Technology aided search

Relates to:
Date: 2009-01-09

JONATHAN HUNLEY

The intense search for Alexis Glover highlights the technology used in modern-day missing person cases.

Alexis, who was discovered in a shallow creek near Pfitzner Stadium, suffered from developmental delays and post-traumatic stress disorder, which made her a risk for wandering away from home.

Because of those health problems, the 13-year-old Manassas area girl wore a wristband with a radio transmitter that sent a tracking signal to authorities when she went missing on Wednesday.

The wristband came from the Prince William County Sheriff's Office, which has outfitted six children with the devices as part of a program by Chesapeake-based Project Lifesaver International.

Alexis had last been seen at the Central Community Library in Manassas, and a Prince William sheriff's deputy found her wristband not far away, on Woodhue Court off Manassas Drive.

But Alexis wouldn't be discovered until Friday. She was submerged in about 2 feet of water near the Old Hickory golf course, county police said, nearly 8 miles away from the library.

It was a horrific end to the search, but sheriff's Deputy Joseph Sutton said the outcome shouldn't sully anyone's opinion of Project Lifesaver.

"The program itself did work," said Sutton, who oversees it here.

That is, the Sheriff's Office found Alexis' wristband within about 20 minutes.

The Project Lifesaver system was put into place in March, he said, and it's served as a good support to caregivers of children with autism or developmental delays.

"It's actually put their minds at ease a lot," Sutton said.

After seeing Project Lifesaver's benefits in other places, Sheriff Glendell Hill wanted to bring it to this area, he said.

The system is supported entirely by private funds, Sutton said. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin got the program started with a donation of more than $13,000.

The Prince William Sheriff's Office is one of 870 public safety agencies in three countries to employ Project Lifesaver's technology, said Amber Whittaker, spokeswoman for the nonprofit organization.

"It's a wonderful tool for law enforcement," she said.

Project Lifesaver was born in 1999 in the Chesapeake's sheriff's office, Whittaker said, and it has expanded to 45 U.S. states, Canada and Australia. It has been used in 1,800 successful searches.

The impetus was finding missing people with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, Whittaker said, who were apt to hide in strange places, such as under brush.

Project Lifesaver has been useful in finding people with those illnesses, as well as those who have suffered brain injuries, she said.

In Alexis' case, Prince William police also employed technology from another nonprofit, A Child Is Missing.

The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based organization assists law enforcement agencies by alerting communities when people are missing.

A Child Is Missing can place a thousand phone calls in a minute, according to the organization's Web site, and is free to law enforcers.

It placed 31,000 phone calls in Prince William near Alexis' home and the Central Library, said police 1st Sgt. Kim Chinn.

One woman who received a call telephoned Chinn to say she was going out with her flashlight immediately to look for Alexis.

"It's a great tool," Chinn said.

Staff writer Jonathan Hunley can be reached at 703-369-5738.

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