How The Abduction And Murder Of A 9-Year-Old Led To The AMBER Alert System

The AMBER alert system first debuted in 1996 as a collaboration between news media and police in Arlington, Texas. Named for Amber Hagerman, the alerts have helped find more than 1,000 abducted children.

Amber Hagerman missing poster, professional portrait of Amber

Amber Hagerman

Photo by: National Association for Missing & Exploited Children

National Association for Missing & Exploited Children

Amber Hagerman

It’s been nearly 30 years since 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted on January 13, 1996, while riding her bike with her younger brother, Ricky. The siblings had been at their grandmother’s home in Arlington, Texas, and were instructed not to ride further than around the block.

Instead, the children went to a nearby parking lot at a shuttered grocery store because there was a “cool ramp,” according to KIRO. Ricky, who remembered the warning to stay close, turned back.

Amber was gone within eight minutes. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the girl was taken by a man driving a black pickup truck. An eyewitness, whose yard was adjacent to the parking lot, told CBS Dallas-Fort Worth that he heard Amber scream when the man grabbed her, so he called police.

Despite the tip, it was too late. Four agonizing days passed for Amber’s family until a man walking his dog spotted the girl’s body in a creek bed about 4 miles from where she was abducted.

Arlington resident Diane Simone followed the unfolding saga on the evening news when the lightbulb came on—if there were emergency alerts for weather and national emergencies, why weren’t there alerts about abducted children?

National Attention

Her idea came to fruition as the AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert, a system managed by the U.S. Justice Department. With this new system, information about abducted and endangered children would be sent to radio and TV stations, departments of transportation, and to NCMEC.

In 1998, an AMBER Alert led authorities to rescue their first child, an 8-week-old baby who had been abducted by her babysitter. The child was recovered in less than 2 hours. Overhead highway signs were first used to spread the word about an AMBER Alert in 2002 during a California case. By February 2005, all 50 states had an AMBER Alert plan, according to NCMEC.

As for Amber’s case, though police have received more than 7,000 tips, her killer has never been found. In early 2021, police revealed that they had DNA evidence from the case that they were planning to have tested. When Amber went missing, DNA testing was still in its infancy, though investigators trusted that advances in the science could one day help. Now, with the advent of genetic genealogy, police may be able to identify Amber’s killer.

If you have any information about the kidnapping and murder of Amber Hagerman, call the Arlington, Texas police at 817-575-8823. Anonymous tipsters can relay their information to Crime Stoppers of Tarrant County at 817-469-TIPS (8477).

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