Purple Alert Program for missing people with special needs making its way through Maryland General Assembly

A new alert system for when people with special needs go missing could soon become official in Maryland.

This idea came about after a Montgomery County man with Down Syndrome, Rashawn Williams, wandered away from his group home and disappeared for 6 days. 

He was later found inside the Glenmont Metro Station safe and sound, but went nearly an entire week without any food or water.

His story struck a lot of chords and now Williams’ family is fighting for change; advocating for other people with special needs.

"It makes me feel great because my concern is the next family. They shouldn’t have to go through the ordeal that my family went through as far as not knowing if he was dead or alive," said Jimmy Hall, Rashawn Williams’ father.

Williams is nonverbal, so he had difficulty communicating with people that he was lost. That is why his parents are working with lawmakers to create an alert system for people with special needs, so they have a voice.

The bill, "Public Safety – Missing Persons With Cognitive Impairment – Purple Alert Program," has been introduced in Maryland for people ages 18 to 60 with intellectual or developmental disabilities. 

It would be similar to a Silver Alert that’s for missing elderly people and an Amber Alert that’s for missing children.


Missing Maryland man with Down syndrome found 'safe and unharmed' at Glenmont Metro Station

A nonverbal Maryland man who's been missing since last Friday has been found, according to police.

FOX 5’s Sierra Fox spoke with Maryland Senator Arthur Ellis, who is sponsoring the proposed legislation. 

He says no one should feel helpless – whether it’s law enforcement or the missing individual – during an emergency and that the Purple Alert Program would be a useful resource and beneficial tool.

"Well, it’s very important that the legislation passes because we have vulnerable individuals who are in our society who are not covered by any alert system. Individuals who cannot fend for themselves like Rashawn Williams, and they might get lost or missing, and we have no way of using our technology or dynamic technology to help find those individuals in a prompt manner," Ellis said. 

In order to notify the community, the Maryland State Police Department would use what’s called dynamic signage like billboards and phone alerts to push out messages as well as photos to make people aware and keep an eye out for a missing person with special needs.

The National Down Syndrome Society sent FOX 5 a statement that reads in part, "NDSS is committed to working with legislators and Rashawn's family to ensure that we enact and enforce laws that protect individuals with disabilities when they go missing. We applaud Rashawn's family for their advocacy and dedication to making sure the gaps in the system experienced by Rashawn, are never experienced by anyone else."

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, Rashawn Williams' father will testify in Annapolis with the hopes of this bill ultimately making it to Governor Wes Moore’s desk. 

If he signs it, the Purple Alert Program will go into effect on Oct. 1.

Check out the proposed legislation below: