HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Ashanti Alerts, issued when an adult goes missing, are meant to bridge a gap — and bring attention to missing people who aren’t senior citizens or children.
But do they work?
Senator Mark Warner, who spearheaded the passage of the Ashanti Alert legislation, was in Portsmouth on Wednesday. At a round table discussion with local leaders, Warner touted the $1 million in new funding for the implementation of the Ashanti Alert across the country.
“Any tool that can help anyone be found and help prevent any of these tragedies is essential,” Warner said.
10 On Your Side recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out from Virginia State Police how many Ashanti Alerts have been issued since the legislation was implemented. According to data provided to us from VSP, there have been eight Ashanti Alerts issued since 2018 – including five people in Hampton Roads and one in Accomack County: Bellamy Gamboa, Tontrese Vermelle Moore, Jamile Hill, Shanita Eure-Lewis, Marie Covington and James Allen. Of those six, four were either found dead or are presumed to be dead. Moore was found safe. Allen is still missing.
Covington’s body was found shortly after the Ashanti Alert was issued on her behalf, despite her family reporting her missing days earlier. When asked about this, Warner said the definition of who is a “missing person” might need to change.
“This is where the tension exists,” Warner said.
“How do you kind of make it through? The thing we had to work with law enforcement is that they did not want to be suddenly be putting up alerts about someone who might have said, ‘I’m an adult.’ The whole law enforcement definition of when a person goes missing, maybe that needs to be reexamined,” Warner said.
The Ashanti Alert Act is named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old woman who was abducted on her way to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in September 2017.
Her body was later discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing.
Warner pointed to Billie as an example when asked about the success rates of the alerts.
“Any family, if I had a missing child, that was an adult, I would want to know what happened, regardless of the circumstances,” Warner said.