Today, Amber Hagerman would be 29 years old. She was born on November 25, 1986. Amber Hagerman is sadly the main reason we have an AMBER Alert system in the United States of America. She is that Amber.
As a mother, the thought of having a child abducted horrifies me and makes my blood run cold. I couldn’t possibly imagine the anguish parents feel in these events. Every single time I hear/see an AMBER Alert, I start keeping an eye out. If I could help save just one child…
Let’s find out about this girl that changed our world and led to our kids being protected so much more than before.
On January 13, 1996–when she was only nine years old–Amber was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in her hometown of Arlington, TX. A neighbor and Amber’s own younger brother both separately reported the abduction to authorities. Amber’s mother called the news stations and the FBI to get things rolling in the search for her missing daughter.
Sadly, four days after the abduction, “a man walking his dog found her body in a storm drainage ditch. Her killer has not been found, and her homicide remains unsolved.” –link to Wikipedia article
Author’s Note: I didn’t want to list the details of what happened to her, because missing and murdered children stories have a sick, terrified place in my mother heart. However, I was a little curious as to why Amber’s parents rallied so hard for harsher sex offender laws just based on the abduction/murder. I read a particular article that gave a little more detail: “An autopsy determined that Amber had been held alive for two days. During that time she was sexually assaulted.” –link to kidnappingmurderandmayhem blog . However, a 2011 article in the Dallas News claims that “Her throat had been cut, but police have not said whether she was sexually assaulted.”–link to Dallas News article
A New York Times article stated the following: “The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office today ruled the death of the girl, Amber Hagerman, a homicide, and said the cause of death was “cut wounds to the throat,” said Dee Anderson a spokesman for the police.
Shortly before midnight, an apartment security guard found Amber’s nude body face-down in a creek about four miles from the parking lot where she was abducted on Saturday. Within an hour and a half, police officers and a department chaplain notified Amber’s parents, Donna Whitson and Richard Hagerman, about the discovery of the body.”–link to NY Times article
After the Abduction
Amber’s mother began rallying for tougher sex offender laws within her state and around the nation. However, the tragedy caught the attention of many people, and massive changes began to happen.
A 2011 Dallas News article states the following:
“We still get three or four leads a month on it and we’re up to about 6,800 leads now since the case began,” said Arlington police Det. Ben Lopez. “Anytime we get a lead we still investigate it to see where it goes. Certainly over the years, there have been some leads we got excited about and then over time, we eliminated them and we became disappointed.”–link to Dallas News article
Amber’s parents created an organization called People Against Sex Offenders (P.A.S.O.). “P.A.S.O. received almost-daily coverage in local media. Companies donated various office supplies, including computer and Internet service.” –link to Wikipedia article
National Sex Offender Registry List
Amber’s parents were present when the National Sex Offender Registry List was signed into effect by President Bill Clinton. Although the registry wasn’t created because of Amber directly, the creation of this list was partly due to the rallying her parents were doing calling for stricter laws against sex offenders.
Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act
“Congressman Martin Frost, with the help of Marc Klaas, drafted the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act.” –link to Wikipedia article Note to my readers: Marc Klass is the father of Polly Klass–who was also abducted and murdered. He is widely known for his advocacy on behalf of missing and murdered children and the surviving parents.
There was a section in the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act that called for a national sex offender registry list as well.
Richard Hagerman–Amber’s father–was asked to speak in Arlington at an event. According to an article I read, he had a prepared speech but he chose to talk about measures everyone could take when a child goes missing instead. A local news station captured his ideas and took them to the police chief in Dallas, TX. With these ideas, the first Amber Alert–or basically missing child alert–was launched. Originally, it was called the Dallas Amber Alert; once it spread nationwide, it was changed to just Amber Alert.
“For the next two years, alerts were made manually to participating radio stations.” –link to Wikipedia article
Fun Fact: AMBER is actually a “backronym”–basically meaning someone made words to fit this and make it an acronym. Originally, Amber Alerts were named directly after sweet little Amber Hagerman. However, later, someone created the meaning of “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.” So, now it is an acronym that should be written in all caps. Hmmm. Interesting.
“The decision to declare an AMBER Alert is made by each police organization (in many cases, the state police or highway patrol) that investigates each of the abductions. Public information in an AMBER Alert usually consists of the name and description of the abductee, a description of the suspected abductor, and a description and license plate number of the abductor’s vehicle, if available.”–Wikipedia
Child Alert Foundation and ANS
Two years after Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered, the Child Alert Foundation launched the first fully automated notification system (ANS) for Amber Alerts. Prior to this, alerting was a manual process.
“Alerts were sent to radio stations as originally requested but included television stations, surrounding law enforcement agencies, newspapers and local support organizations. These alerts were sent all at once via pagers, faxes, emails, and cell phones with the information immediately posted on the Internet for the general public to view.” –link to Wikipedia article
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Role
In 2002, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children foundation joined efforts with the other organizations to take part in the AMBER Alert system. In particular, they encouraged the use of TV emergency broadcast systems.
“Ernie Allen, the president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said he believes there may be “no greater legacy than that of Amber Hagerman.”––abcnews.go.com
The Rollout Nationwide
By around 2002, a nationwide AMBER Alert system was being successfully rolled out. “According to Senator Dianne Feinstein, in its first month California issued 13 AMBER alerts; 12 of the children were recovered safely and the remaining alert was found to be a misunderstanding.” –link to Wikipedia article
“The alerts were offered digitally beginning in November 2002, when America Online began a service allowing people sign up to receive notification via computer, pager, or cell phone. Users of the service enter their ZIP code, thus allowing the alerts to be targeted to specific geographic regions.” -Wikipedia
“By 2005, all fifty states had operational programs and today the program operates across state and jurisdictional boundaries. As of January 1, 2013, AMBER Alerts are automatically sent through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program.” –link to Wikipedia article
Success of AMBER Alerts
By August of 2013, statistics show that 657 children had been successfully recovered due to the AMBER Alert System. –Note: It’s now the end of 2015. I wonder how these numbers have changed?
AMBER Alerts are tied in with Google, Facebook, WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts), Bing, etc. AMBER Alerts are even tied to Google maps for when users are looking up maps near areas where children were last seen.
–Here is where I’m going to stop. Please read the Wikipedia article I’ve cited if you want to know more stats and even some arguments and potential controversies. I was reading about numbers of kids reported missing that were recovered from family members, and those alerts issued because of misunderstandings. The article ways basically saying the AMBER Alert system might not actually be that successful in “real” abductions.
You are going to argue that it “isn’t that helpful” based on numbers? So…are you saying that we shouldn’t alert anyone? That we should just go back to the old way where local police do all the searching. I’m pretty sure that kid out there missing would BEG to differ with you. And their parents. I’m sorry, but no. No, I do not care to read about whether alerting everyone is statistically helpful or not. Let’s do it anyway! Sometimes alerts might be issued when the kid is with a grandparent and someone forgot. Sure. That happens, I’m sure. Of course that shouldn’t be added to the numbers of recovered kids. But surely there HAVE been children saved and returned to their loving and very grateful parents because AMBER Alerts were issued. I’m SURE of it.
This is one of the first times I’ve been mad at a Wikipedia article, and probably a good clue as to how helpful of a resource this really is or not.
In the Dallas News article, one man stood up and claimed the same. “Cox doesn’t follow the rationale of those who criticize the AMBER Alert system because, he said, “it’s free, it’s easy and it works.”
“I don’t understand the need to criticize a program that has one primary purpose — to save a child’s life,” he said. “The whole purpose was to get parents and children together and save’s children’s lives. And we’ve done that.” –link to Dallas News article
Happy 29th birthday, Amber Hagerman. You changed our world more than you probably ever thought possible.