Each year, families of missing people gather from across the state during The Never Forgotten: Arkansas Takes Action event. This year's event, which took place in Benton, featured lengthy discussions about two new laws involving how police handle cases of missing people.
Act 913 authorizes the collaboration of multiple agencies when responding to cases involving missing or endangered children. Under the act, the Arkansas Attorney General, Arkansas State Police, Criminal Justice Institute, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Department of Community Correction and Office of Prosecutor Coordinator will have a memorandum of understanding to implement statewide child abduction response teams.
Act 920 outlines how law enforcement should respond when receiving a report of a missing person.
“A law enforcement agency shall not require a delay before accepting or investigating a report of a missing person when reliable information has been provided to the law enforcement agency that the person is missing,” according to the act. The presence of a next of kin is also not required for law enforcement to begin an investigation under the law.
Both laws were sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Petty, whose 12-year-old daughter Andria was abducted, raped and murdered in 1999.
"Petty chose to fight for the rights of crime victims and focus her anguish on keeping the children of America safe from predatory crime and abduction. She works closely with law enforcement, crime victims, children, parents, lawmakers, and her community," according to the Arkansas House of Representatives.
The Never Forgotten: Arkansas Takes Action event features a panel discussion for family members of missing individuals as well as training for law enforcement.
As required under newly enacted Act 920, “all law enforcement in the state shall complete training related to the investigation of unidentified and missing persons.”
This training will be conducted in conjunction with resource available through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Thursday’s event served as the first class of the new training initiative.
“I’m so excited to see this initiative today,” said Jami Cook, director for the Department of Public Safety.
Along with in-person training, an online training program has also been created. Law enforcement will have one year to complete the training, Cook added.
“We’ve come a long way and we’re not going to stop fighting,” said Kermit Channell, executive director of the Arkansas State Crime Lab. “(Law enforcement) want to do it. Now they will know how to do it.”
Family members say strides have been made involving the investigation of cases, but there is still a long way to go.
Following the 2017 event, a resource guide was created to help families know what to do when an adult is missing. To date, more than 4,000 guides have been distributed, said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. During this year's event, Rebecca Glenn, who's brother Kenneth Weaver is missing gave the panel another idea. She suggested police officers, during training, hear from an individual who has a missing loved one in hopes that law enforcement can better understand and learn how to communicate with families.
Little Rock Chief of Police Keith Humphrey took this suggestion to heart.
"The Little Rock Police Department will be doing that. That's a promise," he said.
Humphrey told the group he was one of the officers who responded in 1996 when Amber Hagerman’s body was discovered in Arlington, Texas. Hagerman is the namesake for Amber Alerts, messages distributed when a child has been abducted. In Arkansas, the alerts are named in honor of Morgan Nick, who was kidnapped from a baseball game in Alma. To this day, the person responsible for Hagerman’s death has not been located, Humphrey said.
“Each and every one of you all is inspiration… We learn for you all,” Humphrey said.
Along with being an event to share ideas, Never Forgotten: Arkansas Takes Action serves as a way for families of missing people to connect. During the luncheon portion of the event, Rutledge honored people who are missing and their family.
“I finally get it now as a mom,” Rutledge said while telling stories of her almost 1-year-old daughter. “We admire your strength and persistence.”