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Utah DPS praises Amber Alert system after children and suspects found

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Posted at 7:19 PM, May 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-06 21:19:56-04

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Department of Public Safety is praising the Amber Alert system for working successfully Thursday in bringing home two Clinton girls abducted by non-custodial parents.

Police say Christopher Montoya and Monica Martinez took their two daughters, 3-year-old Cynthia Montoya and her 11-month-old sister Marae, from their grandmother’s home around 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

The widespread Amber Alert hit about 8 p.m., and by 4 a.m. the next morning the pair was spotted in Gallup, New Mexico.

“This is a perfect example of the systems that are in place,” said Clinton Police Lt. Shawn Stoker. “The information clearly made it’s way to New Mexico, where there was a successful and safe resolution to this.”

DPS public relations director Marissa Villasenor said this was the 40th Amber Alert issued since the program started in 2002, and the second such alert to use cell phone push notifications. She said they’re constantly looking to improve the operation.

“After each incident we do a debrief, and we try and make sure it’s fresh in our minds: What can we do better?” Villasenor said. “How can we be proactively contacting other agencies? Seconds count.”

One criticism was the time between the abduction and the push notification. Villasenor said that’s due to the way the system is set up. Information is first sent out to people who’ve signed up specifically to receive it. That first notification is done by the investigating agency, in this case Clinton PD.

“That’s about, including law enforcement, about 8,000 people who get that notification,” Villasenor said. “From there, we are then contacted at DPS, and our first contacts are the emergency alert system and the traffic operations center.”

The actual push notification comes from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who have access to cell phone tower transmissions. Villasenor said even though there was a delay, they’re impressed at the community’s response, and attentiveness to the message.

People can sign up to receive the primary Amber Alert notifications through the DPS website, here.