Community Issues

Todder's Death Leads To Call For Review Of Amber Alert Procedures

Family members and lawmakers want to know why it took so long to issue an Amber Alert when 2-year-old Nalani Johnson was abducted.


Family Calls For Review

More than a month after a toddler was kidnapped and died near Pittsburgh, PA, investigators are looking at the timeline of events and actions taken in the moments afterwards. While the suspect awaits charges, Nalani Johnson's family members are raising questions about why it took so long to issue an Amber Alert. 2-year old Nalani was found four days later, dead, still strapped into her car seat in a field in a rural park.

Nalani Johnson was abducted at 5pm on August 31, 2019. The Amber Alert was issued at 7:39pm.

Taji Walsh is Nalani Johnson's grandmother. She wants to know why it took more than two and a half hours to activate the Amber Alert system that sends instant alerts to state and local agencies as well as the general public. I talked to her and PA State Representative Tony DeLuca who's helping take Taji's concerns to state officials:

Here's what we know about the timeline of events so far:

  • 5pm: August 31, 2019: The suspect takes off with Nalani in her car, leaving the girl's father on the side of the road in Penn Hills, PA.
  • 5:02pm: Nalani's father calls Penn Hills Police to report the abduction.
  • 7:39pm: Pennsylvania State Police issue the Amber Alert which reaches every law enforcement agency, plus transportation departments that post notices on roadside alert signs, and cell phones throughout surrounding areas. (Pictured below is the alert distributed by the PA Turnpike Commission on social media.)

  • 7:51pm: 12 minutes following the Amber Alert, police found the alleged abductor's car in Penn Hills but without the child or her car seat.
  • 3:30pm September 3, 2019 (4 days later): search crews looking for Nalani discovered the little girl's body in a field at Pine Ridge Park in Burrell Township, Indiana County, still in her car seat.

Amber Alert Criteria

Here is the criteria for issuing an alert according to the Pennsylvania State Police Amber Alert page :

  • The abducted child must be under eighteen (18) years of age
  • The abducted child is believed to be in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury
  • Additional factors are considered in the decision making process as to whether or not to activate the PA AMBER Alert Plan. These factors include, but are not limited to: availability of descriptive information which could assist in the recovery of the child, time elapsed since the child was last seen, and reliability of witness(es).
  • The plan is limited to "abducted" children, and, therefore, excludes children believed to be runaways or throwaways from home.

After a police department initiates an investigation of an abducted child and all of the above criteria have been met, State Police will analyze the reported information. If there is enough information available to believe that an activation will assist in the recovery of the child, the AMBER Alert Plan will be put into effect. Timing is critical in a child abduction case. We encourage investigators to report a case immediately in order to get information out to the public so the child can be found unharmed. This plan can be activated anywhere in the Commonwealth. The plan can also be utilized for interstate abductions through a cooperative effort with other states across the nation.

What's Next?

Nalani's family tell us they believe all of the criteria were met, but the alert still wasn't issued right away. They aren't looking to place blame on any one individual for the delays in finding her, but they do want to find out what happened in the process that delayed the Amber Alert for so long so that the issue can be addressed. Their concern now is for other children who are missing or abducted in the future.

We'll keep you posted on what happens with the investigation into the Amber Alert procedure in Nalani's case, and, if changes need to be made, whether lawmakers and other leaders step up to make it happen.

How can you start something good?

Here's how to make sure you're receiving Amber Alerts:

For most phones you shouldn't have to do anything. The default setting is ON for Amber Alerts, Emergency Alerts, and Public Safety Alerts.

Apple/iOS: To change your settings on on any carrier: Go to Settings > Notifications > Scroll down to Government Alerts > and tap the toggle button.

Android (may vary by device/carrier):

Go to the Apps icon > Tap Messaging > Tap Menu > Tap Settings > Scroll down to 'EMERGENCY ALERTS' section > Tap Receive Emergency Alerts > Choose your alerts.
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