KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- When the AMBER Alert for Sullivan County toddler Evelyn Boswell was issued, there was one big question: Why did it take so long for someone to report her missing?
In missing persons investigations, police always stress that time is of the essence. When Boswell was reported missing, authorities had almost two months of lost time. State lawmakers from Sullivan County say they want to be sure no community has to go through this again.
“Myself, Representative Bud Hulsey and spearheading was Representative Timothy Hill, met with [Sheriff Jeff Cassidy] and talked with him and said ‘What can we do to help you in situations like this? What can we do to provide you with some kind of tool to make sure that this doesn’t happen to somebody else?'” said District 1 State Representative John Crawford.
While everyone is considered to be a “mandatory reporter” in Tennessee if they believe a child is in danger, there is no law about when it should be reported. Last legislative session, ‘Evelyn’s Law’ was introduced. It is a law that, if passed, would require parents or guardians to report a missing child within 48 hours.
“If you do not do that within 48 hours, you have committed a Class A Misdemeanor, which is a jailable misdemeanor,” said District 2 State Representative Bud Hulsey. “As a result of that or because you did not report it and that child ends up with grave danger or death, it bumps it to a felony for not reporting.”
Crawford and Hulsey both have histories working in law enforcement.
“The sheriff’s department was jumping through 150 hoops running around on false information that they were getting all the time. This gives them an avenue to pull somebody into custody and then begin the investigation and questioning and have a chance to get some credible information,” Hulsey said.
They’re hoping to give as much time as possible for missing children to be found.
“In this situation, there was a lot of false information that was given, and if we would have had this in place, she would have been placed in jail and that process could have started in getting correct information instead of spending so much time running down false leads,” said Crawford.
Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus says the law would impose a “specific, strict duty” on parents in missing children cases, since time is precious in investigations.
“The legislature’s intent is to make a point that you need to know where your child is and if in more than 48 hours you do not know where your child is, then report it to authorities so they can find out where that child is at,” said General Staubus. “I think also the intent is to report and investigate before something bad happens to a child.”
It’s a piece of legislation the Sullivan County Children’s Advocacy Center thinks would prevent similar situations.
“If reports had been made sooner, maybe the outcome would have been different,” said the center’s executive director, Gena Frye. “It’s everyone’s duty to protect children, and understanding what the laws are can help you feel more comfortable in doing that.”
While Evelyn’s Law passed through committees, it was not read in the senate because of constraints from COVID-19. Both representatives Hulsey and Crawford plan to introduce the legislation again next session.
After speaking with Sheriff Cassidy, we found that there is no reporting requirement for missing children in the law. In an effort to add another tool in the tool box for law enforcement, I wrote and filed the legislation. We worked out concerns on the House side, but little or no action was taken in the Senate. My hope is that the upcoming General Assembly will see the value in protecting children and empowering our law enforcement by passing Evelyn’s Law this year. Thank you to Chairman Crawford & Chairman Hulsey for being willing to carry the effort forward.Former Tennessee State Representative, Timothy Hill
For complete coverage of the Evelyn Boswell case, CLICK HERE.