Freshman Virginia House Delegate Jay Jones has chalked up a significant goal as lawmaker, with the passage of legislation to create an Amber Alert-like system for “critically missing” adults.
Called the “Ashanti Alert” or HB 260, Jones’ bill cleared a final hurdle when it was approved by House and then, last week, the Senate.
Now Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign it into law.
Jones who represents Norfolk said inspiration for the bill was the abduction of Ashanti Billie in 2017 from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, where she worked at a sandwich shop.
She was later found dead in Charlotte, North Carolina. Because Billie was an adult, she didn’t meet the criteria for an Amber Alert, which is used when children are missing.
“Once Ashanti went missing, we became more aware of other situations where something like this had happened but there was no mechanism in place,” said Jones, who represents the 89th House District, where Billie lived. “This is a public safety issue, not a partisan issue.”
Eric Brian Brown, a retired Navy veteran who worked at the base with Billie, has been charged with kidnapping in Virginia and in connection with her death in the Charlotte area.
Jones said the bill gives Virginia State Police the power to set criteria for the “critically missing adult alert.”
Currently, Virginia has three alerts for missing persons: Amber Alerts and Endangered Missing Child Media Alerts, for missing persons under age 18; Senior Alerts, sometimes called Silver Alerts, for persons 60 or older.
That leaves a gap for adults between 18 and 60 years old.
If approved by the governor, the Ashanti Alert will be modeled on the Amber Alert which includes issuing emergency messages over public broadcasting networks, displaying electronic messages on highway signs and sending texts to all cellphones within range of the cellular carrier towers in the affected area.
Amber Alerts are also spread voluntarily by other state agencies, the news media and nonprofit organizations. For example, a program called A Child Is Missing can make 1,000 telephone calls with a recorded alert within a minute, according to Virginia’s Amber Alert Plan.