Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida's Silver Alert spurs a national plan

One year after the death of the 86-year-old Pinellas County woman who inspired the creation of Florida's Silver Alert, the notification system for missing seniors, a national Silver Alert bill awaits approval in the U.S. Senate.

Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, the federal legislation is designed to set up a grant program to help states develop their own notification system for missing seniors. (It works like the Amber Alert does for missing children.) The bill passed in the House late last year but failed to make it through the Senate because of the break. Recently reintroduced, the bill passed unanimously in the House on Feb. 10.

But Florida had no Silver Alert program when, you may recall, Mary Zelter, 86, of Largo drove away on Feb. 26, 2008, from her assisted living facility in her white Chrysler Sebring convertible and never returned.

Her body was found a week later 10 miles away in the Intracoastal Waterway near a Clearwater boat ramp. Her submerged car was nearby.

The Silver Alert has grass roots grown locally. Within about two months after Zelter's death, folks couldn't forget her. Bilirakis, for one. And folks who came together to build what they hoped would be a pilot program based in Pinellas County. Among the committee members was Largo police Chief Lester Aradi, the chairman; Sallie Parks of the Area Agency on Aging; Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats; and Zelter's daughter, Mary Lallucci. There was input from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, as well as others.

Program details were hammered over the summer and presented to the FDLE. Before too long, it drew the attention of Gov. Crist's office. Instead of a being a pilot program in Pinellas County it would become statewide. Florida's Silver Alert became law, signed by executive order in October.

Lallucci, Zelter's daughter, recalled the effort and the spotlight on her late mother. "Our family would never have imagined that her death would be instrumental in how the Silver Alert came to the state," she said, and perhaps eventually to the nation.

"It moved people to action," Lallucci said. "People really related to her, and our family: 'Gosh it could be anybody.' "

Bilirakis' office now counts 13 states that have a Silver Alert or similar program, and 13 more considering it.

Since the program began in October, there have been 48 Silver Alerts issued in Florida, including three in February. Forty-three of the alerts ended happily for families, including the most recent three; the remaining five, however, were found deceased, the FDLE reported.

One year later, Lallucci can only speculate as to what went wrong. But she has a theory. Her parents once lived in a waterfront condo, where they loved the view of the gulf. And a few days before her mother disappeared, a group from her living facility made a bus trip along the coast. It might have been that pull, and a sense of adventure, that took her mother away.

"Her tragedy has become such a catalyst for good things," Lallucci said, "and that has helped us a lot in terms of coming to terms with such a tragic ending with such an important person in your life.

"Every time a Silver Alert comes out, I'm so grateful those families didn't have the tragedy we have. It's a real blessing.''

Mimi Andelman can be reached at

Florida's Silver Alert spurs a national plan 02/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2009 10:06am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Yep, 2017 hurricane season really is more intense than normal


    It was only 25 days ago that Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

    A handout satellite image from Sept. 8, 2017, of, from left, Tropical Storm Katia, Hurricane Irma and Tropical Storm Jose, which would intensify into a hurricane. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has been unusually active. There have been 13 named storms this year. Only four other seasons since 1995 have had that many by Sept. 18. [NASA/NOAA GOES Project via the New York Times]
  2. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs could run into their nemesis


    Greg Auman finishes wrapping up the Bucs' win against the Chicago Bears and looks ahead to Sunday's game at Minnesota, where Tampa Bay could run into nemesis Case Keenum, in our latest Cannon Fodder …

    Bucs outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) sacks Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum (17) during a 2016 game. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  3. How to vamp out for Buffyfest in St. Petersburg

    Music & Concerts

    Who's your favorite superhero? I always answer Buffy.

    Photo illustration RON BORRESEN, Photo by Warner Brothers, Photo by SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Members of the Florida Bjorkestra rehearse, Monday, 3/13/17, at the Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg for their upcoming concert. In the foreground is percussionist Joe Coyle.

Sarah Michelle Gellar
  4. The Mill restaurants offering half off when customers donate items for hurricane relief


    The Mill restaurant in St. Petersburg and its newly-opened location in Brandon are collecting donations to help residents of the Florida Keys who've been affected by Hurricane Irma.

    The dining room at The Mill in St. Petersburg photographed in 2015.
  5. Navy removes Jacksonville hospital workers who called babies 'mini satans' (w/video)


    JACKSONVILLE — A Navy hospital in Florida has removed some employees from patient care after Snapchat photos showed a nurse giving the middle finger to a newborn with a caption that said, "How I currently feel about these mini Satans."

    A Navy hospital in Florida has removed some employees from patient care after Snapchat photos showed a nurse giving the middle finger to a newborn with a caption that said, "How I currently feel about these mini Satans." [Photo from video]