Today is an anniversary of both great sadness and of triumph, because it was 13 years ago today that the story of Amber Hagerman unfolded. Staff Writer Deanna Boyd relates how the story of the young girl's abduction and killing grew in interest, and in impact. The AMBER Alert system is named for the Arlington girl and it has helped save the lives of many youngsters in the United States. -- Lance Murray
It began with a simple bike ride on a warm winter afternoon.
It ended four days later with the discovery of a child’s body in a rain-swollen creek about two miles away.
A man working in his backyard nearby called police after hearing the third-grader’s screams and seeing a man driving a dark-colored pickup pluck the 9-year-old girl from her bike, then drive away with her.
Four days later, a man walking his dog discovered Amber’s body, her throat cut, in a creek that bordered his apartment complex.
Her killer has never been caught.
Arlington Detective Jim Ford, the lead investigator in the case then and now, said police have received approximately 6,000 leads since the investigation began. Even more than a decade later, investigators still field about two tips per month on the case, Ford said.
“There would be nothing more important or rewarding than seeing this case get resolved because this case is as bad as they get,” Ford said.
But while the case has yet to be solved, the legacy that Amber has left behind continues to resonate.
By the fall of 1996, Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters partnered with local police to develop the AMBER Plan, an early warning system that alerts the public when a child is abducted in hopes of bringing the child home safe. Today, all 50 states have implemented the AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) system.
In the first eight months of last year, 130 AMBER Alerts were issued involving 173 children, according to statistics compiled by the Department of Justice and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Officials credit the safe return of 28 children in 18 of those cases directly to the AMBER Alert.
According to the statistics, nine of the children were released after the abductor heard the alert. Sixteen children were recovered after individuals recognized either the child, abductor or the abductor’s vehicle from the AMBER Alert and notified police. And three children were recovered after police received a tip from individuals who heard the alert.
Statistics for the remainder of 2008 are not yet available.
Retired Sgt. Mark Simpson, who supervised the Amber Hagerman Task Force, described the community involvement in bringing home abducted children that sprang up in the wake of Amber’s case as “very gratifying.”
Whether such a system would have created a different outcome in Amber’s case is unknown, Simpson said, but he believes the chances would have been greatly enhanced.
“If we had been able to get that information out sooner, I truly believe we would have been in a much stronger position to get Amber back alive,” he said.
-- Deanna Boyd