WHEN nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was snatched off her bike in broad daylight in 1996, a Texas mom was left so outraged she hatched plan that would later be credited with saving the lives of over 1,100 kids.

Diana Simone has just returned home from work on Jan. 13, 1996, as the news of little Amber’s disappearance was breaking on television.

Arlington Police Department

Amber Hagerman who was abducted and murdered in 1996[/caption]

Diana Simone

Diana Simone was so moved by the case she came up with an emergency alert system we now call the AMBER alert[/caption]

Earlier that afternoon, the young girl had left her grandmother’s home in Arlington, Texas, to go on a short bike ride with her five-year-old brother, Ricky.

Amber had just received a new pink bike for Christmas weeks earlier and was excited to show it off around the neighborhood.

Her grandmother warned the pair to “stay close” but within just eight minutes horror would strike streets away.

As Amber began peddling towards the parking lot of an abandoned Winn-Dixie grocery store, her younger brother decided to turn around and ride back to his grandma’s home, unwilling to stray any further.

Moments after turning his back, a man driving a black pick-up truck snatched Amber off her bicycle, forced her into the driver’s side door as she frantically kicked and screamed, and then sped away.

There was only one witness to the incident: an elderly man who had been tending to plants in his front yard.

He told police the truck had been parked out front a nearby laundromat prior to the abduction and described the assailant as a white or Hispanic male, in his 20s or 30s, under 6 ft. with dark hair.

Police had little other information to go on, and the suspect and his truck could not be found.

No other leads from the public would be forthcoming.

Four days later, a man walking his dog four miles away from where Amber was last seen found her body next to a creek. An autopsy determined her throat had been cut.

Twenty-seven years later, Amber’s killer has still not been found.

Diana, a massage therapist and mom who lived in the neighboring town of Fort Worth, said she was left overcome with feelings of grief, compassion, and outrage over the little girl’s death.

She had seen images on the news of Amber opening presents on Christmas Day, smiling as she ecstatically held a Barbie doll up to the camera.

Fueling her anger, she said, was that Amber had been abducted in a densely populated area, in the middle of the day, yet her abductor managed to vanish without a trace.

Surely there was something someone could do to avoid this happening again in future, she asked herself.

“To think that a nine-year-old could be snatched off her bicycle in broad daylight is horrifying. Simply horrifying. And it’s not acceptable,” Diana told The U.S. Sun.

“You just can’t let something like that happen […] and I don’t think I was alone in how deeply affected by it I was.

“People must’ve seen it happen,” she added, “they just didn’t know what they were seeing.”

“They had no way of knowing what they were seeing, so that very obviously became the biggest problem.

“And I felt compelled to find a solution.”

A EUREKA MOMENT

Initially, Diana brainstormed an idea of a voluntary cellphone system, where owners of cellphones could sign up to be alerted instantly to missing child cases.

However, she abandoned the early idea as cellphones were “only just becoming a thing” at the time and very few people had them.

She attempted to work shop ideas with other friends but said she was routinely met with resistance.

“Diana, you’ve got to let go of this,” she says would people would tell her over and over again. “There is nothing you can do about it.”

But let go of it, she would not.

“People must’ve seen it happen, they just didn’t know what they were seeing […] And I felt compelled to find a solution


Diana SimoneAMBER Alert founder

“I was dismayed […] but there was something in my heart and my mind that would just not let me let go,” she said.

“Call it God, call it whatever you want, but I could just not get it out of my head, and then my friend Reverend Tom Stoker found me in tears one day and said, ‘what’s wrong?’

“When I told him, he responded, ‘well, what about the radio?’ – and that suggestion just lit the whole thing up.”

Re-isnpired, Diana called a local radio station, KDMX, with her idea to implement an emergency system that would be set up so that when a 911 call was placed, radio stations would immediately interrupt programming to broadcast the alert.

“We have weather and civil defense alerts – why not alerts for critically missing children?” she told them.

‘SOMETHING TO BE IMITATED’

The idea had been born out of an incident she’d witnessed at a shopping mall while on vacation more than a decade earlier.

As Diana remembers it, a child had become seperated from her parents and the child’s mother was beside herself, screaming and crying in the middle of the shopping center.

Bystanders told the mom not to worry, to sit-down, have a coffee, and someone would soon bring the girl back to her.

“The mom said, ‘what are you talking about? Call the police, call the embassy – call everybody,’” Diana recounted.

“And while they were having this discussion, I watched in the crowd, how one person told the person next to them, who told the person next to them, who went into a store and told the shopkeeper what was going on.

“So, automatically, this wave of information began to flow through the entire community, and everbody knew what was happening in no time.

“The girl was quickly found, and I was so impressed by the sense of community they had.

“There were strangers going up to strangers saying to look out for a little girl in a bright pink shirt – it was amazing.

“And, for some reason, I knew I’d never forget that moment. I knew this was something to be admired, something to be respected – and something to be imitated.”

RESTORING THE FAITH

Within two weeks of Amber’s body being found, Diana wrote a follow-up letter to the station, asking that if her alert system was put into place, that it could be known as Amber’s Plan.

The plan, later renamed the AMBER Alert – or America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response Alert – was put into practice that same year.

The first two missing child cases it was used in garnered no leads and the alert was facing the prospect of being axed.

But in 1998, an eight-week-old Arlington infant, Rae-Leigh Bradbury, became the first child rescued as a result of an AMBER Alert.

Amber Hagerman is pictured on the pink bike she was riding when she was abducted
Arlington Police Department
Getty

A digital sign above a busy highway alerts drivers to an Amber Alert[/caption]

TEDxWilmingtonWomen

Diana Simone held a Ted Talk on the Amber Alert in 2017[/caption]

Bradbury, who had been kidnapped by her babysitter, was found 90 minutes after the alert was sent out.

Diana said she was over the moon to see the system finally working, and knowing that her idea helped to save the life of a chld.

Two-and-a-half decades on, the AMBER Alert is used in all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico and in 33 other countries across the world.

As of January 2, 2023, the AMBER Alert has been credited with saving the lives of 1,127 children in the U.S. alone.

When informed of the latest statistics, Diana was moved to tears.

She said: “Right now I have tears of gratitude […] I knew it could work, and even when I child is rescued today I still feel overwhelmed with gratitude to the people who helped find them – because it wasn’t me.

“Somebody was out there paying attention. Somebody who’s out there caring, you know, somebody that’s out there looking and those are the heroes of this story.

“It restores my faith in humanity,” Diana added.

“There is so much negative news out there, that when I hear that people are responding to this and caring about children, it reinforces to me that there is goodness in everyone, in people, and that there are more good people than bad people out there even though they’re not getting the press.”

AMBER’S CASE STILL UNSOLVED

Tragically, the case that started it all, the murder of Amber Hagerman, remains unsolved.

The only witness to her abduction has since died and more than 7,000 tips from the public have so far yielded no concrete leads.

But during a press conference in 2021 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Amber’s disappearance, police pledged to never let the case go cold.

“All this time, we’ve only had one witness,” Sgt. Ben Lopez, a member of the original task force, said.

“That’s why we’re pleading, if there’s anyone out there that has information — even if they think it’s just a small bit of information — [it] may be the lead we need to break this.”

“I would love to be able to give Donna, and Ricky, and the rest of the members of their family the answer to the question that they would like to know,” he added, voice cracking with emotion.

“Of course, that is who did this to Amber — and bring that person to justice.”

Authorities also revealed for the first time that they have DNA evidence in the case.

However, in a statement to The U.S. Sun, the Arlington Police Department said it has not yet sent any of the items to any labs for testing.

“As indicated in the news conference, we do not have much physical evidence in this case – and so we really have to be discerning when it comes to advancements in forensic technology given that the testing may use up all of the physical evidence we have,” said Media Officer Tim Ciesco.

“In other words, we may only get one shot at any kind of forensic testing – and so we have to make sure it will count.”

Anyone with information on the abduction and murder of Amber Hagerman is asked to call Arlington police detectives at 817-575-8823.

Getty

Donna Norris poses next to a photo of her daughter Amber Hagerman[/caption]

Arlington Police Department

Police are still actively investigating the disappearance and encourage the public to reach out with any information[/caption]

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