Del. Paul Krizek said Thursday that he will be introducing legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to better codify how police can use the Virginia Endangered Missing Children Media Alert (VEMCMA).
The bill is inspired by the disappearance and murder of 16-year-old Jholie Moussa, a Mount Vernon High School student whose case garnered national attention earlier this year. Krizek noted that the VEMCMA is often issued by the state police for cases that don’t meet the strict criteria for AMBER Alerts, but that it is not used uniformly by local law enforcement.
“Our police do great work and often issue the VEMCMA even when the AMBER Alert criteria is not met, but the lives of our children are precious and we need to be 100 percent certain that each time a child goes missing that we utilize every single avenue available to find that child,” said Krizek, a Democrat whose 44th district covers much of the Richmond Highway area.
Moussa went missing January 12 of this year from her home in the Mount Zephyr area. Her body was found by police two weeks later in Woodlawn Park. A former boyfriend, Nebiyu Ebrahim, was arrested in August and charged in her killing.
Moussa’s family and friends expressed frustration with the Fairfax County Police in the days after she went missing. Because Moussa left her house voluntarily, the FCPD initially classified her as a runaway. The police put out a release on January 15 saying there was no evidence she was in danger.
But Moussa’s family insisted that she was not a runaway and believed her to be in danger. They wondered why more measures to publicize her disappearance, such as issuing an AMBER Alert, were not taken.
AMBER Alerts in Virginia have tight guidelines however, including language saying that “the law enforcement agency [calling for the alert] believes the child has been abducted” and that “the missing child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death.”
Krizek hopes the new bill can close some of the gaps between the strict requirements needed to issue AMBER Alert, alerts for endangered children and situations similar to Moussa’s case. Krizek said more study needs to be done about how law enforcement can best respond to situations, and he hopes his initial bill is just a starting point on moving the conversation forward.
“They’ll be a good debate on it, and ideas will percolate [from the discussion],” Krizek said. “I’m hoping that will happen and maybe give it more teeth in the future.”
In the wake of her death, members of Jholie Moussa’s family have started a charity called Not a Runaway. The mission of the organization is to support and help parents of missing children, particularly children classified as runaways. Krizek said he’s met with Moussa’s family to discuss his legislation, and saluted them for advocating for the safety of other missing children in the wake of their own tragedy.
“I’m just impressed that her family has been working so hard,” Krizek said. “They’re really pushing to help families with missing children to make some legislative changes. They’re doing the best to turn their loss into an opportunity to save other kids’ lives.”