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Amber Hagerman and The Origins Of "Amber Alerts"

The Texas tragedy that inspired an early warning system.

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Nearly everyone has received an “Amber Alert” on their phone at least once in their lifetime. But where did they get their name, and how do they work? When an alert comes through, it abruptly overshadows what you were doing with your phone at that exact moment. An alarm goes off, the phone vibrates intensely, and a triangle with an exclamation mark appears next to a warning. It immediately warns an individual that a child has gone missing alongside details surrounding their disappearance. 

When Amber Alerts flash across phone and television screens, they normally include the child’s name, age, and height, as well as a description of the clothes they were wearing, how their hair was styled, and where they were last seen. Occasionally, it will be accompanied by a license plate number and a vehicle’s make and model. 

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Amber Alerts inform citizens that there is a child missing and a perpetrator at large. The individual who has taken the child may be a family member, a stranger, a human trafficker, or someone even more nefarious than that. They could be anyone, and their reasoning behind taking a child can range greatly. With the rise of human trafficking, there has been more cause for concern than ever when an Amber Alert is issued. It may be a difficult discussion to have, but the harsh reality is that not everyone is out to protect children at all costs. As history has shown with serial killers and child murderers, there will always be evil characters that wish to do harm to the world’s most innocent and unsuspecting citizens. Amber Alerts seek to stop a perpetrator before they have the opportunity to do irreversible harm to them physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

There's a certain set of criteria that must be met before an Amber Alert is issued to citizens in the immediate area. The child must be confirmed missing by law enforcement, at risk of injury or death, and under 17 years of age.  

Related: 9 Real-Life Kidnapping Stories That Still Haunt Us

While citizens are one of the first groups to be notified of an Amber Alert, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is perhaps one of the most important organizations to receive notice. They input it into their National Crime Information Center, and if there's any possibility that the child may be taken across any borders, such as in the case of human trafficking, every border patrol agency is notified as well.

While it seems as though they’ve been around for a while, there was one case in particular that prompted the creation of Amber Alerts, the abduction of Amber Hagerman. 

Related: The Girls in the Boxes

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  • A portion of the Amber Hagerman Memorial in Arlington, Texas.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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On January 13th, 1996, Amber Hagerman was riding her bike in an Arlington, Texas grocery store parking lot with her younger brother, Ricky. After awhile, Ricky decided that he was tired, and wanted to go home, but Amber stayed behind to ride her bike alone. Later that day, when Ricky returned to the parking lot to look for his sister, he found only her blue bicycle. The police were alerted, and in their early searches for Amber, a neighbor stepped forward to say that he'd seen a suspicious blue pickup truck in the area, right around the time Amber was thought to have been kidnapped. 

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Approximately five days after her disappearance, her body was discovered by a dog walker out on their route at about midnight. Having apparently died as a result of her throat being slit, she was found floating in a creek only a few miles from where she had been abducted. Amber's autopsy revealed that she'd been kept alive two days, and had been beaten and sexually abused. After she went missing, and even after her body was found, calls continued to come in that reported leads in hopes of solving the case. However, Amber and her family have never received the justice they deserve.

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  • An example of an Amber Alert.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The state of Texas mourned her loss and in the same year Amber went missing, the Dallas Fort-Worth Broadcaster’s established the first alert system that warned the public when a child went missing. “AMBER," an acronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, was created in hopes of stopping another child like Amber from meeting the same gruesome fate. Since then, it has spread nationwide and become an integral element of finding missing children. 

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While Amber Hagerman and her family have yet to receive the justice they so rightfully deserve, the hunt for Amber's killer is not over. Just as advancements in technology have assisted in cracking even the most unsolvable cases—such as that of the Golden State Killer—there is still hope that there will be justice for Amber Hagerman. If you or anyone you know may have insight into who the perpetrator may be, please report any and all information to the Arlington Police Department at their phone number (817) 274-4444.