An alleged CT kidnapping triggered an Amber Alert. Here's how the system works.

Photo of Tara O'Neill
A screenshot of the Amber Alert issued in Connecticut on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Authorities issued a correction on the boy’s name as Armel Muhammed soon after.

A screenshot of the Amber Alert issued in Connecticut on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Authorities issued a correction on the boy’s name as Armel Muhammed soon after.

Tara O’Neill / Hearst Connecticut Media

The emergency alert banner popped up at the top of cellphones statewide Tuesday night, informing residents that a 4-year-old child had been allegedly abducted in Connecticut.

The alert was issued around 8 p.m. The young boy was found unharmed at a motel in Wethersfield later that night. Police took a couple into custody in connection with the incident.

The boy had been in the care of his uncle, police said. But when the uncle needed to leave for work, the man left the child with a family friend, identified by police as Stephanie Fonda.

Fonda, 39, took the boy and the uncle’s vehicle without his permission, police said. She and her husband, David Fonda, 37, are expected to face charges.

Police said the child was last seen in New Britain around 9 p.m. Monday. Middletown police were notified the child was missing around 3:20 p.m. Tuesday. Before authorities found the child, Middletown police said they didn’t believe the boy was in “any specific danger.”

It’s unclear why it took more than four hours for an Amber Alert to be issued, but authorities said it immediately goes out once they have enough information to meet the criteria for the alert. Once the message was sent, devices across the state blared as cellphones received the alert.

“We look for known locations that people will put themselves in or hide out,” Middletown Police Lt. Brian Hubbs said during a press conference shortly after the boy was found unharmed Tuesday night.

“It’s a huge relief for everyone involved, especially the mother who I’m sure (was) frantic and (is) now extremely excited,” Hubbs said.

He said law enforcement take these types of incidents very seriously.

“When there’s an Amber Alert, it’s pretty much no holds barred,” Hubbs said. “We will look anywhere and everywhere ... We’ll reach out to every local resource, every state resource we have ... Really, no stone goes unturned when it comes to identifying or locating a child.”

This was the first Connecticut Amber Alert since a kidnapping last month in Wolcott where a 5-year-old child was in the backseat of a vehicle that was stolen from a local convenience store around 11:30 p.m. on May 3.

Wolcott police said once authorities learned what happened, a “be on the lookout” broadcast was issued and an Amber Alert quickly processed. Area towns were immediately notified. The child was found unharmed in the abandoned vehicle around 1:45 a.m. on May 3.

Before the Wolcott incident, the last time authorities turned to the Amber Alert system in Connecticut was for Vanessa Morales, kidnapped in December 2019 from her Ansonia home after her mother, Christine Holloway, was killed. Vanessa, now 2, has never been found, despite sightings of children who resembled her in Bridgeport and California. The child’s father, Jose Morales, faces charges in connection with Holloway’s death.

Nationwide, there were 145 Amber Alerts issued in 2019, according to an annual report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The system used for Amber Alerts is the same as the one Connecticut uses during severe weather emergencies. The NCMEC said the system does not track whereabouts of devices, but rather broadcasts the alert to any phone that is within range of cellphone towers in the geographic area where the alert was issued.

Anyone who might not have received the alert Tuesday night should check for any possible software updates and make sure the phone is connected to LTE.

A Silver Alert is issued for a person believed to be missing. Amber Alerts are reserved for children ages 17 and under who authorities believe have been abducted.

Once police respond to the scene of a potential kidnapping, they gather any description possible of the child, alleged suspects and the vehicle if one is involved, according to the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

That information is sent to the Connecticut State Police Message Center and is recorded on an audio alert message. That message is sent to all radio and television stations across the state through the Emergency Alert System, DESPP said.

“The goal of the Amber Alert System is to instantly notify the entire state, so everyone may assist in the search for the safe return of the child,” DESPP said. “The public immediately becomes the ears and eyes of law enforcement and can assist in the search for the missing child.”

The Amber Alert system dates back to the mid-1990s.

The system got its namesake from Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was abducted in Texas on Jan. 13, 1996. She was later found killed. Her killer has never been caught. Wanting to do something in the aftermath of her kidnapping, officials in Texas went to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and formed the Amber Alert system.

Since the system’s inception through April, a total of 1,064 children have been rescued specifically because of Amber Alerts, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. During that same time, 92 of those children were rescued because of wireless emergency alerts.