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Police ask cell phone users to sign up

In the wake of one of the most high-profile kidnappings in recent memory, Las Vegas police Thursday encouraged cell phone users with text-messaging capabilities to sign up for a free system that would notify them of newly posted Amber Alerts.

Although police did not directly link the Amber Alert program with the return of 6-year-old Cole Puffinburger, who was kidnapped at gunpoint from his northeast valley home Oct. 15 and then found more than three days later, they said flashing the boy’s description on billboards across the Southwest was a contributing factor.

"We believe it was a combination of Amber Alerts, the media’s coverage and detectives working the case that put the pressure on the kidnappers and that’s why Cole was released," Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Cris Johnson said.

Police are touting the service, which works with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to issue Amber Alerts to the program’s subscribers.

Johnson said that depending on a cell phone’s capabilities, pictures of kidnapped children might be sent to a subscriber’s cell phone.

He said the Police Department recently learned of the program, which has been available for two years.

Receiving Amber Alerts via cell phones is one more tool law enforcement can use to keep the community safe, he said.

"It spreads the word better than normal outlets such as highway billboards and the media," Johnson said.

Cole was found by a bus driver about 10:30 p.m. Saturday standing alone on a sidewalk in the area of 17th Street and Oakey Boulevard.

Police, with the FBI, are still investigating who kidnapped Cole and why.

Two material witnesses have been arrested in connection with the case, including Cole’s maternal grandfather, Clemens Tinnemeyer. Jose Lopez Buelna, who police have called a person of interest, was arrested also.

Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.

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