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Sen. Warner writes his concerns, questions on Ashanti Alert to Youngkin administration

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Brendan Ponton
December 21, 2022

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed his concerns about the Ashanti Alert to the Youngkin administration.

According to a release from Warner, he wrote to the Youngkin administration expressing concerns with the deployment of the Ashanti Alert.

The Ashanti Alert was created to provide rapid dissemination of information to law enforcement agencies, media, and the public about adults who have been reported missing, along with suspect information in cases of suspected abduction. It was created in honor and recognition of Ashanti Billie and those who have gone missing under similar circumstances.

State Police provided News 3 data on all of the Ashanti Alerts in Virginia since its inception in 2018.

The letter reads:

“Since the enactment of the state law in 2018, there have been eight Ashanti Alerts issued in Virginia. Data provided by the Virginia State Police (VSP) indicates that, of the eight alerts, three victims were safely located, three victims were found murdered, and two victims are currently unaccounted for. Based on these results, I am deeply concerned that the Ashanti Alert, as currently implemented, is not living up to its full potential,” Sen. Warner wrote.

“The story of Marie Covington underscores this concern. Ms. Covington was last seen on August 17, 2022, at 9:57 p.m. and was reported missing to Virginia Beach Police (VBP) by her family on August 18, 2022 at 10:25 p.m. Despite Covington’s disappearance meeting the activation criteria, VSP did not issue an Ashanti Alert until August 20, 2022, at 9:50 p.m. – two days after she was reported missing. In that time period, police had already located her car, which was driven by the individual who was later arrested for her murder. The Ashanti Alert was issued only two hours before she was found deceased,” he continued. “The Ashanti Alert program was created to facilitate cooperation and improve communication between public safety entities, with the ultimate goal of saving the lives of endangered individuals. To that end, it is imperative that Ashanti Alerts in Virginia be issued promptly to maximize their effectiveness and serve their purpose.”

Warner has requested answers to the following questions:

  1. What proportion of missing person cases results in the issuance of an Ashanti Alert?
  2. In a specific case, who is responsible for making the determination that “abduction poses a credible threat,” as required by the Ashanti Alert program?
  3. Why was an Ashanti Alert not issued in the Covington case until two days after Marie Covington was reported missing?
  4. In the seven cases for which we do not have data, how much time elapsed between the missing person report and the issuance of an Ashanti Alert?
  5. Who has general oversight authority over the implementation of the Ashanti Alert law?
  6. What policies govern the substance of this determination?
  7. What policies govern the timing of this determination?
  8. Were these policies revised as a result of the delay in the Covington case?
  9. If there is no state official with this authority, why not?

To read the full letter click here and below.

Gov. Youngkin’s spokesperson said he received the letter and was reviewing it.

Virginia Beach Police conducted their own internal review of the Covington case and have concluded there were “failures” by two officers in handling the case, although they maintain evidence shows Covington was dead by the time they were notified in the case.

For Natalie Wilson, a co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, an organization that spreads awareness to missing persons of color, the case highlights disparities in how these kinds of cases are handled.

“What we continue to see if that these cases aren’t taken seriously and the proper resources are not timely and adequately provided,” said Wilson.

Photo credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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