Editorial: Find missing teen before talking changes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Across Rowan County early Saturday, anyone signed up for the county’s real-time notification system received at least one phone call notifying them about a missing 16-year-old boy named Gabriel Wyck.

Some folks reported receiving up to three phone calls about the missing boy, who has still not been found. Because it was late, those phone calls likely went to voicemail.

In a recorded message, the alert system told recipients to be on the lookout for Gabriel — described in the message as 16, black, male, 6 feet tall, 200 pounds and missing from a residence on Kings Terrance, just north of China Grove. He was last seen at 6:30 p.m. Friday in all gray clothing and wearing a backpack. People who see Gabriel were told to contact 911.

On Saturday, the Bostian Heights Fire Department further advised the public to check any open buildings on their property and watch roadways while traveling.

It may have been the first time many folks received a message from Ro Co Alerts, a countywide service indented to provide information about emergencies and an array of non-urgent items of general public interest. As a result, there’s a subset of people who have expressed concerns about the time and number of notifications about the single incident. A number of them have contacted the Post since the call.

A question for those people and public safety officials, too, is whether the value of notification about an incident outweighs any inconvenience. Could the county have sent the alert out earlier? Could it have waited until the morning? Perhaps the county could ensure that people can select a preferred method of notification so that the alert only comes via email or text message rather than a phone call. Should the alerts system stop at one notification for certain types of incidents rather than three if receipt is not confirmed? Those are all questions that should eventually be discussed in an after-action review. Worrying about those matters now isn’t unlike complaining that TV news interrupted an episode of your favorite TV show to communicate information about a severe storm as it’s bearing down.

There’s a more important task at the moment. That task is finding Gabriel and ensuring he’s not in any danger. Those who see him should call 911.

Those who wish to sign up or change their subscription to the county’s alert system can visit rowancountync.gov/rocoalerts.