RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia will soon have a new way to aid in the search for certain missing people.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill that creates a program to help get the word out about critically missing adults. It helps fill the gap for people who are too old for an Amber Alert but too young for a Senior Alert.
It was inspired by Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old woman who went missing from Norfolk in September 2017. She was later found dead in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“We never want to have a situation like Ashanti happen to any family here in Virginia,” said Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk). “If we can do just a little bit to make sure that never happens again, then I think that is a positive.”
Jones, a freshman lawmaker, introduced House Bill 260. He said it tackles a problem that crosses party lines.
“This was a public safety issue, not a partisan issue,” he said. “I’m excited about what I think this bill will accomplish and I hope over the course of its life it’ll save a whole bunch of people.”
The Ashanti Alert, as it has been nicknamed, will be a local, regional or statewide notification of a critically missing adult whose whereabouts are unknown, who is believed to have been abducted and whose disappearance poses a credible threat to his or her health and safety.
Virginia State Police will develop the policies and standards for when it should be triggered.
“We all know that adults sometimes leave and they don’t want to be found,” said Jones. “But for those who we believe are involuntarily missing, we want to have something in place that’s going to have all the resources devoted to finding them as quickly as possible.”
Toni Jacobs knows what it’s like to be searching for a loved one.
Her daughter, Keeshae Jacobs, was last seen at a home near Chimborazo Park in Richmond. That was September 2016.
“I asked [police], hey can we do an Amber Alert? And they were like no — because of her age,” said Jacobs.
Keeshae was 21 years old at the time.
“I was confused about that. I was like, so how is the public going to know my baby’s missing?” said Jacobs.
Jacobs keeps Keeshae’s picture on her car. She said social media, local media, rallies and knocking on doors has helped get the word out.
But she also thinks many families could benefit from having an alert set up for people who fall into the 18 to 60 age range and meet the criteria to be considered critically missing.
“The in between, it’s like there’s no urgency. There’s no urgency for it. And there should be,” she said.
The program is estimated to cost the state about $50,000 to implement. It goes into effect July 1.
Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia) and a group of representatives are working to pass the “Ashanti Alert Act” in Congress.