AMBER Alert absent from many Lee County cellphones

FORT MYERS, Fla. Britta Gear saw crime scene vans at the home next door, but her cellphone never went off with notice of the AMBER Alert for the girl who lives there.

“A lot of people said they didn’t get it,” Gear said. “I don’t know why or how that happens.”

Notifications go out through Wireless Emergency Alerts, a public safety system set up through the Federal Communications Commission that sends geographically-targeted messages about imminent threats to safety, including AMBER Alerts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsible for the alerts.

Jessica Matias-Francisco, a 14-year-old from Tice, was found safe minutes after the alert was issued Monday morning. But for many in Lee County, their cellphones remained silent.

“I didn’t get the AMBER alert, and I get other ones,” said Julie Rocha, another neighbor.

If Horacio Jones had gotten the alert, he said he would have done something to help the search.

“That’s really bad because I have a big following, so I could have used my social media to spread the word,” Jones said.

But people in other parts of the state, including Collier County and Clearwater, did get the alert. It’s unclear if that’s because of a technological issue or because investigators knew the girl, who was found in Lake City, wasn’t in Lee County.

T-Mobile said no tower issue was to blame for customers who didn’t receive the alert on its system. Sprint said it didn’t have any issues. Other major carriers did not respond to requests for comment. FEMA didn’t respond to a request for comment, either.

Reporter:Jessica Alpern
Writer:Chuck Myron