Elizabeth Smart Present for Bush Bill

updated 05/01/2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/01/2003 3:02PM

Elizabeth Smart, the 14-year-old taken from her Salt Lake City bedroom and found nine months later, stood and smiled Wednesday in the White House Rose Garden as President Bush signed a bill to create a nationwide "Amber Alert" system for abducted children.

The so-called "Protect Act" provides grants to states and localities to help set up networks that will quickly dispense information on kidnapped victims and their captors -- using radio, TV and highway signs.

Smart's parents flanked their daughter at the ceremony. (Back in Utah, two transients, Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, have been charged with kidnapping Elizabeth and are awaiting trial.)

"Every person who would think of abducting a child can know that a wide net can be cast. They may be found by a police cruiser or by a car right next to them on the highway," the President said, as quoted by the Associated Press. "These criminals can know that any car they pass can be the one that spots them and brings them to justice."

Bush explained that by quickly getting out key information about the missing child and about the suspect, an Amber Alert adds thousands of citizens to the search during the critical hours immediately after the abduction.

"No family should ever have to endure the nightmare of losing a child," Bush said. "Our nation will fight threats against our children."

Amber Alerts are named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, from Arlington, Texas, who was kidnapped and slain in 1996. Her killer remains at large. Amber's mother was also present for Wednesday's ceremony.

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