5 years after Hailey Owens was murdered, Representative hopes to pass bill in her name

February 18 will mark the five-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook Springfield, the State of Missouri, and the nation.  State lawmakers are hoping this will be the year the legislature passes a bill meant to honor the little girl killed that day in 2014.

“Hailey’s Law” is named for 10 year old Hailey Owens.

House Bill 185 is commonly known as “Hailey’s Law,” named for Hailey Owens.  Owens was 10 years old when she was kidnapped while walking home from a friend’s house.  She was murdered and her body was found early the next morning.

“It was incredibly traumatizing,” said State Representative Curtis Trent (R-Springfield), the House sponsor of Hailey’s Law.  “As I remember the event everybody was talking about it.  Wherever you went people were commenting on it.  A lot of people, especially people with young families, were concerned that this sort of thing could happen.  I think there was a lot of concern and outrage over the length of time it took to issue the Amber Alert.  People were questioning the efficiency of that system, and so there was just a lot of uncertainty, a lot of confusion, and a lot of anger that such a thing had happened despite all the safeguards that had been attempted to be put in place to prevent it.”

Soon after the arrest of her killer, state officials and lawmakers turned their attention to the Amber Alert System.  Though witnesses saw Owens being abducted, more than two hours passed before an Amber Alert was issued to let authorities and the public statewide know to look for her, and what her kidnapper and his vehicle looked like.

Legislators then and now said that faster issuance of an Amber Alert is unlikely to have changed the outcome in Owens’ case – she is believed to have been killed too soon after her abduction – but Trent said the case highlighted a need to expedite the issuance of Alerts.

“What we are saying is that we have these safeguards in place, we have these systems in place to try to save lives.  They should operate as effectively as possible,” said Trent.

HB 185 would require the Amber Alert System to be tied into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES), the computer system that allows all law enforcement in Missouri to communicate.  That means once an officer enters information about a missing child into MULES, it would at the same time be available to the Amber Alert system.

Law enforcement in Missouri has already instituted this change.  Trent said the purpose of passing Hailey’s Law now is twofold:  to make sure those changes remain in effect by requiring them in law, and to honor Owens by naming that law after her.

“We want to prevent any future tragedy like this from occurring, and also we call the bill ‘Hailey’s Law’ because want to create a legacy and memorial for the girl that lost her life,” said Trent.

Representative Curtis Trent (left) and Jim Wood of Springfield testify to a House Committee about Hailey’s Law. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Jim Wood is the father of the man sentenced to death for killing Hailey Owens.  He told the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety that it was his truck his son was driving on the day of the crime, but law enforcement didn’t contact him until about five hours after the abduction.  At the time of the abduction he was at a restaurant about 2-minutes away from his son’s house, which is where Owens was murdered.

“I feel if I could’ve been informed, possibly I could have interceded.  It was walking distance to his house where I was, so expediting this situation is obvious to me,” said Wood.

HB 185 would also require the state’s Amber Alert System Oversight Committee to meet at least once a year to discuss ways to improve the system.  Currently there is no requirement for that committee to meet.

Trent said having that committee meet regularly to evaluate the system means there will be an ongoing effort toward getting alerts out more quickly.

“The speed is really what matters in these cases.  The faster the Amber Alert can be issued, the faster we can find the child, the lower the chance of having a tragic outcome,” said Trent.

The House and the Senate have in previous years passed the language of HB 185, just not in the same bill, so it’s never become law.

The language of HB 185 was first offered by then-representative Eric Burlison of Springfield, who this year became a state senator.  Burlison is now carrying his bill in the Senate.  Before Burlison was elected to the Senate the language was carried in that chamber by Senator Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia), who is now the Senate’s majority floor leader.  Trent believes having the support of those two lawmakers only increases the chance that Hailey’s Law will at last reach the governor.

The Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety will vote soon on HB 185.

Bill named for Hailey Owens aims to accelerate and improve Amber Alerts

Changes meant to get Amber Alerts out more quickly and ensure they are as effective as they can be would become law under a bill in the House.

Representative Curtis Trent (right) listens as Jim Wood testifies in favor of HB 697, Hailey's Law.  Wood said it is his son, Craig, who abducted and murdered 10-year-old Hailey Owens, for whom the legislation is named.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Curtis Trent (right) listens as Jim Wood testifies in favor of HB 697, Hailey’s Law. Wood said it is his son, Craig, who abducted and murdered 10-year-old Hailey Owens, for whom the legislation is named. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 697 would establish Hailey’s Law, named for 10-year-old Hailey Owens of Springfield, who was kidnapped and murdered in February, 2014.

About two-and-a-half hours passed after Owens’ abduction before an Amber Alert was issued in the case.  Though it is now known that an earlier alert would not have saved her, the case prompted lawmakers and others to press for changes to make sure alerts would be issued faster.

The legislation known as “Hailey’s Law” has been offered before in the House but did not become law.  Even so, the Highway Patrol has launched implementation of some of the system changes it would require, so that alerts would go out earlier and with fewer steps needed to issue them.

This year the bill is being carried by Representative Curtis Trent (R-Springfield), who said it’s still important to make sure those changes are required by law.

“I think everyone’s on the same page here, but we’re just trying to make sure that it’s in statute, it’s going to happen in a timely basis, and if systems change in the future that the continued integration will always be a part of that,” Trent said.

Jim Wood, the father of the man charged with abducting and killing Hailey Owens, urged members of the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety to advance HB 697.

“I reached out to [Hailey’s family] with a deep sense of grief for my own family, and a deep sense of compassion for Hailey Owens and her family,” said Wood.     “It was two-and-a-half hours later before the Amber Alert was released,” Wood recalled of the events the day his son, he said, took Owens.  “We all know if we look at child abductions that children are usually dead within 45-minutes.  We need to fix this problem, and Hailey’s Law will enhance the Amber Alert system that will protect these children.”

HB 697 would also require that the Amber Alert System Oversight Committee meet annually to discuss potential improvements to the Amber Alert System.