Californians startled by wireless AMBER Alerts

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California Highway Patrol issued an AMBER Alert last night for the two missing children of a woman whose body was found inside a burned-out house in rural eastern San Diego County.

The sheriff’s department says the home in the town of Boulevard is owned by James DiMaggio, who is believed to have killed Christina Anderson and one child. Police are looking for 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and 8-year-old Ethan Anderson. DiMaggio is said to be driving a blue Nissan Versa with California license plate 6WCU986.

Smartphone users across the state got the alert late last night, as part of the Wireless Emergency Alert program, a smartphone version of the Emergency Alert System. Many were startled by the loud buzzing sound and took their reactions to social media:

KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis spoke to Jaime Coffee, spokeswoman for California Highway Patrol, who says the AMBER Alerts work.

But Timothy Griffin, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Nevada, Reno, has studied AMBER Alerts and questions their effectiveness.