In 1996, nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas. Her body was found four days later in a storm drainage ditch. Her murder has never been solved.
In the years that followed, Amber's family and friends worked tirelessly, not only to try to find her murderer, but to help ensure that such a thing never happens again. That very year, the basic idea and structure for Amber Alerts was in place, but was being handled manually. In 1998, the first fully automated Alert Notiication System came online.
Since then, the Amber Alert system has expanded with every technological opportunity it can find. Amber alerts are distributed via smartphone apps, text messages, electronic traffic signs on highways, commercial and satellite radio stations, and even on electronic billboards of participating companies.
The term "Amber Alert" has been modified. While its roots will always be with Amber Hagerman, it is now said to stand for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response".
But does it work?
Some Amber Alerts are issued due to custodial issues. A non-custodial parent fails to bring a child back home when arranged. If the other criteria for an Amber Alert are present, police may issue the alert.
1. Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place.
2. The child must be at risk of serious injury or death.
3. There must be sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor's vehicle to issue an alert.
4. The child must be under 18 years of age.
In the case of a non-custodial parent issue, if that parent has a history of violence, is believed to be under the influence of drugs, or some other reason that is determined to put the child at risk, an Alert may be issued.
Other cases include children who were in carjacked vehicles, as well as outright abductions like Hagerman's.
The program is considered very effective. It has helped save the lives of 495 children nationwide. One of the goals of the program is not only to respond very quickly in the event of an abduction, but to discourage such crimes from ever occurring because the odds of getting away with it are getting slimmer as the avenues for Alerts become ubiquitous. If a child's description and other information are spread so quickly that they outrun the perpetrator, that narrow window to save a life becomes more effective.
Image via AmberAlert.Gov