Most people know Amber Alerts as the child abduction emergency alert that has led to the safe return of over a thousand children across almost 35 countries. But this life-saving system has a dark history, stemming from the tragic abduction and murder of a 9-year-old girl.
On January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman and her 5-year-old brother, Ricky, set off to ride their bikes in the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store, just two blocks from their grandmother’s Arlington, Texas home. While the two were riding around, a man in a black pickup truck approached Amber and forced her into the back of his car.
Just eight minutes after leaving her grandmother’s house, Amber was gone.
The only witness to Amber’s abduction, 78-year-old Jim Kevil, immediately notified police who promptly began searching for the young girl. Although Kevil and law enforcement did all the right things, there was no available notification system to alert the public of Amber’s kidnapping.
Five days later, her body was found in a nearby creek. Her murder remains unsolved to this day.
Amber’s family and the entire Arlington area were devastated by the tragic outcome. One woman, Diane Simone, who’s a mother herself, called into a local radio station with an idea. She figured if the public can receive weather alerts, they should also be able to receive missing children alerts.
“They were saying Amber was taken at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, thrown in a pickup truck and driven somewhere, and that nobody saw anything. I’m sorry, that’s not possible. The problem was not that people didn’t see them, it’s that they didn’t know what they were seeing.” Said Simone.
Nine months later, the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act was passed, leading to the start of the Amber Alert System.
Today, the AMBER (“America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response”) Alert System is used in all 50 states as well as in 33 other countries. As of December 2020, 1,029 children have been successfully recovered thanks to the system.
Leonard Snipes, a former senior specialist for crime prevention for the Department of Justice, says that the success of the Amber Alert System is largely because the alerts “allow and encourage public participation in the child’s recovery.”
He added, “A shared responsibility for crime prevention is the heart and soul of regional alerts, and that’s a good thing.”
Although 25 years have passed since Amber’s death, many people remain hopeful that Amber’s killer will be caught.
Her family- father Richard, mother Donna, and brother Ricky- have never given up on the case.
“To Amber’s killer, I’m asking you today, please turn yourself in,” Amber’s mother said at a press conference on the 25th anniversary of her daughter’s abduction. “Give Amber justice. Amber needs justice, deeply.”
Arlington police say they will continue to seek justice for Amber and her family and will actively pursue any leads.
“On a yearly basis, I talk with all the major laboratories around the country to see if there are any new technologies or anything we could possibly be trying with the evidence that we have,” said Detective Grant Gildon, the lead investigator on the cold case. “That is what’s led to some new developments where we can try some things this year.”
January 13 is now known as Amber Hagerman Awareness Day in Texas, in honor of Amber and her family.