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AMBER ALERT LAW NOW NATIONWIDE LOCAL GIRLS ATTEND ROSE GARDEN CEREMONY.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick Staff Writer

Two Antelope Valley teenagers who survived a nightmarish kidnapping stood behind President George W. Bush at the White House on Wednesday as he signed legislation aimed at expanding and coordinating Amber Alert systems across the United States.

Rescued in August in California's first statewide Amber Alert, Tamara Brooks of Lancaster and Jacqueline Marris of Palmdale were invited to the White House along with former kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart of Salt Lake City, and the Texas mother whose slain 9-year-old daughter was the namesake for the electronic systems that alert the public to child abductions.

``We're so happy these two young ladies are healthy and with us today,'' the president said in introducing Brooks and Marris, who were accompanied by family members.

The law Bush signed authorizes money for states to modernize and expand their abduction alert systems, which often are based on 1950s-era equipment created to warn of nuclear attack. It also establishes a national Amber Alert coordinator to set uniform voluntary standards for issuing alerts.

``Every person who would think of abducting a child can know that a wide net will be cast,'' Bush said. ``They may be found by a police cruiser, or by the car right next to them on a highway.

``These criminals can know that any driver they pass could be the one that spots them and brings them to justice.''

The law, called the Protect Act of 2003, also stiffens federal penalties for child kidnappings and sex crimes and makes artificially created child pornography - such as digital images, or ``virtual'' pornography - illegal.

Law enforcement officers say advances in computer technology make it difficult to tell whether a pornographic image was created on a computer or is a photo of a real child.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, interviewed Wednesday on NBC's ``Today'' show, said the law also will limit the leeway federal judges have in reducing sentences for criminals who sexually assault children.

The law will help strengthen Amber Alert coordination among states, important since abductors can easily travel great distances, Ashcroft said.

``Most children who are harmed or killed are harmed during the early hours of the abduction,'' Ashcroft said.

During the Rose Garden ceremony, the president recounted Brooks' and Marris' abduction last Aug. 1. The description and license plate number of the kidnapper's stolen Ford Bronco was sent out over radio and television and flashed on 1,000 electronic freeway signs. A Caltrans worker and an animal control officer spotted the SUV and alerted law enforcement officers.

``Within hours, two teenage girls were rescued, and their abductor cornered by the police,'' Bush said.

After he was cornered, the kidnapper shot at Kern County sheriff's deputies. The deputies shot back, killing the kidnapper, as the girls screamed in the Bronco's rear seat.

The girls had been abducted from a Quartz Hill teen hangout by a fugitive ex-convict wanted on rape charges. They spent 12 hours as hostages, driven from Southern California to the Sierra Nevada.

Interviewed on television and featured in People magazine after their rescue, the girls are back to living normal lives.

Marris is a senior at Highland High School and plans to attend Antelope Valley College next fall.

Brooks, a junior at Antelope Valley High School, is making plans to attend UCLA, USC or the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which one older sister graduated, a second is attending and where her brother plans to attend.

Brooks' older brother, Marcus, was with her at the White House ceremony, a point noted by the president: ``Guess what happened to him today? One, he brings his little sister to the White House. And, secondly, today he was accepted to West Point.''

Since the girls' kidnapping, California has issued statewide Amber Alerts 25 times. In each case, the abducted youngsters - a total of 32 - have been found alive, California Highway Patrol spokesman Tom Marshall said.

``If it saves lives in California, it will save lives across the country,'' said former Assemblyman George Runner, who authored legislation for the state system.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

(1 -- color) President George W. Bush is joined by young kidnap victims, including Jacqueline Marris (behind Bush's right shoulder) of Palmdale and Tamara Brooks (at Bush's left) of Lancaster at a Rose Garden ceremony as he signs child-safety laws.

J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

(2) AMBER
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:726
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