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TBI CRITICISED IN HANDLING OF AMBER ALERT FOR FLORIDA GIRL

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Four-year-old Rebecca Lewis is back home in Florida with her family, but there are still questions on Tuesday about how Tennessee law enforcement agencies reacted to requests to help find the missing girl.

Rebecca was reunited with family at a Lakeland, FL, airport after she was rescued from her abductor on Monday outside a Memphis hospital.  She was rescued after a nurse recognized the pair at Baptist East hospital.  The employee spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon to talk about what she did.

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“We pass by them and my dad says ‘Hey’ to him and he says ‘Hey’ back, and I’m just focused on that little girl to try to get the details of her outfit, her face and as soon as we passed them, my dad looks at me and I show him my phone and she’s wearing the same outfit,” said Kaitlin Brown.  Rebecca disappeared early Saturday morning by West Wild Hogs, setting off a frantic search that spanned the southeast.  Wild Hogs is expected to appear in court on Wednesday morning in Memphis.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was frustrated with the process of why the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation would not activate an Amber Alert to find Rebecca and Wild Hogs.  “The State of Tennessee chose not to do an Amber Alert when we asked them to because they said there was no evidence at the time that Rebecca and West Wild Hogs were in Tennessee,” said Judd before Rebecca was found. “Well here’s a news flash Tennessee, he was there.”  There had been reports that Wild Hogs and Rebecca were in East Tennessee and later a sighting in the Antioch area on Monday morning.  By 11:30 a.m. Monday, the TBI had issued a statewide Amber Alert and 90 minutes later Rebecca was found in Memphis.  Questions remain about the effort to find her, questions aimed at both Metro Police and the TBI.  There were multiple law enforcement agencies involved in the search and the flow of information between them seemed to be very slow.

The TBI is responding to criticism over its reluctance to issue an Amber Alert earlier.  “We take the situation serious. No one wants missing children home more than the TBI,” said TBI spokesman Josh DeVine.  Amid harsh criticism over its handling of the kidnapping case, the TBI is standing firm behind its policies for issuing Amber Alerts.  “We do this process as judiciously as possible because we don’t want to insight panic when panic doesn’t need to be,” said DeVine.

A 911 caller spotted Wild Hogs and Rebecca at an Antioch gas station around 2 a.m. Monday but didn’t call police until 4:40 a.m.  Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron said officers searched for 90 minutes but couldn’t find Wild Hogs and Rebecca.  He said they never called the TBI because there wasn’t an active Amber Alert for Middle Tennessee.  “Had there been an Amber Alert for the immediate Nashville area, obviously the officer senses would have been ramped up,” said Aaron.  The TBI said it wasn’t notified about the Nashville sighting until 9:30 a.m. and the agency issued a statewide Amber Alert at 11 a.m., more than six hours after Wild Hogs and Rebecca were spotted in Nashville.  “A five hour gap when a girl is in extreme danger,” said DeVine. “It sounds like there was a major communication breakdown between multiple law enforcement agencies.  “We can only do what we do here at the TBI based on information we’ve been given.”

DeVine also said other states, including Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, refused to issue Amber Alerts for Rebecca Lewis.

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