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Proposal Creating A Purple Alert For Missing Persons With Disabilities, Brain Injuries Heads To Governor’s Desk

A teenage girl sits on a bridge at sunset.
Antonio Guillem
Adobe Stock
The purple alert would function similarly to other missing person alerts. Adults who don't fit the criteria for a silver alert could be covered under a purple alert if they have a disability or brain injury and can't be returned safely without law enforcement intervention.

A proposal to create a "purple alert" for missing adults with certain disabilities or brain injuries is heading to the governor's desk. The proposal is for people who have cognitive, developmental, physical, or emotional disabilities as well as those with brain injuries who go missing and cannot be returned safely without law enforcement intervention.

According to the bill, a person's disappearance must also indicate a credible threat of immediate danger or serious bodily harm to themselves. Beverly Marshall is supporting the proposal after she lost her son Josh.

"He got out of his father's house, and he had wandered for several hours, came to a 7-11, and was out in front of that gas station for well over an hour," Marshall says.

Marshall says Josh had a cognitive disability. She says people saw him at the 7-11, but they assumed he had been drinking.

"He was distraught, and he was crying. He could not ask people for help. He couldn't speak or write. He wandered across the street from that 7-11 to a fire station, and he drowned in a pond about 30 feet from that fire station," Marshall says.

Marshall says if a purple alert had been in place, her son might still be alive.

"I know that most families who have members of their family that have cognitive disabilities this is their biggest fear is that their loved one will get out of the house and will get lost and something bad will happen," Marshall says.

Margaret Hooper is with the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council. She says some people with developmental disabilities can be attracted to water.

"So, if they get out, unfortunately, there's a high incidence of drowning," Hooper says.

Hooper says families sometimes use various tools to make sure their loved ones don't find themselves in dangerous situations alone.

"First of all, you hope that your school system has a procedure for exceptional students who may elope, and most of them do, and then you can use electronic devices that can help you locate your child should they go—that's another option," Hooper says.

Hooper says she's heard positive feedback from families regarding the purple alert proposal.

"Anything you can do to put out there to help us we appreciate was the feedback that I got," Hooper says.

After Marshall's son died, one of her friends told her story to Sen. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach), who then decided to sponsor the measure. This is the third year it's been introduced. Berman says the purple alert will help fill a gap in the current alert system.

"The Amber Alert goes to age 20. The silver alert starts at age 60, but we have a whole subset of people between 20 and 60 with cognitive disabilities who weren't covered," Berman says.

Silver Alerts can cover people 18 to 59 years old if they lack the capacity to consent and if the alert is the only possible way to rescue them. It also covers people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Berman says she was questioned whether adding another alert to the system was a good idea. But she says the purple alert will save lives, an idea that gained bipartisan support.

"People understand. Everybody knows people who have cognitive disabilities, mental disabilities, and they want their family and their friends to be protected if, god forbid, they elope or wander away, so there was never any problem about this bill being viewed as anything other than a bipartisan bill," Berman says.

Berman hopes Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign the bill when it gets to his desk.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.