First Amber Alert in region proves to be a success in manhunt case - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

First Amber Alert in region proves to be a success in manhunt case

By Donna McCollum

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) Amber Alert was officially put into use during Tuesday's manhunt of Luis Gallegos. The father is charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting his wife. After her escape, he fled with their two small children in her stolen SUV. Shortly there after, the Amber Alert was issued. 

Amber Alert was launched for this region in August of last year. It's only been tested through mock events. The practice paid off. "It went off beautifully," said Melissa Russell, Amber Alert Plan coordinator. "We were able to get that vehicle description out with the suspect almost immediately," said the Nacogdoches police dispatcher.  "There were a lot of calls coming in," added Sgt. Greg Sowell. The police department's police information officer helped Russell as feedback began to flow in. "None of these proved to be the actual suspect vehicle, but what that did tell me is the people were hearing it. People were seeing it," said Sowell.  

Word spread to Houston, a direction Gallegos may have taken if able to carry off his plan to travel to Mexico. "They actually had the TxDot signs on the freeway in Houston, actually with our information," said Russell proudly. Then Beaumont launched its regional plan. E mail blasts containing photographs went out to all points beyond. Text messages too.  "We created the Beyond Missing posters with the children's picture on there. Once we had a suspect picture we added that to it and that was initially sent out to over 23,000 people," explained Russell. "We were getting calls from news media from far away as Fort Worth, Austin, Dallas, Houston," said Sowell. 

The case did not qualify for the strict standards of a state Amber Alert. That's done only in severe cases, like an attempted murder. Even so, authorities were ready to go into action.   "They did pool their resources for us. We had border patrol notified and on alert. U.S. Marshals were on alert," said Russell.  Amber Alert attempts to avoid the "car horn syndrome". They don't want people to become immune to the warnings, as they are now to vehicle burglar alarms," said Russell.

A couple of years ago Russell recognized the need for Amber Alert in Deep East Texas. In an earlier interview, Russell spoke about going to a state convention. She noticed on a map indicating Amber Alert areas that East Texas wasn't covered. She immediately began her research after work and on her days off. Eventually, she got all the counties in the region to agree to participate.

Russell praised local and state media. Within two and a half hours of the initial alert the children were found, safe and sound. Authorities are confident a lot of people were looking out for their welfare.   A local review board will study within a couple of weeks yesterday's Amber Alert performance.

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