Family urges Md. lawmakers to create Purple Alert for people with intellectual disabilities

Rashawn Williams (left) has Down syndrome and went missing for days last year. His father, Jimmy Hall, is urging maryland lawmakers to pass a program that would alert officials when people with intellectual disabilities go missing.(Courtesy Jimmy Hall via Canva)

The father of a man who was missing in Maryland for six days last October urged lawmakers to pass a bill to create the same kind of large scale alerts that take place when children are kidnapped for when older adults go missing.

Jimmy Hall told a Senate committee in Annapolis on Tuesday it is urgent that the Purple Alert be created.

“It would be insensitive for this bill not to get passed,” Hall said through sobs. “The Purple Alert can be the voice for future families — the voice that Rashawn didn’t have.”

Hall’s 31-year-old son Rashawn Williams has Down syndrome and is nonverbal. Williams disappeared after wandering away from his group housing in Silver Spring in October.

At the time, Hall said, the attempts to find his son through Montgomery County Police and WMATA featured “communication breakdowns, delayed responses and bureaucratic hurdles,” including getting video footage that Hall believes “could have expedited the search and found him that very night.”

Hall did give credit to Tara Augustine, who is with the cold case unit with Montgomery County Police, and Andrea Bell with WMATA.

“Without their help in the latter days of my son being missing, I do not believe he would have been found alive,” Hall said.

Hall also noted how the public responded to calls for help in the search while his son was missing.

“When other entities failed him, the public would definitely show up and show out,” he said.

Williams was eventually found safe and unharmed inside a restricted room at the Glenmont Metro station. His father determined he had gotten on a bus and then hopped on a Metro train for more than three hours.

Under Senate Bill 817, the state would create a “Purple Alert” that would work the same way that Silver and Amber Alerts work, by issuing a search across law enforcement agencies when someone with cognitive impairments, developmental disabilities or brain injuries goes missing.

Williams’ family was frustrated to find that when their son was missing, he didn’t qualify for either an Amber Alert, reserved for children who have been abducted, or a Silver Alert, for those over 60 who go missing.

The Purple Alert Program would require the Maryland State Police to develop guidelines and procedures on when and how the alerts could be issued. The bill also creates a notification requirement for caregivers or the person filing a report regarding a missing person.

As he closed his testimony, Hall struggled to manage his emotions, telling lawmakers, “Please, please pass this bill so no other family will have to endure the pain and anguish that we went through.”

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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