Questions are being raised about the apparent delay by police in issuing the Amber Alert Wednesday regarding B.C. boy Kienan Hebert, but police say they can't raise the alarm immediately for every child who goes missing.

Three-year-old Hebert is believed to have been abducted sometime early Wednesday morning from his home in Sparwood, a small community in southeastern B.C. near the Alberta border.

Police were notified at 7:30 a.m. MT by the boy’s parents that they’d found the boy’s bed empty and there no other sign of him.

Authorities notified the media about five hours later, but did not issue the Amber Alert until about 6 p.m. MT.

"If it was my child, that's one of the things that I thought would have been done right away," said a female neighbour of the Hebert family, who asked not to be named.

Police first explored the possibility that the boy — who has a history of sleepwalking — might have wandered off into the night on his own.

Police now suspect the child was taken from the home by Randall Hopley, a local man with a long criminal record, who had recently been released from jail after serving time for assault.

Many children go missing

Police are not saying when they made the alleged connection between the missing boy and Hopley, 46.

"Rest assured, once we had the minimum requirements of activating [the alert], this is exactly what we did," said RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk.

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Police have named Randall Hopley as the suspect in their Amber Alert. (RCMP)

Children often go missing — most just temporarily — for a number of reasons, not all of them to do with a criminal act.

Or police may have other good reasons to delay issuing an alert, said Brad Bostock of Child Find, an organization that helps search for missing children.

"In a lot of these situations, there's something going on behind the scenes that we may not be privy to, and by issuing an amber alert, could make the situation worse," said Bostock.

Police therefore use the Amber Alert system only when certain criteria are met:

  • police must suspect an abduction has occurred.
  • the victim must be under 18.
  • the victim must be believed to be in serious danger.
  • police must have some information that would identify the abductor, such as his or her identity, plus if possible, a vehicle description and license plate number.

Hopley is believed to be driving a 1987 brown Toyota Camry with the B.C. licence plate 098 RAL.

With files from the CBC's Lisa Johnson