Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason for the Office of Justice Programs and National AMBER Alert Coordinator.
Twenty years ago this week, a nine-year-old Texas girl named Amber Hagerman was out riding her bike when she was snatched away by a stranger in a pick-up truck, raped, and brutally murdered. It was not the first time a child had been abducted and killed, but the appalling nature of the crime – which remains unsolved – and the public reaction to it ignited a local crusade that became a nationwide movement. The outcry in the wake of Amber’s death soon resolved into an alert system that has since saved hundreds of children’s lives.
AMBER Alert began as, and remains at its core, a partnership between law enforcement officials and broadcasters to notify the public when a child is abducted and in danger. An acronym as well as an eponym, AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. Its earliest manifestation relied solely on radio announcements to distribute alerts, but the system – in use today in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and areas to the north and south of our nation’s borders – now delivers messages through Department of Transportation signs, cell phone notifications, digital billboards, text alerts, and web and social media posts.
Thanks to its ever-expanding distribution network, AMBER Alert has become a critical public safety tool and a vital resource for protecting America’s young people. Almost 800 children have been rescued and returned to safety as a result of these emergency notices. The vast majority were victims of familial abductions, such as the one-year-old girl from Montgomery County, Maryland who in September was taken by her mentally ill father and later recovered. Others were abducted by strangers, including two Indianapolis siblings who were kidnapped by several suspects during a home invasion early this year and found after a multi-agency task force was mobilized.
AMBER Alert works in great part because law enforcement, broadcasters, transportation agencies, media, and other AMBER distribution partners are swift to react when they receive reports of a child in danger. It also functions so well thanks to the vigilance of citizens who heed the warnings and notify authorities as soon as they have information that might lead to a recovery. Any harm that comes to a child is likely to occur in the first few hours after an abduction, so a fast response – from both public safety officials and the public at large – is imperative. I strongly encourage you to sign up to receive AMBER Alerts directly and join millions of people across the country who are helping to rescue children in danger. There is no better way to honor the memory of Amber Hagerman and to celebrate the many young lives that have been saved from harm.