Nearly two hours before authorities descended on the home of 32-year-old Nathan Kempter in a Denver suburb, Nebraska authorities issued an Amber Alert for the 14-year-old Lincoln girl found sitting in his car with him.
His arrest — and the return of the girl to her parents — culminated a harrowing search Friday that took nearly seven hours and involved blanketing social media with information about the girl, tracking cellphone data, issuing an “endangered missing advisory,” inquiries from a state senator and, ultimately, an Amber Alert.
Numerous people concerned that police hadn't issued an Amber Alert hours into the investigation called Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, who called the Nebraska State Patrol and Lincoln police to find out more information.
Amber Alerts broadcast information over public broadcast systems and other electronic-messaging systems in child abduction cases.
Police had taken a number of other measures to share information about the missing girl before issuing the Amber Alert.
Because of the number of calls she got from concerned constituents, Pansing Brooks said she called the state patrol and Lincoln police to ask about the investigation — including questions about the criteria required for issuing an Amber Alert.
She came away convinced police had made the girl’s disappearance their top priority, she said.
The senator said she will look into whether there’s a need to strengthen or change those criteria in state law.
“I want to make sure the best resources are available to the police to issue the alerts and make sure our kids and citizens are best protected,” she said Tuesday.
She stressed she was not being critical of police’s handling of the incident — and hasn’t yet decided whether changes to the law might be warranted.
Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister doesn't think so. He said in hindsight, issuing the Amber Alert made it harder, not easier, for police to find the girl.
The alert, he said, triggered a spate of calls — all from people with the best of intentions — that required manpower to prioritize and investigate, taking away from time that could have been spent on other investigative efforts. None of the tips, he said, led police to the girl.
The problem: information about the suspect and the vehicle he was driving wasn’t specific enough to be helpful.
“That’s the benefit of hindsight and the debrief we did the next day,” he said. “Given the same set of circumstances and facts, I probably wouldn’t pursue an Amber Alert, mainly because of the lack of specificity on the vehicle type, the person responsible and any kind of plate number.”
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Pressure from family — or anyone else — didn’t sway police, he said, instead it was a culmination of the facts, a concern that more time had passed and that they hadn’t yet made inroads with the cellphone information. The decision was made in consultation with investigators and police command staff, he said.
“This was a rapidly evolving situation, as every few minutes went by we’re employing all sorts of investigative strategies to find the 14-year-old girl,” he said. “Time is the adversary here ... our cops were worried. They were really, really worried.”
Their concerns may have meant they underestimated the obstacles an Amber Alert could create.
Police got involved at 5:20 p.m., after the girl’s mother called to report that neighbors had seen her getting into a red SUV. She was last seen about 5 p.m., according to police.
Officers learned the girl had been corresponding with individuals in another state and that she may have been enticed to leave her home. By 6 p.m. they’d entered missing person information into local and national databases available to law enforcement officers, Bliemeister said.
Investigators saw what appeared to be a red SUV on home surveillance videos in the neighborhood and officers throughout the city checked places they suspected the girl might have gone. They learned from a friend that she may have been corresponding with a man from Texas, which ultimately turned out not to be the case.
At 7:38 p.m., police notified local media about the girl’s disappearance and released a picture of her. The information was shared widely on social media. At 7:47 p.m., Bliemeister said, they issued an “endangered missing advisory” — an alert distributed in Nebraska.
The advisory can be issued for cases where the criteria for an Amber Alert aren't met regarding a person missing under suspicious circumstances who police suspect is in danger for a number of reasons.
Amber Alerts relate specifically to abductions of people 17 years or younger that police believe are in danger of serious bodily harm.
At 10:08 p.m., police decided to issue the Amber Alert.
Bliemeister said they continued to learn more information from talking with family, and an analysis of the girl’s cellphone and other telecommunications records ultimately showed she’d been in contact with a man in Colorado who drove a red sedan and that during the time in question had used his phone in Lincoln.
Colorado authorities found the girl and arrested Kempter just after midnight.
Bliemeister said the other measures taken — including the advisory and the wide sharing on social media — were helpful and didn’t create the obstacles that the Amber Alert did.
The girl’s mother announced on Facebook that her daughter had been found and said “there were many people, including family, neighbors, legislators and an incomparable band of friends” who provided critical information, mobilized a search party, helped identify the predator and fought to get an Amber Alert out.
“If even minutes had been further lost we may not have our daughter back alive,” she wrote.