Officials say false Amber Alert hurts its credibility

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids woman is facing prison after she allegedly claimed her baby had been stolen, leading to an early morning Amber Alert.

It is ultimately up to the Michigan State Police to decide whether an Amber Alert is issued, and they are criticized for being too slow to issue alerts and for being too quick to send them.

But in this case, police say this mother repeatedly lied about her 18-month-old daughter being stolen, they stand by the decision and say the false report should result in criminal charges.

The Amber Alert woke people throughout West Michigan at 3:21 a.m. on Sunday morning.

“At that point, we’re not questioning it, this is a mother that can’t find her baby and says that a stranger drove off with her in the car in the back seat and they found the vehicle and the car seat was empty,” said Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Sarah Krebs, the state Amber Alert coordinator and recognized globally as an expert in missing persons.

Grand Rapids Police say 27-year-old Jennell Ross met police at the Admiral Gas Station in the 4200 block of Kalamazoo Ave. SE and told them that a man named “Terrell” drove off with her baby.

She stuck with that story for hours until finally police received a call from the baby’s father who said he had the baby the entire time. The father is not named Terrell.

“So the Amber Alert, in that regard, did work,” said Grand Rapids Police Sgt. Cathy Williams. “There was an Amber Alert Issued and they were able to contact us and say ‘no, wait a minute this child’s fine, I have it.’”

Ross allegedly finally told police that she and the baby’s father had been arguing and there was a no contact order between the two leading her to lie.

“For all those people that she made worry over nothing, I would like to hear what her malfunction was and why she would do that,” Krebs said.

On Wednesday, Ross was arraigned on the charge of making a false report of child abduction.

“Four-year felony, $2,000 fine and the cost of the police response or any emergency response,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said of the charge.

Becker said this charge usually involves parent custody disputes and prison time rarely results.

“So that’s probably the biggest thing depending on how far an agency takes this, the cost of it could reach the thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Becker. “If you have all those emergency responders coming out, that’s gonna cost a lot of money.”

Could things have been done differently before the alert was issued?

“It fit all the boxes for the Amber Alert, and sadly in the aftermath it was found out that she was lying,” Krebs said.

She said what happened Sunday is certainly a problem, but the system is effective and has saved many children.

“I try to put myself in the mother’s shoes when I’m making those decisions,” Krebs said.

She said there is a coordinated effort that goes on with the Amber Alert system.

“We rely on law enforcement out in the field to help us make those decisions,” Krebs said.

Williams said there’s not a magic button that makes the entire state aware of an Amber Alert.

“We have to provide information that we believe that child’s been abducted and we have to provide information that that child is in immediate harm,” Williams said.

She said the alert gets attention. 

“As soon as that Amber Alert was issued, we had phone calls from all over the country, literally,” said Williams, adding that the FBI was involved as well as the Centers for Missing and Exploited Children.

GRPD gets two or three reports of missing children every month. But in the last two years, the only Amber Alerts out of Grand Rapids came this weekend and one was false.

“It kind of destroys the credibility of the Amber Alert, which is really sad that one person did that and she should be charged,” said Krebs. “It’s very frustrating for us, but I will always err on the side of caution for that child.”

She said the potential harm that could come to a child she is not found outweighs the inconvenience of an Amber Alert and overall, the system works.

Nationally, the Amber Alert system is credited with saving lives and changes made a year ago that narrowed the criteria for what qualifies reducing the number of alerts overall.

“That’s our job is that we work to bring children home safe,” Krebs said.

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