated, “Polly was 12 years old. And just like this child, Nancy, she was kidnapped in front of witnesses. Unlike this child, that was a time when we didn`t have the Amber Alert. Now we have the Amber Alert. In this case, all the criteria was fulfilled within 12 minutes of her being abducted, yet it took 2 hours and 19 minutes to issue the alert. That demonstrates very clearly that it`s a broken system that needs to be fixed.”

KY3 asked why it took 114 minutes for Springfield, Missouri authorities to issue an Amber Alert in Hailey Owens’ case. Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams explained, “It was about as quick as we could get everything imputed, presented, they could verify and make the determination.” Williams continued, “Unfortunately it is a time consuming process and there is a lot of information that has to be compiled and forwarded and we depend on the state to put that out,”

Marc Klaas clearly believes the Amber Alert system is not operating in its full potential and not serving its purpose, which is ultimately to save lives, due to bureaucratic red tape and an overall flaw in the original design. He expounded upon his views in a blog post titled “How the Amber Alert Failed Hailey Owens.”

Charisse Van Horn is the owner of the Amber Alerts and Missing Children Cases blog. You may see updated information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, including links to missing children’s posters by state, there. You may also follow on Facebook at Amber Alerts and Missing Children Cases: Facebook on Twitter and on Google Plus.

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