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Florida Could Add Another Color To Its Amber And Silver Alert Systems. A Purple Alert Would Help Find Missing Adults With Developmental Disabilities

A woman sits on a swingset and reaches out to an empty swing beside her. In the background is the ocean.
Antonio Guillem
/
Adobe Stock
A Purple Alert could be used to help find someone who has certain conditions like an intellectual, developmental, or emotional disability.

If an adult with a developmental disability gets lost, law enforcement could send out a Purple Alert. That’s under a proposal that just passed its first House committee stop. The Purple Alert would be used for adults with certain conditions like brain injuries or autism. Rep. Joseph Casello (D-Boynton Beach) says the Purple Alert could help families.

“There’s a whole segment of people with mental, cognitive, intellectual, developmental disabilities that are not covered when they go missing. So, this is what this bill is hoping to do is cover that segment of people,” Casello says.

The state already has programs like Silver Alert, which cover adults who have dementia and Alzheimer’s. The state’s Amber Alert program is for children.

Sen. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) is also sponsoring the proposal. She says a woman named Beverly Marshall contacted her about how her son’s death could have been prevented if a Purple Alert was in place. According to Berman, Josh Marshall wandered away from home late at night and spent over an hour at a 7-11 gas station.

“He could not ask for help as he did not speak or write. The workers in the store had no idea who he was or why he was out front. People saw him wearing no shoes, walking with a lopsided gait due to his disability, and he was distraught. They assumed he had been drinking. They completely misread the situation. He was crying and barefoot, and no one helped. They did not know he was disabled,” Berman says. She read out the correspondence she had with Beverly Marshall to a Senate committee. After visiting the gas station, Josh Marshall drowned in a nearby pond. His mom, Beverly, is now urging lawmakers to put the Purple Alert into law.

Olivia Babis with Disability Rights Florida says she’s been working with Berman on the bill since 2019. Babis says her group was at first concerned the proposal might violate someone’s personal autonomy.

“So, we didn’t want to see situations where maybe you have an overprotective parent, and their son didn’t make their check-in call that they normally have weekly, and maybe the son was mad at mom and then decided to go out to a movie, and they missed that call. We didn’t want that mom to be able to then call the police and issue a Purple Alert because they missed that call,” Babis says.

But she says now, the bill’s language has changed, and while her group still has some heartburn over it, they’re fine with the version as it exists now.

“So, we changed the language of the bill to make sure that protective language is in there that this has to be a circumstance where information is known about the person’s disappearance. They can give descriptive information that without assistance, this person will not be able to make it back to safety on their own. So, adding that language in there made sure that we were balancing these two concerns of safety and personal autonomy,” Babis says.