When Terry Dusseault Sr. ran off with his 8-year-old son on August 25, police did not hesitate to issue an Amber Alert. The senior Dusseault was a registered sex offender and his brother was concerned about his mental condition when Dusseault Sr. took his son. The two were found unharmed the next day when a passing motorist spotted Dusseault’s car and notified police. (1)
That was not the case earlier this year for three-month-old Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem who was abducted by her father. It took several hours for police to determine that the infant was in danger. By the time they issued an Amber Alert, the baby’s father, Shamsid-Din Abdur-Raheem, had thrown her off the Garden State Parkway Bridge and into the Raritan River. Abdur-Raheem was indicted this week on several charges, including kidnapping and murder. He is being held on $2 million bail in Essex County jail. (2)
Amber Alerts are electronic messages used to quickly convey news about child abductions. They usually are issued in stranger abductions were it is presumed the child is in danger of harm or death. In domestic cases, however, the guidelines were less clear until recently. It was because of the Abdur-Raheem case that Amber Alert guidelines in New Jersey have been changed. (3)
The concern regarding family abductions had been that one parent may exaggerate risks as revenge or in order to gain an advantage in a custody dispute. This, officials believed, could weaken the effectiveness of the alert. People would tend to pay less attention to the alerts and, therefore, not be helpful in cases of actual need. (4)
New Jersey’s revised Amber Alert guidelines give police a clearer indication of when to issue the alert even in domestic cases. Among the guidelines to be considered when dealing with family abductions are whether there is past history of violence, substance abuse or mental health issues on behalf of the abductor and whether any threats, real or implied, were made, or violence used, against the child or anyone else during or before the abduction. (4)
While these changes may have been too late for little Zara, hopefully, the changed Amber Alert will protect other New Jersey children from a similar fate.