Some Bay Area residents were jolted awake Monday night when they received unexpected Amber Alerts about two siblings who were reported missing out of San Diego County.
Just before 11 p.m., an emergency alert sounded on mobile devices, alerting Californians that authorities were looking for a blue four-door Nissan Versa with California license plate 6WCU986.
The alert was for Hannah Anderson, 16, and her brother, 8-year-old Ethan Anderson, who were reported missing Monday night. The previous day, their mother had been found dead inside the burned home of 40-year-old James Lee DiMaggio in the town of Boulevard.
DiMaggio is suspected of kidnapping the children, and authorities say he may be headed to Texas or Canada in the Nissan. As of Wednesday, neither DiMaggio nor the children had been found, although a child's body was found in the rubble of the burned-out house. An autopsy on the child was performed Tuesday but no positive identification was made, sheriff's Lt. Glenn Giannantonio said.
"It is a possibility that it's Ethan," he said. "Right now we just don't know. And we're praying that it isn't Ethan."
The Amber Alerts to cellphones were sent out as part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, which was rolled out nationwide at the start of this year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The alerts are designed to inform people of emergencies. They are received by certain newer cellphones that have the built-in capability to receive them.
The alert, which looks like a text message, is short with basic information about the incident and instructions for any follow-up action to take. The message causes a special tone and vibration in the phone that is receiving it.
San Francisco resident Todd Lappin, 46, said his phone started making an "unholy noise" while he was having a drink with a friend. He said he supports the intentions behind the system but worries that the annoying sound and seemingly random message — the alert had no background on the kidnapping or the missing children — will discourage people from using it.
Sean Finerty, a San Francisco resident, was awakened by the blaring noise from his phone and said it startled him.
"For the longest time I thought it was the fire alarm or burglar alarm of another building in my alley. Eventually, I realized my phone was lit up and was the source of the sound, but I thought my phone had some weird error and was about to blow up," he said.
Cellphone owners can change the settings on their phones to stop, or start, receiving the notifications. Those having trouble doing so can contact their service providers for assistance.