AMBER Alert criteria updated, Evansdale family pleased with chan - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

AMBER Alert criteria updated, Evansdale family pleased with change

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BLACK HAWK COUNTY (KWWL) -

Three little letters -- the word "and" -- could have made all the difference to Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, the Evansdale girls that were kidnapped just over a year ago.

When they went missing, an AMBER Alert was never issued. Officers had no suspect or description of the vehicle.

"Their hands were tied," said Heather Collins, Elizabeth's mother.

Tied, she said, by the wording of the Iowa AMBER Alert plan criteria.

On Wednesday -- what would have been Elizabeth Collins' 10th birthday -- the state amended that criteria.

When Heather heard of the change, she was ecstatic.

"What a great birthday gift for her, even though she's not here with us," she said.

Previously, Criteria Four of the code required "descriptive information about the child, abductor, and/or suspect's vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast will help."

Now, the "and" has been stricken from the code.

The new code also encourages law enforcement to interpret the code more broadly than before, erring on the side of caution.

Waterloo Director of Safety Services Dan Trelka said it's a big step towards clarity.

"When you took the old criteria, if you showed it to seven different officers, they would have interpreted it seven different ways," Trelka said.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the AMBER Alert Criteria Group had not met to review the text for over 10 years.

After several high-profile cases in the past months, they decided it was time to review the standards.

Trelka has been advocating for change in the code for almost a year. He even attended an AMBER Alert conference with Drew Collins, Elizabeth's father.

Still, Trelka said the timing of this decision is amazing.

"To have the state come out with the changes in criteria, today -- on Elizabeth's birthday -- it just sends shivers down my spine," he said. "I mean, wow."

He said a clearer policy allows officers to act more quickly to save missing children, so the change is a move in the right direction.

Time, he noted, is of the essence in child abduction cases.

"What's sad is when a child is abducted, their chance of being murdered in the first three hours is significant," he said.

For Elizabeth's mother, on what would have been her daughter's 10th birthday, this change was the answer to her prayers.

"When I woke up today and I was praying, 'Lord, let something happen big today, even if it's not huge, huge,'" she said. "Just to show that what we're doing is what we should be doing."

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