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What's Up With That Amber Alert You Got

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Phones across California screeched to life with an Amber Alert late Monday evening, which had many of us wondering what's going on (and where the heck is Boulevard)?This particular Amber Alert was sent out because sheriff's detectives in San Diego County are looking for a 40-year-old man suspected of killing a woman and making off with her two children.

The bodies of Christina Anderson, 44, and an unidentified child were discovered Sunday night in the burning rubble of a home in Boulevard, California a city about midway between San Diego and Mexicali. That Boulevard home belongs to the suspect James Lee DiMaggio, who is accused of killing Anderson and kidnapping her children Hannah Anderson, 16, and Ethan Anderson, 8, according to the Los Angeles Times. The relationship between DiMaggio and Anderson is described as "platonic." As the alert said, DiMaggio is believed to be driving a blue Nissan Versa with the California license plate 6WCU986.

CHP sent out an alert, because they believed that DiMaggio is headed North—or East:

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They added that the Amber Alert has gone statewide. You can keep up with this particular case at the CHP website.The Associated Press wrote a story about the program that sends Amber Alerts to your cell phone. It's part of a nationwide program rolled out by FEMA at the beginning of this year. The alerts were most notably used during Hurricane Sandy.

This explainer says alerts go out to all cell phones in a particular area, whether it's home or you're just passing through (but CHP tweeted out that Amber Alerts only go out to phones registered in California). Most newer phones already have the system activated, but you can opt out through your phone's settings. Whoever is sending out the message can only send out 90 characters (and don't worry, you're not getting charged for the message).

Some of the first messages sent out had very little information: "Emergency Alert: Amber Alert. An Amber Alert has been issued in your area. Please check local media." Some people opted out of the system since they had been jarred by an alert that didn't seem to have all that much information.

This one we got tonight had a description of the car that we're supposed to keep our eyes peeled for: "Boulevard, CA AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/6WCU986 (CA) Blue Nissan Versa 4 Door."

FEMA told the Associated Press that they have been trying to strike a balance between offering too much and too little information. They also want to make sure that they don't alienate people by sending them out at odd hours. Some proponents of the program worry that if the system is not properly used, too many people will opt out and render it useless.

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At the time this story had been written in February, there hadn't been any alerts sent out but California Highway Patrol Amber's Alert coordinator Capt. Greg Ferrero made this prediction: "I know this is not our system, but we're going to be receiving the phone calls when this goes off."