The family of a Palmer man who was missing for weeks, then found dead, has openly criticized how Alaska State Troopers handled the case. 

Keith Aumavae, 30, was reportedly last seen on October 19. His family reported him missing to Troopers on October 27 and requested the activation of a Silver Alert -- which Troopers initially denied, then issued five days later.

Aumavae was later found dead in his car at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff. Troopers have released a cause of death: Blunt force trauma, injuries consistent with being in a car that went over a cliff.

With the investigation still ongoing and few known specifics on his death, his family still wonders if the five days they waited for a Silver Alert would have made a difference.

“I feel it was a thorough investigation. I’m proud of our guys,” said AST Major Bryan Barlow during a sit-down interview with KTVA.

He says he wishes the effort Troopers put into the investigation, including searching on foot and in a helicopter, canvassing the neighborhood and putting out a missing persons bulletin, hadn’t been overshadowed by what he calls a “miscommunication” over a Silver Alert.

Troopers told media outlets during a news conference that Keith didn’t qualify for a Silver Alert because he didn’t meet this part of the criteria:

There is a clear indication that the individual has a deterioration of intellectual faculties, a physical impairment or medical condition that makes them unable to meet their own needs or to seek help without assistance.

Barlow says because Keith lived alone, had a driver’s license and control of his own finances, the department doesn’t categorize him as an individual who meets Silver Alert criteria.

The Aumavae family says they disagree and believes his diagnosis of multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia should count.

To add to the confusion, an email AST sent to the family explaining the decision said, in part, “Unfortunately your brother doesn't qualify for a Silver Alert.  He has been missing for 10 days and we need a direction of travel."

Those are not part of the specific criteria for Silver Alerts listed on the State’s DPS website, and the specific criteria Barlow says Keith didn't meet, is not mentioned in the email.

“The intention here was to convey why, and if that communication failed, then that's on us because we didn't give the right information to the troopers in the Valley to convey to the family,” Barlow explained.

He said it is still AST’s position that Keith didn’t qualify for a Silver Alert, even though the department issued one five days after the family’s request.

“We put it out knowing it didn't meet the criteria,” said Barlow.

It’s a decision he says took time for officials in the AST director’s office to weigh.  

“If we do it, knowing it doesn't meet the criteria, are we gonna be not able to use this system anymore? Is our use gonna be suspended?” Barlow said they questioned. “So we did put effort in doing the research and determining whether that would be the case. Are we going to jeopardize our ability to use this tool into the future? And it was basically determined that that wouldn't be the case.”

When asked what happens when a future family desperately wants a Silver Alert or an AMBER Alert, but their loved one doesn’t fit the criteria, how will Troopers decide who deserves an exception?

Barlow said, “I think that we will have to make that decision on a case by case basis.”

While the family still has questions about how an earlier Silver Alert could have affected the outcome of the case, Barlow says he’s confident his agency did everything it could.

“It was a comprehensive investigation, it was thorough, there was a lot going on, and basically, what would have been accomplished by the Silver Alert, was being accomplished,” said Barlow.

While Barlow says there are no immediate plans to review department policies as a result of this case, the Aumavae family suggested the following changes in an email to Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan:

  1. A smoother and prompt process/protocols when a missing persons case is reported. In our case, we did not get a face to face visit from officials until a week out. The first 48hrs are crucial. When a report is filed, an official should meet with family, gather more information, and inform them of the process so they are prepared to appoint a point of contact and understand what to expect. 
  2. A possible partnership with a local non profit or an internal Dept that can further assist families with resources to conduct search parties or handle missing persons case. Our family created a FB group, conducted our own search parties, asked for donations. We were blessed to gain support from our community. If the department is unable to assist families in search parties, it would be beneficial to have an appointee to educate families on how to conduct a search party. 
  3. More trust at the captain level to approve items like Silver Alert, Nixel, and Search and Rescue Team. The process of going to the top delays the process of finding a loved one. 
  4. When families are denied these items, it would be helpful to have a consistent answer that is reflective of the policies in place. We had a search and rescue team from Texas, as well as others, willing to come out and assist us but needed approval from AST. It was denied. There needs to be more of a care process when families are being denied help to find their loved ones.. If there is lack of resources and funding within the Dept, wouldn't it be helpful to utilize outside resources? 
  5. Each state that has a Silver Alert program creates their criteria. According to the State of Alaska, our brother met them. It's unfortunate that it was denied and then granted 5 days later. Then a press conference was held to explain the reasoning without family knowledge. The Silver Alert program criteria should be reviewed and more defined. We would like more education on better implementing this program and cases that involve mental health individuals within the department. 

You can watch the full interview with AST Major Bryan Barlow below.

Editor’s note: A sentence was removed from the Aumavae family’s email to Commissioner Monegan for accuracy.

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