A bill to create an alert system for abducted, kidnapped or compromised adults has thus far sailed through the Wyoming Legislature.
House Bill 18 – Missing person alert systems passed through the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee with a unanimous vote of support on Monday. On Tuesday it was placed on general file in the Wyoming House of Representatives, and upon introduction it passed the committee of the whole.
If it passes, HB 18 would integrate federal, tribal and local law enforcement agencies in Wyoming under a common Amber-alert like system called the Ashanti alert — named for a 19-year-old Virginia resident, Ashanti Billie, who went missing after being abducted in 2017 and was found dead two weeks later 350 miles away.
The idea to bring Ashanti alerts to Wyoming — a system already in place elsewhere — emerged from the Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations in response to disproportionately higher rates of missing Indigenous Wyoming residents. In 2021, Indigenous people accounted for 17% of Wyoming’s missing persons cases, though they’re just 3% of the state’s population.
Why it matters:
The new alert system would give law enforcement agencies another tool to locate missing Wyoming adults, Indigenous or not. The alerts are applicable to missing adults with special needs or circumstances and also missing adults who are “endangered” or have been involuntarily abducted or kidnapped.
Who said what:
At the onset of the Legislature’s general session, Gov. Mark Gordon pushed HB 18 during his State of the State address.
“It is a needed solution to help all Wyoming people,” said Gordon, who created the Wyoming Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Taskforce from which the idea emanated. “It’s an opportunity to stop more missing persons cases at their inception, as well as take a meaningful step towards curbing human trafficking.”
Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne), testifying to the House Labor committee, explained that research shows the first hours a person goes missing are the most critical to their recovery.
“So the longer that we wait in issuing these alerts, the less likely it is that we recover these individuals,” Ellis said. “We did feel it was important to make sure that we were looking at not just children, but older adults.”
Ann Clement, a public policy manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, pointed out how the new alerts could help locate people prone to wandering.
“There are about 10,000 Wyomingites that do have either dementia or Alzheimer’s,” Clement said. “About 60% of those with dementia will have a wandering episode. About 5% of those folks will make their way back home safely and unharmed [unassisted].”