HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – A revamp is on the way for Virginia missing persons investigations.
Secretary of Public Safety Bob Mosier announced in a letter to United States Sen. Mark Warner that Virginia State Police will now have a hand in all adult missing persons cases when they are first reported.
They will also re-issue education surrounding the Ashanti Alert, the alert set up for when an adults go missing.
“Early on, Virginia was a leader in [the Ashanti Alert], but candidly, through some of your investigative reporting, we were seeing that some of the data was not being accurately reported,” Warner said.
Back in October, Warner was at an event in Portsmouth where he touted the success of the Ashanti Alert and the number of people who had been safely located after an alert was issued.
The trouble was, the data he referenced differed from data 10 On Your Side had been provided by Virginia State Police, which showed a much bleaker picture of the number of missing adults who are safely reunited with their families after going missing.
“When we first got the data, I thought Virginia was doing great,” Warner said. “I remember some of your reporting, which had very different results. The truth was, you were more right than law enforcement,” Warner said.
It turned out, Warner’s team and the 10 On Your Side Investigative team were both given two sets of incorrect data. It prompted Warner to reach out to Gov. Glenn Youngkin and ask the state to reexamine the Ashanti Alert process.
Mosier replied with the policy changes.
“Thank you for reaching out to our office to gain a stronger understanding of our Ashanti Alert processes, the guiding laws and policies, support documentation for activation, and recent statistics,” Mosier said. “As you have aggressively pursued nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert, Virginia has continued to utilize this tool in scenarios where the definition is met, in order to save the lives of endangered adults.”
Mosier’s response shed light on the case of Marie Covington, the Virginia Beach woman who was found murdered – several days after her family reported her missing, but only two hours after an Ashanti Alert was issued.
The response also mentioned Virginia Beach Police Department’s after-action review of the Covington case. 10 On Your Side previously reported their findings that several officers did not follow proper procedures while investigating Covington’s case.
“Some of the officers didn’t follow what our current policies and procedures are,” said Lt. Rachel Wigand with the Virginia Beach Police Department’s Investigative Division.
“We understand that is, any missing person is going to be somebody’s wife, husband, child, brother, sister, right? And so we’re very empathetic and we want to take these reports and get them entered into the system,” Wigand said.
“That way, if anybody comes across them, we are able to ensure their safe keeping and get them back home,” she said.
The hope is that these changes bring back more missing people – before it’s too late.
“As a result of these changes, lives will be changed,” Warner said.