TYLER (KYTX) -- Law enforcement officers from all over East Texas learned more Thursday about how to help when a child goes missing. The day-long role play exercise was the end of a four-day program developed and hosted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
From the time the fictitious call for help came in, the Cambridge Bend neighborhood was over-run with people trying to help. Neighbors asked what was happening, and a highway patrol captain addressed the media as if this elaborate set-up was the real deal.
"Emily Austin was walking to school and she has not shown up at school yet so she has gone missing," Texas Highway Patrol Captain Bob Nichols said.
Nichols said investigators were looking for a grey Chevrolet Avalanche as part of the search.
"She's wearing a red striped hat, a white North Face coat," he said.
"He just looked really odd," a woman playing a witness told an investigator. "He looked out of place. He didn't look like he belonged there."
"I mean they ask questions to you," a neighbor who was questioned said. "They're very serious. It's the real thing!"
"So it's training them to ask the proper questions, identify what evidence they need and go from there," FBI Supervising Special Agent Brent Chambers said.
"You get to know and meet other officers and other agents from across the state that could help you when we need help," Tyler Police Chief Gary Swindle said.
By late afternoon a detailed string of fake evidence led investigators to a hotel on Tyler's south loop. The suspect's Chevy was parked in the parking lot.
And it was a quick rescue for a brave young actress.
"They were looking for me at my house and stuff," the young girl playing Emily said. "I was kidnapped by a bad guy."
Even though it was just a drill, some of what happened brings up a good point about what you can do to make sure you're prepared in case one of your children ever goes missing.
The family in the scenario had a high quality, recent picture of their daughter. That, plus knowing what she was wearing when she left for school helped investigators ask the right questions and get in touch with the right people.
Tyler and Longview police offer child ID programs which involve getting your child photographed and fingerprinted. They also help you collect some other info.
The FBI is developing an even more detailed situation for missing child training. The agency is also planning a day-long "active shooter" training for next month in Lindale.