Sixteen-year-old Hannah Anderson is back home in California because of a horseback rider who happened across her and James DiMaggio in remote Idaho just before seeing an Amber Alert about her abduction on television.

Mark John, a retired county sheriff, came across Anderson and DiMaggio last week in the forebodingly named Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. John was suspicious, but the Amber Alert led him to call officials.

“The news flashed on. The Amber Alert was on the television, and I told my wife that is that girl we seen on the mountain,” he told news outlets after the FBI rescued Anderson and fatally shot DiMaggio, also suspected of killing Anderson’s mother and 8-year-old brother.

Six days earlier, many Californians were irritated that an Amber Alert about the abducted teen was being sent via cellphone in addition to being posted on highway signs. They complained that the alert was short on information and accompanied by an irritating, high-pitched sound — problems that are fixable.

But national media picked up on the complaints, and soon Slate crime reporter Justin Peters was calling for the end to all Amber Alerts: “Its defenders say that the system is better than nothing; that it’s inexpensive to run; that even if it’s not always effective, the chance that it might eventually save one kidnapped child’s life makes its continued existence worthwhile. I disagree.”

Peters is wrong. Amber Alerts have led to the rescue of more than 650 kids, according to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. One of them, an 8-month-old Minneapolis infant, was rescued in February after a cellphone alert caught the attention of a teen and her dad, who spotted the suspect’s car and called the police.

After her rescue, Hannah Anderson learned from the FBI that her mother and brother were found dead in DiMaggio’s burned-out home near San Diego. DiMaggio reportedly was a longtime friend of the family. Hannah’s father, Brett Anderson, publicly thanked investigators, reporters and social-media users for aiding in his daughter’s safe return, but asked for privacy as they mourned.

Meanwhile, the hero horseback rider continues to rightly underscore the need for the emergency message system. “It makes me feel really great that the girl is found and she is safe,” he told reporters. “I’m very grateful for the Amber Alert.”

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An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Follow the editorial board on Twitter | FacebookPinterest | Google+