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PostSubject: Amber Hagerman -Amber Alert   Amber Hagerman -Amber Alert Icon_minitimeFri Sep 18, 2009 5:59 am

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On January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, when a neighbor heard her scream. The neighbor saw a man pull Amber off her bike, throw her into the front seat of his pickup truck, and drive away at a high rate of speed. The neighbor called police and provided a description of the suspect and his vehicle. Arlington Police and the FBI interviewed other neighbors and searched for the suspect and vehicle. Local radio and television stations covered the story in their regular newscasts. Four days later Amber’s body was found in a drainage ditch four miles away. Her kidnapping and murder still remain unsolved.
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PostSubject: Re: Amber Hagerman -Amber Alert   Amber Hagerman -Amber Alert Icon_minitimeFri Sep 18, 2009 6:00 am

How AMBER Alert Works
by Kevin Bonsor

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A child being kidnapped is a parent's worst nightmare. However, it is a reality that thousands of parents must face each year. In the United States, nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year, or about 2,000 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Approximately one-third of the children reported missing have been kidnapped, and about one-fifth of those kidnapped children have been taken by nonfamily members.

­In response to this tragic problem, many states have established a missing-child response network, commonly called AMBER, which is used to notify the public when a child is abducted. AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) is a program that comprises law enforcement, radio and television media, and a network of electronic highway signs.

In this article, you will learn how this program was developed, how it is used in the recovery of missing children, and about the new legislation that is making AMBER a national program.

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Amber Hagerman

­ The AMBER Alert is a lasting tribute to a young girl from Arlington, Texas, who was kidnapped and later killed in 1996. Amber Hagerman, who was 9 years old at the time, was riding her bike when a neighbor heard a scream. The neighbor ran out and saw a man pull Amber off of her bike, throw her into the front seat of his truck and drive away.

Four days later, Amber's body was found in a drainage ditch 4 miles from her house. Her kidnapping and murder remain unsolved.

Amber's death provoked an outcry in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, which prompted the Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Radio Managers to implement a method of quickly alerting the public, media, and police when a child is kidnapped. That plan, which was the original AMBER Alert plan, called for alerts to be broadcast whenever a child was abducted. In July 1997, radio stations began broadcasting the alerts. Television stations began announcing the alerts in 1999.

The impetus behind AMBER and other plans like it is the need to rescue a child in the first few hours after abduction. Officials say that these are critical hours: Each hour that passes gives the abductor an opportunity to take the child farther from home, and gives the abductor more time to harm the child. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, 74 percent of children who are abducted and later found murdered were murdered in the first few hours after being taken.

There are more than 90 state and local plans, and each is slightly different, but here is how a typical plan works:

Law enforcement confirms that the abduction has actually taken place. AMBER Alerts are not issued for runaways.
Law enforcement determines that a missing person meets certain criteria, such as being under 18 years of age and facing harm. Criteria vary from plan to plan. Some plans only activate alerts for children 12 and younger.
Law enforcement collects information about the child, the abductor, and possibly the abductor's vehicle, from witnesses.
Law enforcement contacts the broadcast media, including television and radio stations.
Television and radio stations interrupt their programming to broadcast information about the abduction using the Emergency Alert System (EAS), formerly the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). Bulletins include the child's description and any pertinent information gathered from witnesses.
Law enforcement coordinates with Department of Transportation officials to display information on electronic highway signs to increase public awareness of the abduction.
If the plan works, the public phones in tips to law enforcement, and in a best-case scenario the information leads to the recovery of the child.

On April 30, 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law the PROTECT Act of 2003, which in effect creates a nationwide AMBER Alert system. PROTECT (Prosecuting Remedies and Tools Against the Exploitation of Children Today) also includes new legislation to thwart child pornography.

Amber Hagerman's mother was at the White House to witness the new law being signed by President Bush.

It is important to expand the Amber Alert systems so police and sheriffs' departments gain thousands or even millions of allies in the search for missing children," President Bush said moments before signing the new legislation. "Every person who would think of abducting a child can know that a wide net will be cast. They may be found by a police cruiser, or by the car right next to them on a highway. These criminals can know that any driver they pass could be the one that spots them and brings them to justice.
The law as it related to the AMBER Alert plan provided for the following:

An AMBER Alert coordinator at the U.S. Department of Justice . Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, currently holds this position.
A $30 million budget to expand, enhance, and link the local and state programs that currently exist. The funding also helped to create AMBER training programs for law enforcement and broadcasters, and help improve the EAS. As of September 2006, the Department of Justice has spent $12 million of these funds.

Success Stories

As AMBER Alert grows nationwide, it has had a huge impact on the recovery of abducted children. AMBER Alert systems are credited with saving 200 children as of September 2006.

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Sharon Timmons testifies in front of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee about how an AMBER Alert affected the safe return of her 10-year-old daughter, Nicole.

Here are a few recent success stories:

Deer River, MN (September 2006)
A 4-year-old boy was abducted by his mother's boyfriend, a registered sex offender. The boy is blind, wheelchair-bound, and has epilepsy and cerebral palsy. An AMBER alert was issued and information about the boyfriend's van was posted on highway signs. Within a day of the child's abduction, someone spotted the suspect's vehicle and called police. He was safely recovered and returned to his mother.

Memphis, TN (July 2006)
A 16-year-old girl was abducted by a man who beat her friend with a tire iron. An AMBER Alert was quickly issued, and a Georgia citizen who was aware of the Tennessee AMBER alert saw the suspect's vehicle and contacted police. The search shifted to Georgia and a Georgia AMBER alert was issued. The child was safely recovered and the suspect was apprehended.

Barron County, WI (June 2006)
A 16-month-old baby was abducted by his mother from his grandmother's home. His mother did not have custody of the child. She met up with his father, who was also non-custodial. The child's mother appeared to be high on drugs at the time of the abduction. The two abductors heard the AMBER alert and dropped the baby off at a friend's house. He was recovered safely.

Park Hills, MO (May 2006)
The father of a 4-year-old girl abducted her and her mother at knifepoint. Because he threatened to hurt them, authorities issued an AMBER alert. They received a tip that the father planned to take them out of state and AMBER alerts were activated in the nearby states of Illinois and Wisconsin. Someone recognized the vehicle from the AMBER Alert and notified authorities. The girl and her mother were safely recovered.

Ramapo, NY (April 2006)
A 13-year-old girl was abducted while walking home from school. A car stopped next to her and witnesses saw the car's passengers push the child into the truck of the car before speeding off. Authorities issued an AMBER alert, and a woman who saw it on TV noticed the car described in the alert was on her property. She called police, who arrived to find the child still locked in the trunk of the car. She was recovered safely.
The expansion of AMBER Alert to a nationwide system could mean that fewer parents will have to face the nightmare of child abduction.
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PostSubject: Re: Amber Hagerman -Amber Alert   Amber Hagerman -Amber Alert Icon_minitimeFri Sep 18, 2009 6:01 am

After 10 years, anguish over Amber's abduction still fresh
Arlington girl's family in pain, but her legacy carries on with alerts

ARLINGTON – There are two Amber Hagermans.

To strangers, she's a tragic figure whose namesake Amber Alert has helped locate more than 230 abducted children nationwide. To family, Amber forever remains a 9-year-old with a toothy smile and brown bangs – a little girl who never got to grow up.

A decade after her kidnapping and murder, Amber continues to influence both those who were closest to her and those who only know her name.

Amber's mother, Donna Norris, said the lead-up to today's 10th anniversary of the abduction feels no different from the others.

"It's all the same to me: one year, 10 years, 20 years," she said. "The pain is still there, and I miss her just as much."

But because of the outrage about Amber's death, which is still unsolved, much has changed in Arlington and the rest of the world.

The Amber Alert system created by local broadcasters and law enforcement has spread to other states and other countries.

When a child is abducted anywhere from Arlington to Toronto, an Amber Alert is issued on TV, radio and even via cellphone text message. A system with a different name modeled on the Amber Alert has been created in England.

Mrs. Norris will spend today in Washington, D.C., at a ceremony to unveil a postage stamp honoring the Amber Alert. But each time an alert brings a child home safely, Mrs. Norris said her happiness is still tempered with sorrow.

"It's bittersweet," she said, a smile filling her face. "A child is home with Mom and Dad, and yet, I wish it could have been my child."

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"Amber has always been a little mommy to small children, so this is just another way for her to help," said Donna Norris, Amber Hagerman's mother. "She's keeping them safe." Instead, Amber's family can only cling to nine years of memories that must last a lifetime.

Glenda Whitson said that even the littlest things remind her of her first-born grandchild.

Burger King, chocolate milk, "America the Beautiful" and Barbie dolls – each spark another slight but precious memory.

Amber ate at a nearby Burger King just before she was abducted. She prized her collection of more than two dozen dolls. She loved "America the Beautiful" for the line "amber waves of grain."

And even today, chocolate milk still makes Amber's grandmother cry. On a trip to the grocery store just before she disappeared, Amber brought her grandmother a quart of chocolate milk and looked longingly at her.

Mrs. Whitson said she told her granddaughter "no" and explained that she had the ingredients to fix chocolate milk at home.

"I wish I would have bought chocolate milk for that baby," said Mrs. Whitson, talking through the tears.

She never came home
Other memories are unwanted and linger just outside the Whitsons' front door.

On Jan. 13, 1996, Amber and her 5-year-old brother, Ricky, were riding their bicycles around the block near their grandparents' east central Arlington home. Mrs. Whitson said that her daughter and grandchildren stopped by every week, and about half the time, stayed the weekend.

After one spin around the block, Ricky returned alone. Mrs. Whitson said to her grandson: "You tell Sissy to get back home." When he returned, he explained that he couldn't find her. She had been riding on a ramp near a shuttered Winn-Dixie supermarket.

By the time Amber's family rushed to the scene, police officers had arrived. A witness told investigators he saw a man lift Amber off her bike, force her into his black pickup and speed away.

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Jimmie and Glenda Whitson, who broke down while discussing the 10th anniversary of the abduction and killing of granddaughter Amber Hagerman, cling to memories of her. "It was eight minutes from the time she left the house to when the 911 call was made," Mrs. Whitson said. "That's how fast it happened."

That began four days of dread and 10 years of sadness.

A city in mourning
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson, then the Arlington police spokesman, said the kidnapping devastated the city unlike any other case he's seen in 25 years.

At the time, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) had been working on a story about families struggling to get off welfare, and Amber and her mother were two of the subjects. The station provided the police with hours of video that was distributed to other television stations.

While Amber was missing, thousands of viewers watched footage of her blowing out birthday candles, playing with her brother and being tucked into bed.

"In those four days, she became a very real person," Sheriff Anderson said. "She wasn't just a photograph they were looking at. ... It was almost like she became Arlington's child."

Even Sheriff Anderson wasn't immune to that sense of loss. When Amber was missing, his 5-year-old daughter would climb into his lap and ask: "Did you find her?"

"No, not yet," he would answer.

Then she asked the question after Amber's body was found in a creek several miles away.

"I just lost it," Sheriff Anderson said.

The criminal investigation into Amber's death continued, but some police officials and broadcasters began talking about what could be done the next time. Through trial and error, they created the Amber Alert using the same system reserved for storm warnings.

"We have a lot of really smart law enforcement people who sat around and never contemplated that," Sheriff Anderson said. "We live with that frustration every day. If we'd have been smarter, if we'd have been faster, we might have had a different outcome."

In Arlington, police and other officials who made up the Amber task force once filled an entire command center dedicated to solving the girl's abduction and murder.

They chased more than 5,000 leads and spent more than $1 million looking for anything that would lead them to the person who committed what they considered a very personal crime.

Leads continue
Even though it's been 10 years, Amber's abduction and murder is not considered a cold case because viable leads still come in.

Arlington police Sgt. Mark Simpson, who led the task force, said the Dallas-Fort Worth community, and, eventually, the nation was outraged by the crime and wouldn't let it go.

"And they should be outraged, and they shouldn't let it go," he said. "Whoever did this is still out there somewhere."

Sgt. Simpson said he's proud that the national alert system has made people more aware of their children, but "it's a sad commentary that our kids can't play outside as freely."

He said he is frustrated to not have a conclusion to the case. But he said the 10th anniversary holds no more significance to him than any other.

"The only date I'll attach any significance to is the arrest date," he said.

Barbara Lindley, who was Amber's principal at Berry Elementary 10 years ago, said the case reinforced the danger that can await children. She said she makes sure that school staff is stationed at every side of the building when the children leave school each afternoon.

"It lets you know that in a blink of an eye, something can happen to a child," she said.

Mrs. Norris said she'll never experience those important moments she always expected to share with Amber. There will be no first love, high school graduation or wedding day.

Instead, Mrs. Norris said she'll have to simply observe Amber's job as a guardian angel, a role her daughter enjoyed when she played teacher to her little brother and mother to her dolls.

"Amber has always been a little mommy to small children, so this is just another way for her to help," Mrs. Norris said. "She's keeping them safe."

Staff writer Laurie Fox contributed to this report.

E-mail jmosier@dallasnews.com


Jan. 13, 1996: Nine-year-old Amber Hagerman is abducted while riding her bicycle in a grocery store parking lot near her grandparents' home in east central Arlington. A neighbor hears Amber scream and sees her being thrown by a man into the cab of a pickup. Her body is found four days later in a drainage ditch in North Arlington.

Jan. 22, 1996: The FBI's Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit comes to Arlington to help with the investigation.

Jan. 23, 1996: Amber's parents announce an effort to toughen laws for sex offenders, leading to the founding of the group People Against Sex Offenders.

March 15, 1996: Arlington police announce the formation of the Amber Hagerman Task Force as the FBI ends direct involvement with the investigation.

March 28, 1996: U.S. Rep. Martin Frost introduces the federal Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act, which increases the prison sentence of those who commit sex offenses against children and establishes the authority of local law enforcement to track sex offenders. Three months later, Amber's parents testify before Congress to back Mr. Frost's legislation.

October 1996: Area police and radio station executives unveil the Amber Plan, an emergency broadcast plan to alert the public of confirmed child abductions.

June 1997: The Amber Hagerman task force disbands.

November 1998: The first Amber Alert to lead to prosecution occurs in Arlington. Police issued an alert for 8-week-old Rae-Leigh Bradbury, who was kidnapped by her baby sitter, Sandra Joyce Fallis, who took the child with her to go to a crack house in Dallas. The child was returned safely after a driver spotted Ms. Fallis' truck about 90 minutes after the alert was issued.

May 1999: As more media outlets join the Amber Plan, complaints of overuse put the plan in trouble. After six alerts are issued in five weeks, program founders tighten the criteria on alerts, trying to eliminate alerts issued for custody disputes. They expand training for law enforcement and implement a review committee to evaluate all alerts and inform departments when questionable alerts were issued.

December 2000: Houston authorities announce a regional Amber Plan for 13 counties in southeast Texas.

Aug. 12, 2002: Gov. Rick Perry signs an executive order extending the Amber Alert statewide. Two days later, Abilene police issue the first alert after 1-month-old Nancy Crystal Chavez was kidnapped from her mother's minivan in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The first statewide Amber Alert led to the safe return of the girl and the arrest of former prison guard Paula Roach, 24.

October 2002: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft appoints the nation's first Amber Alert coordinator to assist the growing number of state and local Amber programs.

April 2003: President Bush signs a law giving states grant money to start alert programs and authorizing creation of voluntary guidelines on when Amber Alerts should be issued.

November 2003: Chuck Wood uses a stun gun on his estranged wife and takes his 7-month-old son. Grand Prairie police wait two days to issue an Amber Alert, and they issue the alert only after Mr. Wood said through an attorney that he would rather die than give up his son. Officials hesitate to issue the alert because it was believed Mr. Wood had taken the child as part of a custody dispute. Amber Alert criteria urge law enforcement officials to avoid using it every time an estranged parent takes a child from his or her spouse. Mr. Wood safely returned the baby six weeks later.

April 2004: The Justice Department issues "Guidance on Criteria for Issuing Amber Alerts." The guidelines say agencies should issue an alert only when a child has been abducted, is believed to be in danger and when there is enough information available to facilitate the public's help in locating a victim or suspect.

February 2005: Hawaii becomes the 50th state to implement an Amber Alert program.

January: Regina Schofield, the U.S. assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs who serves as the national Amber Alert coordinator, said she would continue to find ways to expand the Amber Alert effort, including working with the private sector to allow alerts to be transmitted to cellphones. Currently, if a cellphone is capable of receiving text messages, and a wireless carrier participates in the Wireless Amber Alerts Initiative, users can register to receive the alerts at www.wirelessamberalerts.org.


The U.S. Department of Justice will sponsor a special ceremony in Washington today to unveil a new postage stamp recognizing the Amber Alert. Officials also are encouraging every state today to sponsor activities related to missing and abducted children.

As part of the observance, state Amber Alert coordinators are working with schools across the country to kick off a missing children poster contest to raise students' awareness about keeping safe.

A toolkit containing materials to help communities participate in Amber Alert Awareness Day and is available at www.amberalert.gov.

Laurie Fox


The U.S. Justice Department recommended the following criteria for issuing an Amber Alert:

• Law enforcement has a reasonable belief that an abduction has occurred.

• The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

• Enough descriptive information exists about the victim and the abduction to assist in the recovery of the child.

• The child is 17 years old or younger.

• The child's name and other critical information have been entered into the National Crime Information Center system.
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