Welcome to Tell-Tale Crimes. This column aims to provide a look at both local and national crimes and cases that are sometimes interesting, sometimes relevant, and sometimes both, from the perspective of a true crime enthusiast. Thank you for reading.
Trigger warning: this piece contains descriptions of rape, assault, child assault, and murder.
“I saw [Amber] riding up and down . . . She was by herself. I saw this black pickup. He pulled up and grabbed her. When she screamed, I figured the police ought to know about it, so I called them,” said Jim Kevil to dfw.cbslocal.com. Kevil, a 78-year-old retired machinist, was the last person to see 9-year-old Amber Hagerman alive before she was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas.
Amber and her 5-year-old brother Ricky had decided on that day, Jan. 13, 1996, they would bike to a local abandoned grocery store and play in the parking lot. They looped around the parking lot, breathing in the chilly winter air, until Ricky got tired and decided to head home. Amber stayed behind to ride around the parking lot some more. Minutes later, Amber was kidnapped. Kevil described her kidnapper as a white or hispanic male, 25 – 40 years old, under six feet tall, and of a medium build.
Police arrived soon after, and a search began for Amber Hagerman. Amber’s family, community, and local police officers looked all over the Arlington area, but the search would end up nowhere. Four days after Amber went missing, her body was found in a creek bed by a man out walking his dog. She was wearing only one sock, and her throat had been cut. During her autopsy, it was revealed that she had been kept alive for two days, beaten, and sexually assaulted. Police attempted to retrieve forensic evidence from her body and the crime scene; however, rain had increased the water flow in the creek and most evidence was destroyed.
Amber’s kidnapping and subsequent death rocked the nation. Diane Simone, a Fort Worth mother who had never met Amber, called into her local radio station to voice her thoughts. She questioned broadcasters about why they were able to send out severe weather warnings, but not alert the community when a child had gone missing. Perhaps if Amber’s community had known the description of the kidnapper or his vehicle earlier, the outcome of this case would have been different.
This questioning inspired broadcasters in the Fort Worth area, and they made a coordinated effort with authorities to create the AMBER Alert program, which then expanded to the entire nation. The AMBER Alert, though named after Amber Hagerman in honor of her and her unsolved murder, also stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. As of November 2017, the AMBER Alert has resulted in the successful recovery of 897 missing children, according to their website. The first child to be rescued as a result of an AMBER Alert was Rae Leigh Bradbury, who was abducted in 1998 at only 8-weeks-old by her babysitter. Bradbury recently graduated high school and is entering college.
Though the AMBER Alert program has saved hundreds of lives, it is a bittersweet outcome for Amber’s mother, Donna Williams. Amber’s case has remained unsolved; Williams has not received the justice that she deserves. About 8,000 leads have been investigated by almost 50 police officers and federal agents, but there have been no arrests made. “It’s been extremely frustrating for it to go on this long and not have it solved,” Detective Ben Lopez told reporters at a 2016 press conference.
“I didn’t quite understand what was going on,” Ricky Hagerman, now 25, told reporters. “We want closure and we want justice, so if you have any information, please come forward.”
We’ve all glanced down at our phones to see an AMBER Alert light up our screens. In fact, most of us probably weren’t alive during a time when the AMBER Alert didn’t exist. Though most of you probably didn’t know the history, next time you look at an AMBER Alert, remember Amber Hagerman, and remember her story.
If you have any information on the Amber Hagerman case, please call detective Ben Lopez at 817-459-5375 — if you prefer to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 817-469-TIPS.