Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Kelsey Smith Act Could Be Coming To Michigan

*Note from Rebecca*
God bless the Smith family and the dedication and legacy they have created for their beautiful daughter Kelsey Smith, who was taken away from them in a brutal heartbreaking way. Please say a prayer for them and send love their way. 

In May I wrote a blog about a young lady named Kelsey Smith.  It was the tragic story of recent high school graduate from Kansas who was raped and murdered.  I wrote about her parents, who reacted to this unspeakable tragedy by dedicating their lives to try to make sure other families did not have to go through the same horror that they did.

I am writing today of some encouraging news from State Representative Kurt Heise about this story as it relates to the State of Michigan, but first, I am including an abbreviated version of my story about Kelsey Smith for those of you who do not know about her. Click on this link for the original story.

This is the slightly abbreviated story of Kelsey Smith.

Kelsey Smith was born on May 3, 1989.  She was the 3rd of what would eventually be 5 children, born to her parents Greg and Missy Smith.  From the beginning, Kelsey's parents knew she was going to be a handful.  When she was a toddler, she received a shirt that said, My Name Is No-No.

Kelsey Smith was also a kind child from the very beginning.

When she was young, and went somewhere with her parents, she would not allow them to buy her a treat unless they bought treats for her sisters.  Her brother Zach was born when she was six.  She was so protective of him that she wouldn't allow anyone to take care of him but her whenever she was around.

She was just a normal child growing up in the Midwest.

Throughout her life she was inquisitive, and questioned everything.  She was never afraid to try something new.  At Shawnee Mission West, where she attended high school, this was certainly the case, as she became involved in a whole slew of activities such as, track, theater, writer's workshop, art, and choir.  Her main passion though, was marching band.  Following her passion, she chose to attend Kansas State University, knowing that they have a strong marching band program.

She was just a normal teen growing up in the Midwest.

She was a great student, she was very focused on her future, she had a wonderful sense of humor, and she had a huge heart.  Some of the stories her parents have shared, were wonderfully funny and opened a window into her heart so that others could see inside.  These stories show how caring and kind she always was.

The kindness she showed as a child continued on into high school, as many of her friends would share their stories of her surprising them with balloon bouquets on their birthdays.  Kelsey's talent for the arts wasn't limited to theatre, choir, and band, she was also a very talented artist.

One thing she did that was amazing and heartwarming, was when a family member lost a dog to death, she would draw pictures of their pets, and give them to the family members who had lost their dog.  Today those pictures she drew, must mean so much more to the family members who received them.

She had a beautiful voice, and sang in the Shawnee Mission West Choir. One of the last times her parents ever saw her perform, she surprised them by performing a solo.  She was so excited about it, she could hardly keep it from them.

Kelsey Smith was a funny, caring, talented young lady growing up in Kansas.  She is described as one that makes a difference in someone's life.  She was not unlike many kids growing up in America.  Perhaps she reminds you of one of your own children.

Kelsey was a wonderful teen, blooming into a young lady with a promising future.

Kelsey Smith died just days after she graduated from Shawnee Mission West High School.  She was murdered.  She was abducted in a Target parking lot in Overland, Kansas on June 2, 2007.

She was last seen on surveillance video purchasing a gift for her boyfriend to celebrate 6 months being together.  Outdoor surveillance footage showed her being abducted and being forced into her car.  Her car was found abandoned approximately 2 hours later in the mall parking lot across the street.  Upon searching video surveillance, police noticed a suspicious 70's era pickup truck that had been parked in that same lot.

The search for her picked up steam almost immediately, and those searching became known as Kelsey's Army.

Almost immediately, authorities contacted her cell phone company Verizon. They wanted them to pinpoint her location by checking where her cell phone pings went to.  All cell phone companies have the technology to do this.  Under federal law, they are allowed to provide location information to authorities, without a warrant, in an emergency such as an abduction or missing persons case.

The problem is that while they are allowed to do this, they are not necessarily forced to provide this information to authorities.  In Kelsey's case, Verizon did not have a current policy on such a thing, and it ultimately took 4 days before they provided the police and the FBI the information.

They ended up telling authorities to search and area exactly 1.1 miles north of a particular cell phone tower.  It took all of 45 minutes from the time authorities received the information to find Kelsey's body in a wooded area by a lake.  So on June 6th, after four days of trying to get the cell phone records, and 9 days after she graduated, Kelsey was found.

Forensic evidence reports revealed that Kelsey Smith had been sexually assaulted, and then strangled to death.  Her body was found at 1:30 PM, and the animal that did this to her was arrested that evening.

At Kelsey's memorial, her father Greg Smith shared that Kelsey could walk into a room full of strangers, and come out with a room full of friends.

Instead of just fading away, Kelsey's Army moved forward, and transformed into the Kelsey Smith Foundation.  Greg and Missy Smith wanted something good to come of their daughter's death.  They wanted to change things in order to maybe save someone else in the future.

The Kelsey Smith Foundation today does many things.  They do safety Awareness Seminars, and they also work with outside organizations, to provide self defense training, and among other activities, they also promote nationwide, the Kelsey Smith Act.

The Kelsey Smith Act provides law enforcement with a way to quickly ascertain the location of a wireless telecommunications device if a person has been determined, by law enforcement, to be at risk of death or serious physical harm due to being kidnapped and/or missing.

The Kelsey Smith Act, named in memory of Kelsey was signed into law on April 17, 2009, by then Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.  The act was proposed my Greg and Missy Smith.   Kansas State Representative Rob Olsen sponsored the legislation, and worked with Kelsey's parents to get it passed.

Greg Smith, after serving in the United States Navy for ten years, and as a law enforcement officer for 17 years, ran for, and won a seat in the Kansas State Legislature.  He is now a State Senator.  He has sponsored and co-sponsored several laws aimed at protecting children.

He stated, " Nothing I can do will bring Kelsey back but what I can do is use that event as the impetus to make a difference in the lives of my other children, my grandchildren, and in the lives of members of my community."

Greg and Missy Smith travel the country to speak about keeping our children safe, and also the Kelsey Smith act.

Since Kansas adopted the Kelsey Smith Act, Nebraska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Missouri, Hawaii, Tennessee, and Utah have also adopted the Kelsey Smith Act.

The Kelsey Smith Act is simple.  It seeks to mandate that cell phone providers provide location information to law enforcement in such emergencies.  Text messages are still protected, phone calls made and received are still protected under privacy laws.  All the Kelsey Smith Act mandates is that the location of the cell phone be given, and only in an emergency where a life is at stake, or physical harm could be done.

I spoke on the phone with Kelsey's father Greg, and he told me these two stories.

He told me about one instance in Tennessee, one month after the Kelsey Smith Act was enacted, a six year old boy disappeared.  Authorities acted quickly, and immediately became strongly suspicious of a convicted sex offender in the area.  They were able to track his cell phone down, and rescue this child before the man could molest him.  This man had been convicted in the past of molesting at least 10 children.  Thanks to the Kelsey Smith Act, this young boy did not have to go through that life changing horror.

There is another case where a man had a stroke.  He was able to dial his home phone number, but couldn't speak to give his location.  Police were able to quickly locate him using location information from his cell phone provider.  Another life saved.

These are only two stories shared to me by Kelsey's father Greg.  Mr. Smith also told me that he and his wife Missy travel to any state willing to take up this legislation for consideration.

The Kelsey Smith Act is a simple law to pass.  It doesn't cost one dime to implement.It has passed with bipartisan support in 9 states, and I would like Michigan to be the tenth state to adopt the Kelsey Smith act.

In most abduction cases, there is a very limited window of time between the abduction, and harm being done to the victim.  Law enforcement needs to be able to quickly obtain the information on the location of the victim or the suspected perpetrator of the crime.

According to John Ryan, who is the chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing And Exploited Children, "Time is of the essence when a child is missing, the first three hours are critical to recovering a child alive."

Look, I'll be the first one to admit that I am no expert in this field, but from what I know,  the experts all seem to agree that the Kelsey Smith Act would be an invaluable tool in saving lives, and in the worst case scenarios, bringing closure for families.  As someone who has spent some time researching this, I wholeheartedly agree.

I can't begin to fully understand the heartache that the Smith family felt, and the hole in their lives that still exists, but in learning about their story, I know that if I didn't try to do something here in Michigan, I would feel like I let them down every time a child goes missing, and cannot be found.

The last thing Kelsey's father Greg said to me was that if there is a legislator willing to sponsor the Kelsey Smith Act, he would be willing to fly to Michigan and speak about this legislation, and answer any questions Michigan lawmakers may have.

So now that you know the story, here is we stand.

Back in May, I contacted a young lady named Brooke, who works for Patch, it was my understanding that she was the one who helped out the bloggers, or in my case, kept them in line.  I submitted Kelsey's story to her, and asked if she could try to get it on other Patch sites in Michigan.  It was my hope that with the exposure, and many calls to State Representative's offices, that maybe I could get somebody to champion the Kelsey Smith Act for Michigan.

Patch was kind enough to carry Kelsey's story on every Patch site in the state, and I started making calls to State Representatives.  As it turns out, my efforts paid off right here in Plymouth Township.

Our State Representative, Kurt Heise contacted me via email asking for more information.  As it turns out, Mr. Heise is the Chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee, which makes him the perfect person to not only understand the value of having the Kelsey Smith Act, but also the best person to escort it through the legislative process.

Over the course of the last several weeks we've corresponded regularly, and questions have been asked and answered.  Mr. Heise has reviewed all of the information, and has reviewed the specific legislation from other states where the Kelsey Smith Act has become law.

Mr. Heise has also spoken to various communications companies concerning this law, and discussed ways in which he can codify the intent of the Kelsey Smith Act into sensible legislation for the state of Michigan.

My opinion is that he is going about this the absolute best way possible.  He is taking input from the very folks that will be charged with implementing the policies that will make the Kelsey Smith Act work seamlessly for Michigan law enforcement agencies.

When both parties are on board with legislation, you get legislation that is effective, and that is exactly what Representative Heise is seeking to achieve.

Up until now, I have been hesitant to update this story, and Mr. Heise's efforts, because there were never any promises made that he could see this thing through.  It is still not a done deal, but I just felt that there has been enough progress made, where there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and I really wanted to publicly thank my State Representative for his efforts on behalf of not only the Smith family, but also on behalf of all families who have had, or may sometime in the future have to deal with a crisis like what the Smith family has dealt with.

Mr Heise is to be commended.  He has represented to me what our government was always intended to be.  A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  I had an issue that I felt strongly about.  He was more than willing to give this issue fair consideration, and he has worked hard to determine if this legislation is right for the children and families in the state of Michigan.

In the end, even if this effort ends up being all for naught, I will know that my State Representative gave it a fair effort, and I can ask no more. Obviously, I hope that the Kelsey Smith Act becomes law in our state, but either way, I thank Mr. Heise, and his staff for all of their efforts on my behalf.

Update:  Representative Heise just recently sent me an email detailing further progress.  It states that he has decided to have a bill drafted by the Legislative Services Bureau, and that he intends to file the bill in the fall, if not sooner.  That my friends, is great news!

Again, I would like to thank Mr. Heise for all of his work, and the timely emails detailing his progress on the Kelsey Smith Act...
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