Glenda Whitson, left, and Donna Norris pose January 4, 2011, next to a photo of granddaughter/daughter Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped 15 years ago while riding a bicycle near Whitson's home in Arlington, Texas on January 13, 1996.
Glenda Whitson, left, and Donna Norris pose January 4, 2011, next to a photo of granddaughter/daughter Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped 15 years ago while riding a bicycle near Whitson's home in Arlington, Texas on January 13, 1996.

We receive messages on our mobile phones, or hear television and radio messages describing a potential victim and suspected perpetrator. AMBER alerts have become a valuable tool in deploying emergency management resources in a critical time.

What is Amber Alert?

Amber Alert: What is it, How it works, Amber Hagerman Cold Case

An Amber Alert (also AMBER Alert) or a child abduction emergency alert (SAME code: CAE) is a message distributed by a child abduction alert system to ask the public for help in finding abducted children.

The AMBER Alert System began in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and then brutally murdered. Other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER plans as the idea was adopted across the nation, according to Amberalert.

How does it work?

Once law enforcement has determined that a child has been abducted and the abduction meets AMBER Alert criteria, law enforcement notifies broadcasters and state transportation officials. AMBER Alerts interrupt regular programming and are broadcast on radio and television and DOT highway signs. AMBER Alerts can also be re-disseminated through lottery, digital billboards, Internet Ad exchanges, Internet Service Providers, Internet search engines, as well as wireless devices such as mobile phones.

As of December 2020 there have been 1,029 children successfully recovered through the AMBER Alert system.

AMBER Alerts also serve as deterrents to those who would prey upon our children. AMBER Alert cases have shown that some perpetrators release the abducted child after hearing the AMBER Alert.

If your child goes missing you should immediately contact your local law enforcement agency. After you have reported your child missing to law enforcement, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). More information about available resources can be found at http://www.missingkids.org/MissingChild.

Amber Hagerman Cold Case

Amber Alert: What is it, How it works, Amber Hagerman Cold Case

The AMBER Alert system, or America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, is the namesake of Amber Hagerman.

On January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was riding her bike alongside her 5-year-old brother, Ricky, to a grocery store in Arlington, Texas, just two blocks from their home. Sadly, the little girl would never return.

Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a nearby creek. She was pronounced dead from cut wounds on her neck and throat.

Most people know Amber Alerts as child-abduction emergency notifications that help law enforcement find missing kids. But the tragic abduction and murder case behind the notorious alert system was never solved—and police are still looking for clues.

What Happened to Amber Hagerman?

While no suspects have ever been identified in Amber’s abduction, there was one witness. A passerby, Jim Kevil, saw an adult male stranger snatch a screaming, kicking Amber from her bike and wrangle her into a black pickup truck in the Winn-Dixie parking lot before driving off. Kevil described her attacker as white or Hispanic, around 6 feet tall, medium build, and between the ages of 25 and 40. He called the police immediately, but it was too late to save the former Girl Scout.

Meanwhile, 5-year-old Ricky rushed home to tell his mother and grandparents that he couldn’t find his sister. When Amber’s grandfather Jimmie Whitson arrived at the scene, she was already missing. He found only an empty bicycle in the grocery store parking lot.

The family immediately sprang into action, notifying local police, the FBI and the news media in what would become a nationwide search for their beloved Amber. More than 50 federal agents and area police officers joined in the search. Police believed the abductor’s behavior had likely escalated because of a recent traumatic or upsetting event, such as a divorce or layoff.

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Four days after Amber’s kidnapping, a dogwalker discovered her body in a creek near the Arlington Forest Hill Apartments, just a few miles from the Hagermans’ home. Police believed she had washed up there due to recent thunderstorms.

An autopsy by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner revealed that Amber’s throat had been slit and that the little girl was likely kept alive by her attacker for at least two days. Although an investigator with the ME’s office says he didn’t know if Amber was raped, published reports say she was found nude.

While an investigative task force was formed hastily after Amber’s body was discovered, it was disbanded in 1999 when the case went cold. Since Amber’s disappearance, Arlington police have sifted through more than 8,000 leads. But without physical evidence, such as a weapon or DNA, no official suspects have ever been discovered, and the case has been difficult to pursue. And unlike in many other unsolved murders, few credible theories have been posited as to the kidnapper’s identity.

The Amber Hagerman Case Today

Although it’s been more than 20 years since Amber’s disappearance, her family—father Richard Hagerman, mother Donna Williams (then Whitson) and younger brother Ricky—has never given up on the case.

In January 2016, Amber’s mother and brother, along with several of the detectives who initially investigated her murder, held a press conference to request tips and leads from the public that could help to identify Amber’s attacker. In turn, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared January 13 as Amber Alert Awareness Day in honor of the Hagerman family and their efforts to change the way that law enforcement and the public are notified about missing children. Memories of the case live on in the community, with North Texas artists recently debuting a mural at the memorial site where Amber was kidnapped.

With no available forensic evidence, Amber’s case may remain unresolved. Still, Arlington police say they will continue to seek justice for Amber and her family and will actively pursue any leads, according to AETV.

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