WASHINGTON, D.C. — In one of his final and most noteworthy executive tasks of 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Ashanti Alert Act, a bill creating a nationwide alert system for missing and endangered adults between the ages of 18 and 64.
The legislation, signed only hours before New Year’s Day, was named after Ashanti Billie, a Prince George’s County native. The alert act was patterned after the Amber Alert, designed for missing children aged 18 and under, and the Silver Alert which is for seniors aged 65 and over.
Billie was 19 years old at the time of her disappearance, which means she was a few months too old for the Amber Alert and far too young for the Silver Alert. She originally went missing September 18, 2017, from a military base in Hampton, Va., and was found dead behind a church in Charlotte, N.C. 11 days later.
Had an alert system been in place, said Ashanti’s parents Melton Billie and Brandy Billie, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Nevertheless, they expressed gratitude to the commander-in-chief after the passing of the legislation.
“Thank you @realDonaldTrump for signing the Ashanti Alert Act into law,” Brandy Billie tweeted on Jan. 2.
“As a result, many American lives will be saved. My daughter, Ashanti is smiling down on us. Her unfortunate death was not in vain. #AshantiAlert.”
Jay Jones, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, was the first official to introduce the legislation. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), subsequently, was one of the principal sponsors of the act.
“Despite the tragic loss of Ashanti Billie, with the love and support of Melton and Brandy Billie along with the Hampton Roads community, the Ashanti Alert Act is now the law of the land.
“In this New Year, it is my hope that this important law enforcement tool can help save countless lives,” Warner said in a statement issued by his office shortly after the passing of the bill.
Prior to receiving Trump’s signature in Washington, the bill was unanimously passed by the Virginia House and Senate before Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed it into law in June 2018.
Navy veteran Eric Brian Brown, 45, was charged in Billie’s abduction and murder.
The federal Ashanti Alert system will empower police to notify radio and TV stations, and activate road and highway electronic sign boards for critically missing adults.
With the power and growing popularity of social media, the broader segment of the general public is able to assist law enforcement and public safety officials with locating missing adults.
Billie, a Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School graduate, was last seen heading to work at a sandwich shop on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. Police said surveillance video showed Billie arriving in her car, but about 30 minutes later, her vehicle left with someone else driving. Investigators believed the person driving was Brown.
Camille Cooper, the director of government affairs with the National Association to Protect Children, said she and her organization endorsed the bill.
“We did step outside our lane a little bit in terms of advocating for the Ashanti Alert, and the reason for that was because I don’t think that 19-year-old girls or boys should get a non-emergency response from government simply because they’re a day older than someone who’s eligible for the Amber Alert,” Cooper said, highlighting the importance for law enforcement resources to address issues such as trafficking and abduction.
“That’s why we went ahead and supported that legislation. We think it’s long past due.”
According to statistics from FBI’s National Crime Information Center, nearly 9,000 juveniles between the ages of 19 and 21 went missing in the year of 2017.
Without a national alert system in place, those individuals were outside of the age brackets for the Amber and Silver Alerts.
In addition to Twitter, Brandy Billie took to Instagram to make the social media community aware of the Ashanti Alert Act and how the national communications network could assist law enforcement with a similar incident in the near future.
“While there was nothing in place for my daughter, through her tragedy and sacrifice, there is now a notification system in place to help others. As we have entered this new year, I know that my daughter is smiling down on us all,” Billie said.
“In her afterlife, she is still helping others as she did while she walked among us. I beg everyone that when you see an Ashanti Alert, Amber Alert or Silver Alert to please pay attention as it could help to save a life. In this social media world that we all live in, please take the time to repost something that could be lifesaving. #AshantiAlert #AshantiBillie #JusticeforAshanti.”
Prince George’s County Police and Montgomery County Police did not respond before press deadline for comment on how the legislation might help the investigative measures taken by local law enforcement to locate missing adults.