Source: The Portal to Texas History
Nothing startles you out of a deep sleep quite like receiving an Amber Alert on your phone. The alerts can be frightening and disruptive, but they have saved hundreds of lives.
The sad reality of the world we live in is that the best and biggest societal changes are often the result of a tragedy. Leaders and lawmakers may have the foresight to recognize that certain systems need to be improved, but it takes a calamity before someone takes action.
Americans are occasionally disturbed by Amber Alerts on their phones because of the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman. The little girl did not die in vain, but it?s a shame that it took such a heartwrenching loss to enact such important changes to the way law enforcement and the public responds to the snatching of innocents.
Gone in Minutes
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
It was January 13, 1996, in Arlington, Texas. In other places of the country, youngsters were bundled up playing in the snow, but a Texas winter is typically a warm winter. 
That day, Amber Hagerman, 9, and her brother, Ricky, 5, along with their mother, Donna Hagerman, were in town visiting their grandparents, Jimmy and Glenda Whitson.
Ricky and Amber Hagerman ? Source: The Dallas Morning News
Amber and Ricky asked if they could ride their bikes, and their grandparents gave them permission without so much as a second thought. They could go, but they weren?t to travel more than a block away. But as children often do, the siblings defied their grandparents and rode to an abandoned Winn-Dixie grocery store. It was further than they were allowed to go, but not by much; it was just two blocks from their grandparents? home. It was in a safe residential area.
The abandoned grocery store was a popular site for local kids because the entrance to the loading dock doubled as a decent bike ramp. Amber and Ricky played for a bit, but Ricky grew nervous about defying his grandparents? rule, so he told his sister he was going to head home. Amber opted to stay and ride her bike around the parking lot a bit longer.
A makeshift memorial at the site where Amber Hagerman was abducted ? Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram
When Ricky got home, his mother and grandparents asked him where Amber was. When he told them, they sent him to go get her.
She wasn?t there.
Ricky?s little feet pedaled as hard and as fast as they could back to his grandparents? house. Something was wrong, that he knew. But he was too young to understand the seriousness of the situation, or why his family flew into a panic when he got back to his grandparents? house.
When Ricky told them his sister wasn?t where he left her, Jimmy immediately hopped into his car and sped to the abandoned grocery store. He was startled and confused to find a police officer already on the scene. His heart sank. That couldn?t be a good sign.
The police explained that they?d received a call from an old man named Jim Kevil who informed them that he was in his backyard when he witnessed a young man forcing Amber into a black truck. The mystery man then drove west of Arlington.
The retired machinist stated that Amber screamed once and kicked and screamed as the man shoved her into the truck. He described the suspect as white, possibly Hispanic, anywhere from 25 to 40 years old, under 6 feet tall, and with a medium build. Kevil couldn?t be sure of the details. It all happened so fast. 
Kevil said: 
?I saw [Amber] riding up and down. She was by herself. I saw this black pickup. He pulled up, jumped out, and grabbed her. When she screamed, I figured the police ought to know about it, so I called them.?
The only sign of Amber was the little girl?s abandoned bicycle lying on the pavement of the store parking lot. It had taken a total of eight minutes for the little girl to be abducted after her brother first rode home.
Law enforcement and volunteers frantically searched for the Brownie Scout with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes, but to no avail.
Four days after Amber vanished, a man was walking his dog behind Forest Hills Apartments, a complex less than five miles from the abandoned Winn-Dixie, when he stumbled upon the body of a deceased child. 
It belonged to Amber Hagerman.
An autopsy showed the fourth-grader had likely been kept alive for two days. She had been repeatedly sexually assaulted, beaten, and had her throat slit. The freckled little girl was tossed into the creek like trash when the piece of human excrement who abducted her was finished with his sick game.
The Investigation Quickly Goes Cold
There is one theory and one theory alone in this case: That Amber Hagerman was abducted and killed by a stranger.
It?s actually less common than you might think. Between 2010 and January 2019, fewer than 350 people under the age of 21 were abducted by strangers.  That?s still a lot of abductions, but hundreds of thousands of kids go missing each year and in more than 95% of those cases, the missing child ran away.
The investigation into what happened to Amber Hagerman was stymied by a lack of suspects, but also by a lack of forensic evidence.  When the girl?s body was found, she was naked but for one lone sock, and the creek?s current had washed away any existing DNA evidence?or so everyone was told, at first.
Investigative sergeant Mike Simonds explained:
?There had been a very large storm and Amber was not only in water but in running water in a creek bed, so there had been a tremendous amount of water flow over her body, which obviously made it hard in terms of trace evidence.?
However, in 2011, The Dallas Morning News reported the following: 
?Arlington police detectives, as late as Wednesday, still would not disclose whether DNA evidence exist in the case, or any other type of evidence for that matter.?
If the police have any real evidence in the case, they?re being tight-lipped about it because there is so little to go on.
Her Death Was Not in Vain
What if the community of Arlington had known immediately about Amber Hagerman?s abduction? What if the description of the perpetrator, the truck, and the direction in which the perpetrator fled had been public knowledge as soon as it happened? Might Amber?s life have been saved? Or, bare minimum, would her killer have been apprehended?
On the day that Amber?s body was found, a massage therapist and mother from Dallas phoned a local radio station asking if local broadcasters could work with law enforcement to get the word out about child abductions as soon as they happen. 
Later that year, Dallas Fort-Worth broadcasters established a coordinated system with local law enforcement that allowed them to notify the public almost immediately when a child was kidnapped or in danger.
It was the birth of the AMBER Alert. It bears little Amber Hagerman?s name but is also an acronym that stands for America?s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.
In 2015, Facebook announced it was partnering with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to allow AMBER Alerts to appear on users? newsfeeds and notifications would be sent to those in surrounding areas.
As of February 2020, 985 children had been rescued specifically because of AMBER Alerts, and 66 children had been rescued because of Wireless Emergency Alerts. As of September 2019, 86 AMBER Plans existed throughout the United States. 
Detective Ben Lopez of the Arlington Texas Police Department said: 
?It doesn?t bring Amber back for Donna. But at least there is something she can look at and recognize that her daughter has at least helped so many other kids.?
- Penn State University
- Toronto Sun
- The True Crime Files
- CBS 21 DFW
- The Dallas Morning News
- NBC News
- U.S. Department of Justice