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Agencies practice on how to react to child abductions

Staff Photo: Alena Parker
 Personnel with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state’s Child Abduction Response Team receive intelligence information regarding a hypothetical abduction of a 16-year-old girl. The mock exercise, taking place at Panola Conservation Park, will help Georgia CART receive national certification in responding to child abductions. 

Staff Photo: Alena Parker Personnel with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state’s Child Abduction Response Team receive intelligence information regarding a hypothetical abduction of a 16-year-old girl. The mock exercise, taking place at Panola Conservation Park, will help Georgia CART receive national certification in responding to child abductions. 

CONYERS — Search and rescue efforts for kidnapped children were put to the test Thursday as local law enforcement participated in a multi-agency training exercise that played out a hypothetical child abduction in order to receive national certification.

More than 150 personnel from nine different state agencies gathered Thursday morning and staged at Panola Conservation Park near Alexander Lake for the exercise.

The half-day training involved a hypothetical child abduction in which the team of personnel was told a 16-year-old girl had been kidnapped in Rockdale County. The Rockdale County Sheriff's Office served as the first responder to the call, then RCSO contacted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. It was determined to activate the state's Child Abduction Response Team, or CART, a team trained specifically to respond to missing, endangered or abducted children.

Through joint intelligence efforts, personnel learned the girl was on her way home after running on the nearby trail when she was snatched and forced into a black SUV. The different agencies dispersed through the mock crime scene Thursday and performed interviews with mock eyewitnesses, neighborhood canvassing and ground searches with K-9 units.

A helicopter was dispatched and the Georgia State Patrol also staged a roadblock at the intersection of Union Church and Fairview roads. A Levi's Call was eventually activated to inform the public of the abduction, and personnel gathered enough evidence and intelligence to issue a description of the mock suspect.

The "abducted" teen was recovered in the woods near the lake at the conclusion of the exercise around noon.

Though the full-scale investigation was hypothetical, GBI Director Vernon Keenan reminded the group of the importance of the day's training.

"If we have a child who is abducted, we want all of Georgia law enforcement to work to recover that child," Keenan said. "Even in today's dire budget environment ... we still need to protect our citizens, particularly our children."

The exercise was an effort of the Georgia CART to earn national certification. Three out-of-state assessors made rounds through every part of the exercise to evaluate polices and procedures being used.

An official certification notification will come later after a detailed report is made, but GBI spokesman John Bankhead said the state will likely be certified.

"They praised the effort and commented that there were no glaring errors that they saw," Bankhead said. "They indicated that there wouldn't be an issue with certification."

This is Georgia's first attempt at national certification, which would make it the fourth state in the country to receive the designation.