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Social Media Plays Important Role In Ending Amber Alert Case

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Ritchie Rochelle 175x131 L Rochelle Ritchie
Rochelle Ritchie joined WJZ Eyewitness News in June 2012. Prio...
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DUNDALK, Md. (WJZ) — Baltimore County Police say it was not only quick police and FBI action that helped in finding Caitlyn Virts in a matter of 48 hours.

Rochelle Ritchie explains social media played a key role in bringing Caitlyn home.

On Thursday, cell phones lit up when the Amber Alert went out. It’s this kind of fast-paced, digital communication the Baltimore County police chief says worked in Caitlyn’s favor.

Caitlyn Virts, 11, will be back in Baltimore soon after she was found safe with her father, Timothy Virts. He is accused of killing her mother before kidnapping Caitlyn and leading police on a manhunt that would end in South Carolina.

“An Amber Alert was issued Thursday morning, almost immediately,” said Chief Jim Johnson, Baltimore County Police.

Within minutes, thousands — if not millions of people across Maryland — received an Amber Alert message on their cell phones and signs across the interstates lit up with the vehicle description of the SUV Timothy Virts sped off in with Caitlyn at his side.

“I want to thank the public,” Johnson said. “With our new electronic means of communication, social media and, of course, the very robust Amber Alert system that’s in place all across America today.”

According to the FBI, Caitlyn and Timothy were found in a hotel in Florence, S.C. They first rented a room on Thursday night, said owner Carol Gause.

“They looked fine. She just walked right up with her father. I didn’t notice anything,” Gause said by phone from the hotel Saturday.

Gause learned about the Amber Alert through social media. She recognized the vehicle and the family name and called police.

“I was startled, but I wasn’t worried or frightened. You don’t expect to ever be involved in something like this,” Gause said. “But I called police and they took over.”

Social media has been a force in tracking down criminals, the chief calling it “keyboard crime fighting,” in which members of Baltimore County’s Crime Analysis Unit stalk social media for any clues that could lead to an arrest.

Related Story: Abducted Baltimore County Girl Found In S.C., Father In Police Custody

Johnson says thousands of tips poured into their department with clues as to the whereabouts of Timothy and Caitlyn–a little girl now returning home with the help of a digital world.

“In this particular case, I am absolutely convinced it led to the successful, safe closure of this chapter of this very terrible tragedy,” Johnson said.

The police chief says a tactical unit surrounded the hotel in Florence, S.C. Timothy Virts was taken into custody without incident.

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