“I was told that someone took Amber. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I just lost it. I started screaming her name. Praying that she would answer me. She was gone.” – Donna Williams, Amber’s mother.
The unsolved abduction and murder of Amber Hagerman is the most famous case of its kind in the United States history. Within the days of Amber’s death, her mother was calling for tougher laws governing sex offenders. Amber’s parents collected signatures hoping to force the Texas Legislature into passing more stringent laws to protect children. The tragedy led to the creation of the American AMBER Alert system, and later in Europe. Her sad story made a difference for lots of abducted and missing children.
Detective Ben Lopez of the Arlington Texas Police Department still remembers the afternoon of January 13, 1996. He was a patrol officer at the time Amber Hagerman, just 9-years-old, was snatched off her bicycle in the parking lot of a local grocery store.
The only description was a blue truck that was seen leaving the scene. Lopez was quickly pulled onto a special task force to find Amber. “For those first few days, we spent all of our time looking,” Detective Lopez told Dateline NBC. “It was like if you weren’t on another call, you were actively looking for her. We were looking everywhere in the city.”
Despite national attention and widespread media coverage, a dog walker came across the little girl’s body five days later floating in a creek just miles from the grocery store. Her throat had been slit. She wore only a sock on her right foot. Amber’s mother: “All I was able to do was hold her little hands and touch her little face. And kiss her on her lips. I told her that everything was going to be okay, because mommy found you.”
The American AMBER Alert Plan
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 Amber. Other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER plans as the idea was adopted across the nation.
AMBER Alerts in Europe
Other countries followed the example of the American AMBER Alert plan. As for today, 18 European Member States have an AMBER Alert system in place. “In Europe, the border is always near. Information on missing children often stops at national borders. Child abductors, however, do not stop at borders. Neither should an AMBER Alert,” says Frank Hoen, President AMBER Alert Europe. AMBER Alert Europe connects citizens with law enforcement when the police believe the public can help save the child’s life. It provides for training and cross-border coordination to law enforcement.