Agencies across the nation observed National AMBER Alert Awareness Day Monday, Jan. 13. The date marked 18 years since 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas.
AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. Citizens in north Texas helped develop the program after Hagerman's body was found in 1996 just four miles from her home. People contacted Dallas area radio stations and urged them to broadcast future child abduction information repeatedly, similar to how the Emergency Alert System works for severe weather bulletins.
The Texas AMBER Alert Program was established by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, according to a news release by the Texas Department of Public Safety. From 2002 to the end of 2013, DPS said 124 children in the state alone has been safely recovered due to activations of the Texas AMBER Alert.
"When a child's been abducted it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack," Robert Hoever from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "The more eyes and ears you have out there searching for that child the smaller that haystack becomes and the better our chances of finding that child."
Hoever believes National AMBER Alert Awareness Day is not only important for educating the public about what it means and its history, but also to thank the public for their help in recovering missing children.
According to the AMBER Alert website, 679 children have been successfully recovered since the program began in October 1996. The program sends alerts out via television, radio, phone, e-mail and even electronic highway signs.
El Paso Police Detective Mike Baranyay said the department has only seen two AMBER Alerts locally, one in 2003 and one in 2005. In both instances the children were found safe.
In order for an AMBER Alert to be issued by a requesting law enforcement agency, the following criteria must be met:
-The child must be 17 years of age or younger
-The child must be in immediate danger of sexual assault, death or serious bodily injury
-Through preliminary investigation the child must have been verified as being abducted
-There must be sufficient information available to disseminate to the public to help locate the child, a suspect or the vehicle used in the abduction.
Baranyay said alerting the police is the first and most important step immediately when you realize a child is missing.