The collective hearts of all Australian parents skipped a beat last week when an Amber Alert was issued for a 12-year-old boy, who was abducted as he walked home from school on the Gold Coast.
Prayers were answered when he was returned safely 24 hours later, and Queensland Police confirmed that a member of the public had played a crucial role in responding to the Alert, which had identified (via CCTV footage) the vehicle involved.
It’s evident that Amber Alerts are serious, and vitally important. But what’s less known is how and why they started.
The case of Amber Hagerman inspired the creation of the alert system.
The story begins on January 13, 1994, when nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was riding her bike in a vacant supermarket parking lot, was abducted.
Detective Ben Lopez of the Arlington Texas Police Department still remembers that day, as he was a patrol officer in the area at the time. Lopez was put on to a special task force to find Amber, with their only clue being a dark-coloured truck sighted at the scene.
“For those first few days, we spent all of our extra time looking,” Detective Lopez told Dateline NBC.
“It was like if you weren’t on another call, you were actively looking for her. We were looking everywhere in the city.”
The brazen kidnapping gripped the nation as Amber’s parents made desperate pleas for her safe return through the media. But tragically, on January 17, Amber’s naked body was found in a creek only kilometres from where was was taken. Her throat had been slit.
Families across the country mourned for the Hagerman family, including Diane Simone, a massage therapist and mother from Dallas. Diane called a local radio station, asking if local broadcasters could work with law enforcement to get information out immediately following a child abduction.
It was a revolutionary idea at the time, and one that would go on to be constructive in locating more than 800 missing American children almost immediately after their disappearance.
The term Amber Alert actually stands for AMBER: America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response, with the acronym intentionally honouring the little girl who inspired its creation.