AUGUSTA (AP) — The widow of a 77-year-old man who disappeared from his home and was later found dead in a remote part of Maine a year ago said Thursday she was “ecstatic” a law has been passed that could prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Claire Young joined police chiefs, broadcasters and seniors’ advocates as Gov. John Baldacci held a ceremonial bill signing in his office to mark passage of a Silver Alert law that speeds up the start of searches for missing senior citizens and establishes a uniform statewide policy for informing media outlets.
Such a law could have saved the life of William Young, whose body was found in the woods 150 miles north of his Auburn home in April 2009, days after he left to search for a woman who had been reported missing. Young suffered from dementia.
Police now generally wait 24 hours from the time a person is reported missing to the start of a search. Maine’s new Silver Alert law, similar to one several other states have adopted and modeled after Amber’s Law for missing children, puts in place a model policy calling for immediate commencement of searches.
Claire Young was the catalyst for the law, said Auburn police Chief Phil Crowell. Young said she was pleased the legislation, which was actually signed into law April 1, was passed so quickly.
“Some people might think one year is long,” Young said. “But really one year goes by very, very fast. So we were very blessed and very lucky that it happened in one year. Sometimes, for a bill you can wait for several years.”
With Amber Alerts, a message about a missing child is transmitted by the emergency alert system, which transmits warnings about severe weather over radio and TV stations. Rapid and widespread notification is needed because a vehicle may well have been used in a child abduction, the Maine Association of Broadcasters said.
That system is not used in Silver Alerts because it’s less likely a crime has been committed. Silver Alerts will be issued for impaired seniors, who may be on foot and within a limited distance from home, so widespread notification is likely not necessary. In addition to notices to the news media, the system can utilize electric message boards along the Maine Turnpike and other highways.
How broadcasters will receive Silver Alerts will be worked out between police agencies and the stations.
The law has special significance in Maine, which has the nation’s oldest population.
“As Maine’s population continues to age, the incidence of ‘wandering seniors’ can be expected to increase,” said Suzanne Goucher, president of the Maine Association of Broadcasters. Goucher said broadcasters will become “partners with law enforcement and the people of Maine to help ensure a safe return home for these vulnerable citizens.”
Baldacci said Young had turned a tragedy into something positive. He called the bill “a wonderful memorial and testament to the love Claire has for her husband Bill.”