When Amber Isn't Enough: Enlisting Truckers to Help Find Missing Kids

Eyes are peeled across the country right now for an Arizona girl named Isabel Mercedes Celis as another set of parents awaits yet another sleepless night hoping the telephone will ring, and terrified at the same time.

In my own backyard, the tears rise to the surface with each new headline and each missed milestone, as toddler Ayla Reynolds remains missing since disappearing December 16, 2011. She has become the little girl of every Mainer, the bright blue eyes in her photos breaking the heart of each of us as the days turn to weeks and now to months with little evidence that she will be returned safely. Even still, we hold out hope.

These cases should remind us that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says the best way to get missing kids home is to get their photos up everywhere possible -- and quickly -- through Amber Alerts, Facebook, Twitter, Walmart shopper bulletin boards and, of course, all over the media.

There is one more avenue that could become remarkably effective, if it can get FCC approval.

"Trucker TV" could reach thousands of long-haul truck drivers, the very folks who travel the same roads and stop at the same rest areas where missing and exploited children often happen to be.

Trucker TV has become a cause of sorts for Marc Klass, who became a missing persons advocate after his 12-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped at knife-point from a Petaluma, California, slumber party in October of 1993. Klass explains that he learned the value of truckers, especially the long-haul truckers. Many have children of their own waiting for them when they get home. My dad sure did.

"They distributed flyers by the hundreds," Klass said. It's what they do.

Despite years of trying, the people who want to create Trucker TV have been unable to convince the Federal Communications Commission to hear their case. No doubt traditional broadcasters are worried about the precedent for competition, but come on. It's time to level the playing field so these kids have a shot at coming home.

It's also worth remembering that every missing person does not trigger an Amber Alert, including the Celis case -- authorities said they had no vehicle description, so no national alert. Parents and local authorities should have every tool at their disposal to get the word out quickly. Returning kids home is everyone's responsibility.

The non-profit KlaasKids foundation has launched a quest to convince the FCC to approve a proposal by a subsidiary of those Flying J Truck Stops to allow low-powered TV stations at the very places where truckers congregate, fill up, get information and sleep. Like low-frequency radio, the signals are too weak to leave the immediate area or interfere with broadcasters.

While the focus of Trucker TV is both informative and entertaining, the opportunity to get the face of a missing child into a network of people on the road is enough for me to agree we should give it a shot.

Writing in the Washington, D.C., Roll Call newspaper, Klaas said that "... [for] many of us, this frustrating case just seems like such a no-brainer: It costs the taxpayers nothing; it provides professional drivers with a service they want and need; it saves lives. We will never know how many people might have been saved in the years this has languished in the FCC process..."

It appears that KlaasKids and other supporters of Trucker TV are finding some new traction after years of languishing. We should hope so. I know there are people like my dad out there on the roads, and if I had a child missing I'd want them keeping an eye out.

Diane Russell is a Maine state lawmaker and was chosen by The Nation magazine as "most valuable state representative" in its 2011 Progressive Honor Roll. You can follow her online @MissWrite.