Skylar’s Law should be passed by Legislature

Last week, David Neese of Star City, pleaded with state legislators to instill more of a sense of urgency into a program intended to find and rescue children in danger.

Speaking of his own missing daughter, Neese said this: “Changing this law, God forbid, may be too late for Skylar. But please allow for this bill to be debated on the (House of Delegates) floor so other families may not have to go through this horrible ordeal.”

It is too late for Skylar Neese, who was 16 when she disappeared from her family’s apartment last summer. On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld revealed a body found Jan. 16 in Pennsylvania has been identified as the girl’s. An investigation is being conducted by the FBI, Ihlenfeld said.

Neese was seen getting into a vehicle outside her family’s apartment. For that reason, local authorities classified Neese as a runaway, though her family said she didn’t take contact lenses, money or other items she might have been expected to, had she planned to be away from home for an extended period.

And because Neese was classified as a runaway for a time, no “Amber Alert” – an emergency announcement to law enforcement agencies and the public – was issued.

Would Neese have been located had an Amber Alert been issued quickly? No one can say. Obviously, however, the chance of that happening would have been increased vastly.

The bill her father was supporting would amend the state’s Amber Alert program to require announcements of disappearances be made anytime a child is missing and believed to be in danger, not just when kidnapping is believed to be involved.

Even supporters of the bill admit there could be drawbacks to that approach. An increased number of Amber Alerts could dull the public’s sensitivity to them and result in fewer tips to police. Still, proponents of the change believe, acting more quickly when children are missing is desirable.

Clearly, that is the right approach. Except where there is persuasive evidence missing children are runaways, it should be assumed foul play has occurred. In such situations, the quicker the word can go out about disappearances, the better. The bill, now named “Skylar’s Law,” should be advanced.