Eleven days after two brothers disappeared outside of their home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota, investigators say they don't have enough information to launch an Amber Alert.
Because there was no proof Tristan White, 4, and Avery Stately, 2, were abducted, federal and state authorities say the case doesn't meet the standards for the emergency alert system, created to inform law enforcement, media and the public about abducted children.
Instead, officials are left wondering what happened to the boys after air, ground and water searches turned up no trace. They hope national attention for the case -- which was to be featured Saturday on the America's Most Wanted TV show -- will give them the break they need.
One Red Lake tribal council member, Darrell Seki, said residents there don't generally seem upset that an Amber Alert wasn't issued.
"They don't meet the criteria for an Amber Alert," he said. "That's what the understanding is." He said the law enforcement response to the missing brothers has been "real good."
But Erma Vizenor, chairwoman for Minnesota's White Earth Band of Chippewa said both race and criteria that's too strict appear to have played a role in the decision.
"I do believe the Amber Alert should have been put out right away. ... When two little children are missing and everyone is looking for them and can't find them, they should put out an Amber Alert."
Nancy Sabin, executive director of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation -- which helps families of missing children and works to prevent exploitation of children -- said Minnesota authorities made the right decision in not issuing an Amber Alert, given the circumstances, including the fact investigators couldn't determine whether they were abducted.
"Every single parent wants an Amber Alert for their kid, and I can't blame them," she said. "But to keep this effective tool effective, we can't use it every time."
Directly or indirectly, Amber Alerts are credited with playing a role in finding missing children in the 14 Minnesota cases in which they were used since July 2002.
"Minnesota's got an extremely good record on Amber Alerts and not using them too much or too little," Sabin said.
Still, Vernon Bellecourt, a leader of the American Indian Movement in the Twin Cities, believes an Amber Alert should have been issued because an abduction remains a possibility.
He said there has been a pattern in which American Indians who are missing or murdered don't draw the attention given Caucasian crime victims or missing people.
"I can tell you, there's a tremendous amount of concern in the Indian community," said Bellecourt, an Ojibwe member of the White Earth band. "We don't see as much energy when an Indian is dead or missing."
Dave Bjerga, special agent in charge of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Bemidji office, said all cases, regardless of race, are treated equally.
"This case has gotten more attention and more resources than many other missing person cases," Bjerga said.
Minnesota uses a two-tiered alert system, issuing crime alerts about 30 times each month to notify up to 7,200 police departments, schools, businesses and other participants about specific crimes, said Janell Rasmussen, a BCA administrator and Amber Alert coordinator.
The Crime Alert Network began after the 1995 abduction and murder of an Eden Prairie boy, she said. An Amber Alert, which triggers use of emergency broadcasting protocols, is rarely issued.
The Red Lake disappearance prompted a statewide crime alert but didn't meet criteria for an Amber Alert. Rasmussen said the state is working with the state's tribal nations to better explain the criteria and resources available to help solve crimes or find missing people.
Fewer than 10 percent of the nearly 150 requests for Amber Alerts have been issued since the system was put into place.
"We're pretty strict on the criteria," Bjerga said. "We don't want to cry wolf so much that the media and the public doesn't pay any attention."
So far, investigators have checked 75 tips and more than 200 leads. A $20,000 reward aims to entice a tipster to lead officers to the boys.
"The tips are dwindling," said FBI Special Agent Paul McCabe of the FBI office in Minneapolis. "Nothing has led us closer to finding the boys."
FBI officials don't believe the boys were abducted by a relative, and extensive searches haven't led to the brothers, who may have wandered off.
"We still don't have enough information either way on what happened," McCabe said. "Nothing has been ruled out."