The History Behind the AMBER Alert

By Liela Hafshejani

The day is January 13th, 1996. The city is Arlington, Texas. Little Amber Hagerman, age nine, was riding her bike to the local grocery store. That’s when tragedy struck. Jimmie Kevil, a local, saw a man in a black pickup truck rip Amber off her bike, while she kicked and screamed, and stuffed her into the cab of the truck. He was the only witness. He called the police shortly after. 

Fifty police officers and federal agents were on duty looking for Amber, they still couldn’t find her in time. They searched for her for 4 days. She was found with her throat cut in a shallow creek, four miles from where she was taken. The parents were informed and they denied it; they didn’t want to believe that she was dead. Her father was in such disbelief that he told reporters that she was still alive. 

To this day, no one has been able to solve the crime, and no one has ever been brought to justice. But from this, Amber’s mother came up with an idea. If radio stations could send out alerts for weather, they could do the same for missing children. They can send out names and descriptions of the child in hopes of someone finding them. Hence, the creation of the AMBER Alert. 

AMBER Alerts are responses to missing, endangered, or abducted children. The alerts are issued to law enforcement, transportation agencies, and multiple media platforms. The alerts are also sent out to radio stations, TVs, road signs, and cell phones. The AMBER Alert is used in all US states (in addition to DC). 

The US DOJ (Department of Justice) states that in 76% of missing children cases studied, the child will be killed in the first 3 hours. In about 89% of the time, the child will be dead in the first 24 hours. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) states that the first 24 hours are crucial in finding children. Many of the children who are abducted are girls around the age of 11. 

Abductors usually know the child they are taking, most likely a member of the family, a family friend, or a minor acquaintance. Many of them also have been arrested for crimes prior to the abduction of a child, mostly crimes committed against children. The main goal of child abduction is ultimately, sexual assault. In the United States alone, about 460,000 children are reported missing. This number is most likely not very close to the real number, considering the mass number of homeless and undocumented children living in the US. But because of the AMBER Alert, 602 abducted children have been successfully recovered and brought home safely.

As unfortunate as it is, crimes like this cannot be stopped, but we are trying to prevent them. The AMBER Alert was a revolutionary idea for the progress of stopping kidnappings amongst children. It was a tragedy what happened to little Amber Hagerman, but at least her legacy lives on in the hopes of stopping events that happened to her from happening to other children. The first few steps were made in stopping child abductions with the creation of the AMBER Alert. Time will only tell when the next steps will be made. Hopefully, they’re made without another tragedy being the catalyst for it.  

In memory of Amber Hagerman and other children lost.

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