PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – On Sunday night, a 7-year-old was abducted when the Honda Civic she was sleeping in was stolen in Southeast Portland. 

The incident was reported at around 6:50 p.m., but it wasn’t until nearly four hours later that an AMBER Alert was issued in the Portland area, asking people to keep an eye out for the car she was last seen in. 

The missing girl was found safe near Laurelhurst park within an hour of when the alert was sent out. An officer patrolling for the stolen car spotted it near Laurelhurst Park with the child sleeping inside. 

This story has a happy ending, but it’s led many people to wonder why it took so long for state officials to send the AMBER Alert and what criteria a situation must meet before an AMBER Alert can be sent. 

A Portland Police Bureau spokesperson said Monday morning that the bureau worked with Oregon State Police, which oversees the AMBER Alert Program in the state. 

“There are a number of checks in the system to be sure that an Amber Alert is appropriate and will be helpful,” Sgt. Kevin Allen, a PPB spokesperson, wrote in an email. 

He said officers performed an initial search for the stolen vehicle after the report came in. When they didn’t find it immediately, PPB called in its Missing Persons Unit and detectives to help. The Missing Persons Unit worked with Oregon State Police to get the AMBER Alert approved. 

Allen didn’t elaborate on all the “checks in the system” PPB and Oregon State Police had to go through, but Oregon State Police does provide more information online about what criteria are required for law enforcement officials to activate an AMBER Alert. 

Law enforcement officials must confirm that a child younger than age 18 has been abducted and that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death. 

There must also be enough descriptive information available that the public could use to help find the child, suspect or the suspect’s vehicle. 

Investigators must enter the child’s name and other critical data, including the child abduction and AMBER Alert flags, into the National Crime Information Center system. 

Once a local law enforcement agency requests an AMBER Alert for the child, Oregon State Police enters information into a web portal so the details about the missing child are sent to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. 

The NCMEC can then send the AMBER Alert information to anyone who registered to receive alerts and Oregon State Police can notify Oregon Emergency Management to send out an Emergency Alert System message – like the one many Portlanders received on their phones Sunday night. 

Oregon State Police’s AMBER Alert Coordinator decides what details are sent in the mobile alert. 

The NCMEC said the amount of time it takes for a law enforcement agency to issue an AMBER Alert after a child is abducted can vary depending on each case. It can take anywhere from minutes to a full day. 

“AMBER Alert coordinators strive to issue alerts as quickly as possible considering the investigative circumstances and needs of each case, should it meet criteria,” Rebecca Steinbach, a senior producer for the NCMEC, told KOIN 6 News. 

In 2021, 97% of activated AMBER Alerts resulted in recovered children within 3 days. 

Steinbach said the AMBER Alert was created to quickly alert the local community to a critically missing child and for the community to help find them. She said the system has been extremely successful in locating abducted children quickly and safely.