Twenty-five years after the AMBER Alert program began, 1,029 children have been rescued thanks to the early alert system. Some of those children were saved from the fate of Amber Hagerman, the 9-year-old girl whose 1996 kidnapping and murder inspired the creation of the system.
Hagerman’s murderer is still at large, but the Arlington Police Department (Texas) announced last week, on the 25th anniversary of her kidnapping, that they intend to submit multiple pieces of evidence for testing in hopes that new technologies can produce a DNA profile.
“I conduct a yearly audit of all evidence to analyze what we have and how it can be used," said Detective Grant Gildon, who is the homicide detective currently assigned to the case. "On a yearly basis, I talk with all the major labs around the country to see if there are any new technologies or anything we could possibly be trying with the evidence we have. And that's what's led to some new developments where we can try some things this year."
There is very little physical evidence in Hagerman’s case, but DNA technology has made leaps and bounds since 1996. Genealogical testing, for example, can reveal a lot from a very small DNA sample. In the last few years, the technique has revolutionized the investigation of cold cases.
The Arlington Police Department (APD) did not reveal what evidence they plan to test, how they plan to test it or if they will do so with any third-party partners. They also did not reveal a timeline, although officials said the submission will take place “later this year.”
The crime, witness and ongoing tips
On the afternoon of Jan. 13, 1996, 9-year-old Hagerman rode her bike from her grandmother's home in East Arlington to the nearby parking lot of a vacant grocery store. As the sole eyewitness told investigators at the time, a man in a black pickup truck grabbed Hagerman from her bike and forced her into the vehicle as she kicked and screamed.
Officers and community members spent the next several days searching for her. Unfortunately, four days later, Hagerman’s body was found in a creek approximately four miles from the parking lot where she was abducted. With almost no physical evidence and just one eyewitness, the case went cold quickly.
But, during a news conference last week, Assistant Police Chief Kevin Kolbye said the department believes there is someone out there who knows something.
“Our hope is that someone in the community saw something,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t come forward 25 years ago out of fear, or not wanting to get involved. Whatever reason, we need folks to search their minds and bring forward anything that may be valuable to our investigation.”
Investigators have long believed there may have been other witnesses at a nearby laundry mat who have not come forward because they are undocumented immigrants. APD reiterated during the press conference that the department has no interest in immigration status or pursuing deportation for anyone that comes forward.
To date, the Arlington Police Department has received and investigated more than 7,000 tips related to Hagerman’s murder. Last week, the department launched a tip line specifically dedicated to the case at (817) 575-8832.
The suspect is described as a White or Hispanic male in his 20's or 30s (as of 1996), under 6' tall with a medium build and brown or black hair. The vehicle he used to abduct Hagerman is described as a black 1980's or 1990's full-size, fleet side pickup truck with a short wheel base, single cab, non-sliding clear rear window, no chrome, no striping and no visible damage.
While the search continues for the man who stole the life of her daughter, Donna Williams has helped ensure other parents do not have to endure such heartbreak.
"I'm very, very proud of the AMBER Alert system," said Williams. "It's saved children's lives. It's helped bring children back to mommy and daddy. It's another legacy for my daughter, that she did not die in vain. She is still taking care of our little children like she did when she was here."
Photo: Donna Williams, Amber Hagerman's mother, speaking at the press conference last week on the 25th anniversary of her daughter's kidnapping. Credit: APD