Amber Hagerman - The Girl Behind AMBER Alerts
On 13 January 1996, Amber Hagerman was a typical 9-year-old girl living in Arlington, Texas. It was a surprisingly sunny afternoon, and Amber was enjoying the sunshine with her five-year-old brother Ricky. On this warm winter day, the siblings decided to ride to an abandoned store car park which was often frequented by children, who had even created a makeshift bike ramp. Amber and her brother cycled together in the parking lot for a while until Ricky got tired. He told Amber that he was going home, and Amber was left to enjoy riding her bike in the empty parking lot alone. However, only minutes after Ricky set off riding towards home, a man dragged Amber from her new pink bike and forced into the back of a black pick up truck, kicking and screaming.
A passerby named Jimmie Kevil saw the events of that day unfold, but he stated that at first he did not realise he was witnessing a child abduction. Jimmie told law enforcement that he saw Amber riding her bicycle in the car park alone, when suddenly a man in a black pick up truck pulled up beside her. Jimmie observed the man jump out of his vehicle and force Amber into the truck. Amber was distressed and screaming whilst kicking at the man, which made Jimmie place an initial telephone call to local law enforcement. Unfortunately Jimmie was only able to catch a fleeting glance of the perpetrator, but informed law enforcement that the individual appeared to be a white or Hispanic male aged between 25-40, under 6 feet tall and was of medium build.
On the evening of 13 January 1996, Amber’s parents Donna and Richard made a heart-felt plea for the safe return of their daughter. The story of Amber’s abduction was watched by Americans all across the country, hoping that she would be found quickly and unharmed. Amber’s case quickly gained media attention throughout the country. Law enforcement and locals of the community searched for days for Amber, and everyone tried to remain optimistic that the young girl would be found alive.
Just before midnight on 17 January 1996, a local man found what appeared to be the body of a young girl in a creek behind Forest Hills Apartments in Arlington. This was less than 5 miles from the car park where Amber had been abducted just four days prior. The man called law enforcement immediately, who suspected the body to be that of nine-year-old Amber. They used a thumbprint from one of Amber’s school safety cards to determine whether the prints were a match to the young girl found in the creek. Sadly, law enforcement confirmed that it was Amber Hagerman, and that she had died as a result of wounds to her throat.
Local law enforcement in Arlington received hundreds of tips about Amber's case from the day she was reported missing, but there have sadly been no leads, and no one has ever been arrested for the murder of Amber Hagerman. To this day, law enforcement continues to receive tips about the case, but they are yet to find anything which would lead to conclusive evidence to aid finding her killer.
There are numerous articles published about this case, and I spent many hours researching theories about who could have abducted and killed Amber. For me the only plausible theory is that Amber was abducted by an opportunistic stranger who saw her riding her bicycle alone and snatched her. It does not appear logical that a potential stalker, who was possibly tracking Amber's movements could have known that she would be riding in the car park that afternoon, or that her brother would tire of doing so and leave her alone. For me, I think it was a very unfortunate coincidence that Amber was alone when a twisted individual saw a moment of opportunity and abducted her.
Despite the abundance of horrifying stories which cover media headlines about missing children, it is actually very rare for children to be abducted by a complete stranger; that is, someone who is completely unfamiliar to the child or related to them. Most missing children cases are those which involve a child being ‘abducted’ by a family member. In cases such as Amber’s where a child is believed to have been taken by a stranger, it is very difficult to solve, as there is no clear starting point for law enforcement to begin to search if there is nothing known to them about the abductor. Particularly in this type of opportunistic abduction, law enforcement have no indications as to why someone took Amber, or where they might have fled.
As many of you will be aware, DNA and forensic evidence has dramatically improved over the last few decades, and previously ‘cold’ cases have been solved due to this new scientific testing. Regrettably, forensic evidence has little value to Amber’s case. She was discovered with only a single white sock, and as she was submerged in a creek with running water, any trace evidence left on her body would have been washed away. Law enforcement noted that during the time Amber was missing there had been a heavy storm, which may have caused her body to have moved along the creek, meaning they were unable to find any conclusive evidence. As a side-note, the fact that the perpetrator placed Amber’s body in the creek could merely be a coincidence, as a way to quickly dispose of the body, but it also suggests to me that this individual was intelligent enough to have some knowledge that by removing her clothing and placing her in the creek it would help dispose of any evidence which he may have left on her clothing or body. This could be an indication that this individual has committed similar crimes before he murdered Amber Hagerman.
Amber’s legacy lives on
Every American citizen is familiar with the term ‘Amber Alert’. An Amber Alert is an acronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. These emergency response alerts are issued by a child abduction alert system, which broadcasts information about a missing child over the radio, the internet, via text messages and television stations. The broadcasted information usually contains the name of the child, a description of the abductor and a description of the vehicle along with the licence plate. For an Amber Alert to be issued the following information is required;
The law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place;
The abducted child must be at risk of serious injury or death;
There must be sufficient information of the child, the possible abductor and/or vehicle to issue the alert; and
The child must be under 17 years of age.
Amber Alerts were created in Dallas- Fort Worth, as a legacy to Amber Hagerman. A local woman named Diane was watching the news about Amber’s case, and an idea began to form - if broadcasters were able to alert residents that severe weather was to be expected, why could these resources not be used to inform the public of a child abduction? Diane rang a local radio station who then liaised with local law enforcement to implement this first-stage emergency broadcast system to identify child abductions. Since 1996, all 50 states in America have implemented the Amber Alert system.
As of May 2020, it is reported that Amber Alerts have aided the successful recovery of 988 children throughout America, and it has been implemented throughout the world. It is believed that the broadcasts also act as a deterrent to potential abductors, and in some cases it has been shown that those who have abducted a child will safely release him upon hearing the Amber Alert.
For the parents of Amber Hagerman, it is devastating that their daughter was abducted and murdered, but they said that it is bittersweet for them that her legacy has lived on and in turn her case has aided the safe return of so many other children. I hope that one day Amber’s killer can be brought to justice, and some sense of peace is returned to her family.
A $10,000 reward is offered to anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest and indictment of a suspect in this case. Anyone who has any information about Amber's murder should contact Tarrant County Crime Stoppers on 817-469-TIPS.