People care about saving missing and exploited children, said Josh Schisler — but the current alert system is outdated, leaving members of the public without a clear understanding of how they should respond to alerts.
“I think there is no shortage of people who would be happy to take a few minutes from their day to search areas to find abducted children. Our platform gives them the steps to do so,” said Schisler, the Kansas City-based co-founder of AlertL.ink — an information technology company that created the platform for finding missing children, Missouri Watch (MO Watch).
Missouri Watch is a web-based application that shares the latest information on missing children, search instructions for community members and the ability to call one’s local law enforcement, explained Schisler. Those who sign up for the platform receive an enhanced AMBER Alert that includes a photograph of the missing child, an assigned watch zone and a link to the Missouri Watch platform.
On the platform, community members can clear a watch zone, call law enforcement to report a sighting and be given another area to search. The watch zones are assigned based on AMBER Alert data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that reported where children are most likely to be found.
Click here to sign up to receive up-to-date alerts for missing children and connect with the community through MO Watch.
AlertL.ink and Missouri Watch — which was co-founded and coded by Dent County deputy Mikol Skaggs — began in 2019 in response to the death of Hailey Owens, a 10-year-old girl from Spingfield, Missouri, whose life could have been saved by a more timely and effective AMBER Alert system in 2014, Schisler shared.
Schisler worked for State Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, while Trent was supporting the Owens family to get “Hailey’s Law” signed into legislation. Hailey’s Law, which passed in 2019, made it easier for police officers to issue alerts, as well as require the AMBER Alert Oversight Committee to meet annually. The legislation also allowed alerts to provide links to more information about missing children and search areas.
Before Missouri Watch, Skaggs coded HAILEY’S App (Honing Alerts Issued by Law Enforcement for Youth Safety Application). The web-based application became the blueprint for Missouri Watch, Schisler noted.
“We’ve learned a lot over the years by assigning pertinent search zones to tens of thousands of Americans with HAILEY’S App,” Schisler said. “That’s why law enforcement officers in Missouri are now clamoring for [Missouri State Highway Patrol] to directly link all AMBER Alert recipients to Missouri Watch.”
Missouri Watch’s tagline “by law enforcement for law enforcement” reflects the significant role that sheriffs across Missouri have had in developing and utilizing the platform to protect abducted kids, Schisler said.
Since adding links to AMBER Alerts, data has shown that approximately 5 percent of users who receive the alerts will click the link, Schisler said. With alerts being sent to millions of Missourians, the premise of Missouri Watch is that there is power in numbers, he continued.
“When more people take the time to check in at their assigned watch zones, it dramatically increases the odds of swiftly finding a missing child,” Schisler said.
Missouri Watch’s platform can handle millions of users at once, Schisler noted, making it the best outlet for immediate updates and communication. Prior to both HAILEY’S App and Missouri Watch, law enforcement agencies were linking AMBER Alert updates to Twitter, which showed to have inefficiencies and roadblocks, he continued.
“Sending out updates on Twitter is better than nothing, but it is much better if we’re taking this seriously and doing something constructive for people when they click the link,” Schisler said. “… Our platform shows them the picture of the child and assigns the public to zones to coordinate a search. Also, you don’t have to refresh the page on our platform. It updates automatically. The delivery of information is much more streamlined on our platform.”
Through the Missouri Watch platform, individuals can also become verified members by submitting a selfie and license to ensure safety and security, Schisler added — noting that it is impossible to impersonate someone else like one can do on Twitter or other sites.
Kurtis Stoltz, a data analyst for a large credit union, is a community member who got involved and became the leader of the St. Louis Missouri Watch program.
“I work full-time and have a baby daughter, so that leaves me with a very busy schedule, but [Missouri Watch] allows me to clear as many zones and do the best I can with the time I have,” Stoltz said, noting he had unfortunately participated in a search days prior.
“Our hope is that this is going to become the premier program that’s used statewide in the effort to find missing and exploited children,” Stoltz said. “It is a really incredible opportunity to empower the community to protect children.”