COLUMBUS — Older Americans Month in May is a time to celebrate the achievements and longevity of our elders, but just as important, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said, is reinforcing our collective responsibility to protect their dignity and keep them safe as they age.
“Not only does my office go after those who neglect, steal, and abuse older Ohioans, but we also work hard to help older adults who go missing return home safely to loved ones,” Yost said.
Key to the latter efforts is the Endangered Missing Adult Alert Program, which is administered by the attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).
Using statewide emergency alerts, BCI works collaboratively with local law enforcement agencies to help find endangered older Ohioans who are reported missing. In many cases, the missing adults have dementia or other health challenges and could be in danger.
“A lot of Ohioans are probably familiar with the AMBER Alert system, which is used for endangered or abducted children, but far fewer may know that there’s a similar program to help locate older adults who are reported missing,” Yost said.
Like AMBER Alerts, Endangered Missing Adult Alerts rely heavily on the public’s help. Since Ohio implemented the program in 2008, the adult alerts — also like AMBER Alerts — have proved overwhelmingly effective.
Last year, for example, BCI issued 146 missing adult alerts based on requests from law enforcement agencies in 38 Ohio counties (one in Morrow County, two each in Marion and Crawford counties, and four in Richland County) and two nearby states — West Virginia and New York. In all but one instance – a Dec. 7, 2022, alert issued in Clermont County – the missing older adult was either found by law enforcement, identified by the public, or returned home on his or her own.
According to the Clermont County alert, 72-year-old Thomas Mills left his residence on foot at 8 a.m. on Dec. 6 and did not return. Mills, who is on the autism spectrum, has not been found, but the case remains under investigation.
So how does the Endangered Missing Adult Alert system work? The process generally goes like this:
• A local law enforcement agency receives a call about an older adult with cognitive challenges who has gone missing.
• The agency confirms, per the alert requirements under state law, that the missing adult is at least 65 years old or has a mental impairment, and/or has autism spectrum disorder or another developmental disability.
• The individual’s disappearance poses a credible threat of immediate danger of serious bodily harm or death to the individual.
• There is sufficient descriptive information about the individual and the circumstances surrounding his or her disappearance to indicate that an alert will help find the individual.
• The agency initiates a search and reaches out to BCI to issue an Endangered Missing Adult Alert.
The alert is distributed to law enforcement as well as members of the public and media who have subscribed to receive alerts via text message, fax, or email.
Additionally, a law enforcement agency can request that alerts be displayed on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s electronic billboards and highway message boards throughout the state. Likewise, the Ohio Turnpike can activate a license-plate reader system to help identify the missing adult’s vehicle.
Besides the Endangered Missing Adult Alert Program, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) also helps older Ohioans by investigating cases of elder abuse upon request from local law enforcement agencies.
Yost’s Elder Justice Unit is an essential resource for protecting Ohio’s elderly population. The unit — a collaborative effort among the AGO’s Crime Victim Services, Consumer Protection, Health Care Fraud, Social Prosecutions sections, and BCI – works to educate Ohioans about the warning signs and risks of financial exploitation. Elderly people, especially, are vulnerable to such crimes.
For more information on the Elder Justice Unit, or to get support for a victim of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, call 800-282-0515.
Submitted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.