Ten community leaders from the River Valley have joined together to form a Child Abduction Response Team (C.A.R.T.) which will assist regional law enforcement in organizing the search efforts after a child is reported missing.
The core team recently traveled to Indianapolis to participate in a C.A.R.T. training which consisted of areas of best practices and investigative techniques in dealing with child abductions., according to Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck. The training for the team was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown said the team was formed in honor of Morgan Nick, a 6-year-old girl from Alma who went missing in 1995. Brown said he was an Alma police officer at the time of the girl's disappearance and was assigned to the case.
Colleen Nick, Morgan's mother and founder of the Morgan Nick Foundation, was a speaker at the training and will be part of the regional team, Hollenbeck said.
Brown said the C.A.R.T. is a specialized response team which focuses on locating missing children, similar to the way a SWAT team responds to hostage situations.
"It's a rapid response team of specially trained investigators and assets that have already been identified throughout the community to respond to any type of child abduction," said Hollenbeck.
The goal of the team is to help organize people and resources to locate the child quickly, according to Brown, who said key clues are missed when teams are not organized.
Hollenbeck said he learned at the training it is usually within the first three hours of an abduction where "bad things" happen to a child.
"We cannot afford to go to the scene and start scratching our heads saying 'Okay, what do we do now?'" said Hollenbeck.
Hollenbeck recalled other instances of children being abducted in the area including Angela Allen, a 16-year-old girl who was kidnapped from Crawford County and killed in Sebastian County in 2012, and Quinn Whittsett who was found in New Mexico after he was taken from his grandparents' Sebastian County home in October by his non-custodial mother.
"As sheriff, I just want our department and every other agency in the area to be up to speed for - if and when - this horrible situation could happen again. And we're going to be ready."
The sheriffs said the goal is to have the team formed and trained by June 9, 2014 - 19 years after Morgan's disappearance. This will be the first C.A.R.T in the state, and Hollenbeck said he hopes it will serve as a model for other regions to implement teams as well.
The team includes: Hollenbeck, Brown, Alma police officer Jayson Peppas, Van Buren Police Chief Kenny Bell, Arkansas State Police officers Brian Davis and Kim Warren, Crawford County Prosecutor Marc McCune, Assistant Superintendent of Ozark Public Schools and State Representative Bill Gossage, Probation and Parole Officer Kyla Powell, and Jeff Turner with Sebastian County Emergency Management.