95% success: Utah’s new Silver Alert system has helped find 19 of 20 missing seniors

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TAYLORSVILLE (ABC4 News) – A missing 76-year-old woman from Salt Lake City and a missing 83-year-old man from South Jordan were both safely located last week.

Bessie McBurrage and Gerald Vincent are the latest examples of the difference being made by Utah’s new Silver Alert system.

The Silver Alert law went into effect in May, but Orem Police were not aware of it when 80-year-old Alzheimer’s patient Robert Jones drove away from his home on June 16th.

The Orem PD did later issue a Utah’s first-ever Silver Alert and Mr. Jones was found safely three hours later in Wilder, Idaho after meandering an estimated 1600 miles through Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

The Director of Utah’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations Greg Willmore says Utah is slowly getting accustomed to the alerts for missing seniors 60 and over or anyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

“I think law enforcement agencies and the public are a little more familiar with it,” Willmore told ABC4 News. 

Field Service Supervisor Mandy Biesinger demonstrated the process of how the BCI issues the alerts to police departments, media outlets and Utah Department of Transportation road signs.

“Once that’s been submitted, that’s what’s going to then go out to all law enforcement as well as what you’ll be seeing in the media,” she said. 

In six months, there have been 20 Silver Alerts issued and 19 of those subjects have been found safe, a 95 percent success rate.

The only unresolved case is 71 year old Carol Stratton who walked away from her Cedar City home in October. She has not been found and is presumed dead. 

As for the 19 people who did come home, Director Willmore says the public deserves the credit.

“I think we’ve got a good system built and it’s getting better,” he said. “But the people who actually pay attention to the road signs, the media, the descriptors, the things like that and then take the time to call something in or to take that action that’s where it really counts.”  

Especially for the family members like Robert Jones’ daughter Pam Wilburn who got her father back.

“It was just nice to give him a big hug. You know, ‘Good to see you Dad’,” Wilburn said. “He just said ‘Sure happy to be home’.”

Representative Lee Perry (R – Perry) sponsored the Silver Alert bill during the 2019 legislative session after one of his constituents had an elderly family member go missing.

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