The girl who inspired the Amber Alert: Remembering Amber Hagerman, 26 years later

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ARLINGTON, Texas (NewsNation Now) — Twenty-six years ago, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman went to ride bikes with her brother Ricky in their hometown of Arlington, Texas and she never came back. While her case was never solved, the little girl’s legacy has been a long one — inspiring the Amber Alerts that have since helped more than 1,000 children return home. 

A single eyewitness to Amber’s abduction told police he saw a black truck approach her as she rode in the parking lot across from his house. 

“The suspect ran up behind her, grabbed her under her arms and lifted her off of her bicycle,” said Detective Grant Gildon who was assigned to her case. 

Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a creek bed a couple of miles from where she was taken and a medical examiner determined her cause of death to be cut wounds to the throat. While Amber’s case was never solved, detectives continue to hope for a tip that might lead to a break in the case. NewsNation’s Markie Martin learned that the single eyewitness in her abduction has died.

In the months following Amber’s 1996 murder, Dallas-area broadcasters worked with local police to establish the now widely known Amber Alert system. It took almost a decade to get every state to adopt the alert system that has helped 1,085 children be recovered nationwide. 

“It’s another legacy for my daughter, that she didn’t die in vain, that she is still taking care of our little children as she did when she was here,” said Amber’s mother, Donna Williams. “So, I’m very proud of my daughter for all she has done for our children here.”

One glaring issue at the center of the system is that each state sets its own criteria for activating an Amber Alert. Some states require proof of abduction while others don’t. The Department of Justice has also warned against the overuse of Amber Alerts, so as not to desensitize the people who are receiving them. 

“The Amber Alert is reserved for cases that meet a very strict set of criteria and so whatever criteria a state has, they have to follow that criteria while activating the system,” said public safety expert Janell Rasmussen in an interview with NewsNation Prime’s Marni Hughes. “However, most states do have a secondary system set up where they can send out information to the media in cases where a child is missing or an adult is in danger and we need to get that information out to the public.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which began tracking Amber Alerts in 2005, more than 3,000 alerts have been issued and almost 99% of cases have been solved. 

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