Hostile reaction to Amber Alert for missing girl is unreal

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As police hunted late last Thursday night and into the morning for an 11-year-old Mississauga girl gone missing and later found dead, many people expressed shock. They said the Amber Alert for missing children, first sent out on phones at 11:30 p.m. was scary, too loud, not useful, annoying, broke their phone, woke the kids, woke the dog, and would make them tired for work.

The child, Riya Rajkumar, was a happy girl with a huge grin. In the police-issued photo of her with her father, Roopesh Rajkumar, she is proudly wearing Minnie Mouse ears and a pink purse with the letter R. She was in Grade 5. She was four feet tall.

Peel Regional Police sent out an Amber Alert to cellphones on Thursday night as they searched for Riya Rajkumar, 11, who was believed to be in the company of Roopesh Rajkumar. Riya was later found dead.
Peel Regional Police sent out an Amber Alert to cellphones on Thursday night as they searched for Riya Rajkumar, 11, who was believed to be in the company of Roopesh Rajkumar. Riya was later found dead.  (INSTAGRAM)

Her mother had called the police, saying she had left the girl with her father for her birthday and was frantic about her safety after she didn’t return. The alert, normally sent out on mobile screens, TV, and radio, described her and the car she might be in, asking everyone to be on the lookout.

The alert named the father, found in Orillia and later charged with first-degree murder, and said the car was last seen eastbound on Highway 401. Peel Region police say a 911 tipoff led them to it and the Brampton house where Riya was found. They said they were distressed by the number of angry 911 complaints they received about the Amber Alert itself.

This is new to me, although perhaps not to police across Canada. 911 is reserved for emergencies. For complaints about noise, Torontonians are asked to call 311. The idea that people would clog 911 to harangue operators, possibly as the child herself was crying or even dying, seems unreal. Many tweets were foul, and not anonymous either.

Read more:

Man charged in daughter’s death in hospital with self-inflicted gunshot wound, say police

‘Riya is an angel’ — Mississauga community gathers to mourn slain 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar

Late-night Amber Alert about missing girl, found dead, prompts complaints to 911: Peel police

“How many houses were disrupted every two hours all night long for a BS Amber Alert?” is an unacceptable tweet, but it appears to have been deleted so it’s forgivable (as are almost all tweets). What’s less forgivable is that the question was prefaced by “I am very sorry that a little girl is dead but on the night the rest of the world has to work …”

One would have thought that the final alert announcing that Riya had been found dead would have silenced the complaints. It did not.

Canadians talk about the Ottawa bubble, but it’s real. Imagine people there complaining that the child was missing in Peel Region, “which is hours away” from Ottawa, to which no human being could possibly drive in the middle of the night.

This is a test — and the nation-wide Canadian emergency alert system will be tested again and again — and the challenge is understanding the thinking behind the complaints. Calling 911 is like signing your name.

Were they drunk? Tone-deaf? Racist? Caught in an era of rage?

It may turn out that the alert was not handled perfectly but it was sincere. Yes, the digital buzzing siren sound is alarming but it’s supposed to be. It will tell you about approaching terror like hurricanes, huge fires, floods or all three.

As weather grows more extreme, you may hear it again. The practical answer is to turn off your phone or lower the volume.

By the way, it was an excellent alert, its words fresh, concise and to the point. Such alerts are by definition a shared experience, something we Canadians don’t have often. They’re directed at everyone who might help by looking out the bedroom window in the dark, checking the licence plate of the car ahead, and studying the faces of strangers.

They’re a collective effort to find an individual. In 1985, little Nicole Morin, 8, left her family apartment to meet a friend for swimming. She was never seen again. Neither her killer nor her body were ever found.

If memory serves, police asked everyone in Toronto to check their surroundings, every car trunk, every inch of yards and garages, behind sealed doors, under objects and inside bins. Nicole was so small that she could have been hidden almost anywhere and no one would have noticed. That was 34 years ago and I still think of her.

Heather Mallick is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherMallick

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‘A child is so innocent’: Candlelight vigil held for 11-year-old girl in Ontario Amber Alert

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Community members left grief-stricken by the death of an 11-year-old Brampton, Ont., girl gathered at a park near the child’s school to light candles, lay flowers and show support for the girl’s family at a vigil Saturday evening.

About 200 people gathered at Meadowvale Village Green park in neighbouring Mississauga at 6 p.m., most of them holding candles to place at a growing memorial for Riya Rajkumar, who was found dead in her father’s basement apartment on her birthday this week. 

Some of Riya’s family members attended the vigil, but did not address the crowd.

The group held a moment of silence and, as more people arrived and the sky grew darker, the display of candles grew in front of a pile of flowers and teddy bears.

A woman who knows Riya’s mother planned the candlelight vigil. Amrita Naipaul posted details about the event on her social media accounts.

Members of the community gather at a candlelight vigil in Mississauga on Saturday night for Riya Rajkumar. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

« Many people have messaged asking how you can help Riya’s family during this tragic time. As a community, this loss has been felt by all, » she wrote on Instagram and Facebook.

« There are so many people who have been hurting from this angel’s loss, and no one needs our prayer and love more than Riya’s family at this time, » she continued. 

In an interview on Saturday before the vigil, Naipaul said she spoke briefly with Riya’s mother on the phone on Friday evening. 

« I just wanted to make sure out of respect that she was aware of what we were trying to do before we made any arrangements or made any plans, » she told CBC News Network.

« She’s actually the one who suggested that we do it nearby the school, » Naipaul explained, referring to Meadowvale Village Public School, where Riya was a Grade 5 student. 

Naipaul said she has heard from people across Canada, and even from some who live outside the country. 

« There have been many strangers who’ve reached out to me and said, ‘If you get a chance to talk to [Riya’s mother] just let her know that she’s very loved, and she has so much support,' » she continued. 

Naipaul planned to collect donations at the vigil that will be used to help pay for Riya’s funeral. A separate online fund established by the group Neighbourhood Watch Brampton has already raised some $21,000 for Riya’s family.

« I think everybody kind of shares the same sentiment that a child is so innocent and so pure, and a parent is supposed to — especially a father — is supposed to be protective of their child. And to think about what that child went through is just hard for everyone, » she said.

‘Honour a young life’

Rajkumar will also be remembered at a formal memorial on Tuesday night in Brampton, the city about 30 kilometres northwest of Toronto. 

Brampton Coun. Rowena Santos is helping to organize the vigil, which is set to take place at Garden Square from 5:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET. 

« Our community is grieving the tragic death of Riya Rajkumar and this is a time to come together in solidarity and remember and honour a young life, » said a notice posted to the city’s website.

« All members of the public are welcome to attend. »

Riya’s father, Roopesh Rajkumar, is facing a charge of first-degree murder in her death. Rajkumar, 41, picked his daughter up at a Mississauga gas station on Thursday afternoon to take her out for her birthday. When he did not return the young girl to her mother at an agreed upon time later that evening, she went to Peel Regional Police for help. 

An Amber Alert was eventually issued around 11 p.m. that night, and was cancelled about an hour later after officers found Riya’s body at an address in Brampton where her father resided.

Rajkumar was arrested by provincial police around the same time while driving north on Highway 11 in Orillia, about 130 kilometres north of Brampton.

Riya was remembered by her classmates and friends as having a vibrant personality and infectious smile.

On Saturday, people continued to stop by the address where Riya was found. The residence is still taped off by police, and officers were going door to door in the area speaking with neighbours.

‘No child deserves this’

A small memorial of flowers and notes of condolences grew in a snowbank outside the home. Family members brought those flowers to Saturday night’s vigil.

« It’s just so sad to hear — an 11-year-old. It could have been my daughter, » said Alexandra Casanova, who brought her children with her so that they could « understand what happened. »

Michael Bettencourt brought his adolescent son with him to pay his respects.

« We are mourning her loss. She was such a young child, and we feel for the family and the community, » he said.

« No child deserves this. »

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Amber Alert mobile system working despite glitches, but could be tweaked, experts say

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Some people received duplicate alerts on their mobile phones, some not until hours after the incident, and some as far away as Manitoba.

But despite those glitches, the Amber Alert sent out Thursday to locate a missing 11-year-old Brampton, Ont., girl shows the mobile emergency system seems to be doing what it was intended to do, experts say. 

Ontario Provincial Police issued the Amber Alert around 11 p.m. ET, searching for 41-year-old Roopesh Rajkumar and his daughter Riya. A motorist spotted the car described in the alert, and police were able to locate and arrest the man. The girl’s body was found about an hour later in his apartment.

Rajkumar was charged Friday with first-degree murder.

« This is exactly why it was designed, and someone who was somewhere at the right time, even at 11:00 [at night], was able to contribute, » said security expert Matthew Overton. « Unfortunately, the little girl was already dead. »

Overton said he has received several alerts since the CRTC made it mandatory last year for telecom companies to support Amber Alerts on their mobile phone networks.

« It certainly caught my attention, so it has done everything it wants to, » he said. « I think from that perspective it seems to be moderated pretty well. I’m not seeing a series of alerts [that] I’m wondering: ‘Why should I get that?' »

Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, was arrested on a highway about 130 kilometres north of Brampton, Ont., after an Amber Alert was issued late Thursday. His daughter, Riya, was found dead in his basement apartment shortly before his arrest. (Facebook)

Peel Regional Police said they received a series of emails and calls from people complaining about receiving the late-night alerts that were accompanied by a siren-like sound.

« I appreciate that a lot of people were sleeping, but the immediate need to locate the child outweighed the momentary inconvenience that some people encountered, » Const. Akhil Mooken said on Twitter. « Tragically this incident did not have the outcome we were all hoping for but the suspect was located as a direct result of a citizen receiving the alert and calling 911. The system works. »

That doesn’t mean there weren’t technical glitches. In a statement, Pelmorex, the company that operates the alert system, acknowledged it received reports that some users received duplicate alerts, as well as some users outside the province, in neighbouring Manitoba, who received alerts.

Pelmorex spokesperson Yulia Balinova said in a statement that the company was reviewing those reports, but that initial checks indicated that devices set with a reminder feature on may cause the alert to repeat until it is acknowledged by the user.

The system also sends simultaneous alerts to multiple distributors. One of the simultaneous alerts remained « active » and resulted in some users receiving the message after the alert had been cancelled, she said.

‘Still some problems’

Overton said glitches like those will « carry on a for a while » and « obviously there’s still some problems. »

« But I think it’s going pretty well right now, » he said.

Since April 2018, the CRTC has required that all wireless service providers participate in the National Public Alerting System (NPAS) and distribute wireless public emergency messages warning of imminent safety threats such as tornadoes, floods, Amber Alerts or terrorist threats. 

Telecom companies wanted an opt-out option or the ability to disable the alarm for some types of alerts, but that was rejected by the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator.

Peel Regional Police Const. Danny Marttini responds to complaints prompted by a late-night Amber Alert. 0:27

The U.S. system classifies alerts at different levels, allowing people to opt out of receiving the less serious ones, according to Sunil Johal, policy director at the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto. Canada only pushes out alerts at one level — urgent — a policy officials may want to reconsider, he said.

Johal suggested Canada could geotarget  the alerts more effectively so that if, for example, something is happening in Toronto, people in Ottawa or Thunder Bay won’t necessarily get that same alert.  

Tweak the sounds

He said the goal should be finding that « perfect balance where we’re warning people but not inundating them with things they can’t do anything about. »

Overton said it may be possible to tweak the sounds of the alerts yet still allow them to catch the attention of people.

Still, the unnerving sound that frightened and annoyed some people — that, too, means the system is working.

« Because, in a little way, it’s supposed to be annoying to catch your attention to something around you that you may not be aware of. »

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Amber Alert issued for 11-year-old girl allegedly taken by father, last seen in Mississauga

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An Amber Alert has been issued by police for an 11-year-old girl who was allegedly taken by her father.

Peel Regional Police said Riya Rajkumar is with her 41-year-old father, Roopesh Rajkumar.

Police said comments were made by the man that indicated he might “cause harm to himself and (his) daughter.”

It is believed the pair are travelling in a silver, two-door Honda Civic with the licence plate ARBV 598. The two were last seen in the Hurontario and Derry roads area in Mississauga.

Riya was described as being four feet tall and weighing 60 pounds. She has a thin build and below-shoulder black hair.

Police said she was last seen wearing a pink dress with hearts, black boots, black tights, black jacket with a fur-lined hood. She also had a black and white purse with a pink heart and the letter R.

Anyone who sees either individual or the vehicle is asked to call 911.

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Amber Alert cancelled after girl, 14, found safe in northwest Edmonton

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A 14-year-old girl who was forcibly abducted in Edmonton on Friday has been found safe, police said after cancelling an Amber Alert.

The Amber Alert was issued after the girl was abducted at 3 p.m. MT in the area of 84th Street near 105th Avenue.

Police said she was taken by a 40-year-old man who was armed and dangerous.

An update will be coming from police « in the near future, » they said.

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