The Ashanti Alert system for missing adults is making its way through the Virginia General Assembly
In February 2018, the House Appropriations Committee approved legislation proposed by Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) to create an Ashanti Alert. The Virginia Senate approved Ashanti Alert legislation in early March.
The bill, HB 260, creates the the new Virginia Critically Missing Adult Alert Program. Thanks to Ashanti Alert, law enforcement officials will be able to send a local, regional or statewide alert if they believe a missing person has been abducted and the “disappearance poses a credible threat” to the individual’s health and safety. The Ashanti Alerts will go to the media, who then could inform the public to be on the lookout for the missing adult.
Governor Ralph Northam signed the Ashanti Alert bill into law on April 6, 2018.
The need for more aggressive steps to find missing adults is a pressing concern in Virginia. According to the Capital News Service at Virginia Commonwealth University:
More than 240 adults are missing in Virginia, according to the Virginia State Police. In 2016, a fairly typical year, 14 names were added to the list. But last year, the list grew by 39 names — and so far this year, 17 more people in Virginia have gone missing.
Currently, Virginia authorities issue alerts and mobilize search resources only when people of certain ages go missing:
- If the person is 17 or younger, the state can issue an Amber Alert or an Endangered Missing Child Media Alert.
- If the person is 60 or older, the state can issue a Senior Alert, sometimes called a Silver Alert.
But Virginia hasn’t had an alert system to warn people to look for a missing adult between the ages of 18 and 59 — until now.
A new member of the Virginia House of Delegates plans to introduce legislation to help find missing adults.
The legislation is inspired by the tragic disappearance and death of Ashanti Billie. Shortly after her disappearance in September, Virginia Beach police knew that Ashanti Billie was missing and that her cellphone had been found in a dumpster. But because she was an adult, detectives didn’t request an Amber Alert or immediately reach out to the media, according to Billie’s family. Billie was found deceased 11 days later outside a Charlotte, N.C., church.
“We don’t want this to happen again,” said Delegate-Elect Jay Jones (D-Norfolk), announcing plans to introduce legislation next month to create an “Ashanti Alert” system to cover cases like Billie’s. He argued that there is no easy way for law enforcement to seek the public’s help for missing people between the ages of 18 and 60; police can can issue “Senior Alerts” for missing elderly people.
“We need something in the middle,” Billie’s mother, Brandy, said.
Read more about this story in the Virginian-Pilot.