Unlike terror bulletins or weather warnings, the mayday for missing children has a namesake: Amber Alert. Two decades have passed since a stranger snatched 9-year-old Amber Hagerman off her bicycle from a vacant supermarket parking lot in broad daylight and drove away. There was a witness who immediately called the police to inform them about the abduction, but the only description he could give was a dark colored truck that was seen leaving the scene. Even though authorities tried their best to rescue Amber from her abductor, it was far too late. Four days after her disappearance, her body was discovered. Here’s the story of Amber Hagerman and the case that inspired Amber Alerts; which saves more than 100 children each year.
On the afternoon of January 13, 1996, Amber Hagerman, 9, and her five-year-old brother, Ricky, pedaled their bicycles to an abandoned grocery store in Arlington, Texas.
Minutes later, Ricky turned to head back home, about a block away. Amber decided she wanted to go a little further than where she was supposed to because there was a ramp where children would ride.
78-year-old retiree, Jim Kevil, stood in his backyard not far away and saw Amber riding up and down the street.
“I saw Amber riding up and down. She was by herself. I saw this pickup. He pulled up, jumped out and grabbed her. When she screamed, I figured the police ought to know about it, so I called them.”
Kevil described the truck as being dark, possibly black and the abductor to be white or Hispanic.
The police arrived at the scene immediately. When Ricky had arrived back home without Amber, her grandfather, Jimmie Whitson, had grown worried and decided to go to the locale of the former Winn-Dixie store to check on her. When Whitson arrived, he saw that the police were already there. Even with an eyewitness, investigators have a hard time solving abduction cases since time is of the essence. Since abduction cases are very rare in the locale, experts theorized that it was a crime of opportunity since Amber was all by herself.
Police were certain that the abductor was someone who was familiar with the area. Local police were joined by volunteers and the FBI in the massive search, however, it was too late.
Nearly four days later, Amber’s mother, who hadn’t slept or eaten, pleaded to her abductor, “return her to her mommy”. By midnight on January 17, 1996, a man who was walking his dog near the Forest Hill Apartments, just a few miles from where the child had been snatched, came across a child’s body. Amber Hagerman had been found. Police identified the body as Amber’s by matching a thumbprint from a school safety card. The creek had wiped away any evidence that may had been helpful in finding the perpetrator. An autopsy determined that Amber had been held alive for two days, and during that time she was sexually assaulted. She was also found naked with her throat slashed.
Two days after her death, a local mom who had never met Amber heard her story and decided to act.
Diana Simone, a Fort Worth mom, called a local radio station with an idea: If broadcasters can alert the public to severe weather, then why not do the same when a child is abducted?
“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,” said Simone, now 71. “The problem was not that people didn’t see them, it’s that they didn’t know what they were seeing.”
Simone’s only request, as the idea went from brainstorm to reality, was that the resulting program bear Amber’s name. Simone wanted her name to be remembered forever so people understand the severity of it. Today, the Amber Alert program is used in more than 20 countries
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the alert has helped rescue more than 800 kids.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reports that the warnings, which trigger sometimes-startling smartphone notifications and are published on billboards and across social networks, have led to the rescue of nearly 800 missing kids.
“It’s a shame my daughter had to be butchered and had to go through what she went through for us to have the Amber Alert, but I know she would be proud of it.”
Amber’s mom, Donna Williams, doesn’t own a smartphone and spends little time online, but she has a hard time not hearing her child’s name when the alerts appear on TV or the radio.
On the 20-year anniversary of Amber’s abduction, her mother wrote an open letter to her daughter’s killer but she decided to not go through with it.
Although two decades have passed, Amber’s case remains cold. Authorities believe that many of the witnesses at the time of the abduction were illegal immigrants who were using a nearby laundromat. Because of their illegal status, they were too afraid to come forward with information that would have helped track down Amber’s abductor and killer. Despite a one-time $75,000 reward and the promise that they wouldn’t be deported, no laundry customer ever came forward.
Donna Williams believes that there is someone with potential information who hasn’t yet come forward. Today, she tries to keep herself occupied by doing odd jobs, but carries the pain of losing Amber with her every day.
“I’d never give up hope and will keep fighting for her. If people don’t catch the bad person, God will take care of him.”