LEGISLATIVE WATCH WYOMING: Governor Signs Law to Expand State’s Missing Persons Alert Systems

Task force on missing and murdered Indigenous people recommended update

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Feb 23, 2023

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth


Gov. Mark Gordon this week signed a law that boosts Wyoming’s missing persons alert systems to include vulnerable adults and to assist tribal nations with their emergency communications networks.

The governor on Tuesday green-lighted House Enrolled Act 20, which requires the director of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security to help tribal, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies incorporate additional missing persons alert communications for an “adult at risk” or other missing persons who might fall outside the scope of the America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alert criteria. An “adult at risk” is someone with a developmental disability, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or a potential cognitive impairment.

Governor Mark Gordon speaks to a joint session of the 67th Legislature in the House Chambers at the Wyoming State Capitol on January 11, 2023 in Cheyenne. Photo by Michael Smith

“The Governor considers this bill another step in efforts to help address missing persons cases and battle human trafficking,” Michael Pearlman, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, told the Wyoming Truth. “The implementation of this system was one of the recommendations that emerged from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force and enhances the state’s ability to address these missing adult cases.”

The alert will function like an AMBER alert and send out rapid notifications to cell phones and other media regarding missing adults, which can trigger responses from local law enforcement. The law, sponsored by the Select Committee on Tribal Relations, also mandates Wyoming law enforcement agencies to assist local tribes with creating, integrating or operating an alert system if they so desire.

Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne), who co-chaired the Select Committee on Tribal Relations in 2022, testified last month in favor of the bill.

“Research has shown that the first hours that a person goes missing are the most critical for recovery, so the longer that we wait in issuing these alerts, the less likely it is that we recover these individuals,” Ellis said. “So, we did feel it was important to make sure that we’re not just looking at children, but older adults.”

As outlined in the legislation, the state highway patrol must work with the homeland security office and law enforcement agencies to operate and integrate additional missing person alert communications networks to aid search efforts. Additionally, state highway patrol would be required to report annually to the criminal investigation division the number of times and dates the alert systems were used; demographic information about abducted persons; the outcome of the abduction; and whether the alert system helped resolve the abduction.

The legislation adds the provisions of a national law known as the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 into Wyoming’s statutes and AMBER alerts.

The Ashanti Alert Act became law on Dec. 31, 2018 in honor of Ashanti Billie, who was abducted and killed in Virginia in 2017 at age 19, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The law created a voluntary nationwide communication network to assist with search and recovery efforts of missing persons over the age of 17 who don’t meet the criteria for AMBER alerts. 

Wyoming law enforcement agencies recorded 388 missing person cases in 2021, an October 2022 report from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center shows. Some people were reported missing multiple times in a year, so a section of the report focused on those unique individuals reported as missing. Of those cases, 57 individuals or 15% were identified as American Indian or Alaska Native. 

The report’s researchers also found that 23 homicides were reported in Wyoming in 2021, including one victim who was an American Indian/Alaska Native.

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