Amber Rene Hagerman was nine years old when she was murdered. Her body was found dead in a creek in Arlington, Texas, more than two decades ago, and the person responsible for her death has yet to be brought to justice.
On the afternoon of Jan. 13, 1996, Amber and her 5-year-old brother, Ricky, left their grandparents’ house and rode their bicycles to the parking lot of an abandoned Winn-Dixie store on East Abram Street.
It was a popular area where most children in the neighborhood congregated.
Amber, a third-grade student at Berry Elementary School, and her brother rode their bikes around the loading dock and on the bike ramp.
But it wasn’t long before Ricky decided to head back to their grandparents’ house, about two blocks away.
Amber stayed behind and continued riding her bicycle, according to the Dallas Morning News.
A resident in the area working in his backyard told Arlington police that he saw Amber “riding [her bicycle] up and down.” Then, a black pickup truck pulled into the Winn-Dixie parking lot.
An unidentified male subject exited the vehicle, and he then grabbed Amber off her bicycle and forced her into the car through the driver’s door as she purportedly kicked and screamed.
The man sped off through the parking lot, then began traveling westbound on Abram Street. That was the last time anyone saw the brown-haired, blue-eyed Girl Scout alive.
When Donna Williams found out her daughter had been kidnapped, she contacted the Arlington Police Department and reported her missing, and the news of her abduction quickly spread throughout the community.
Family members, friends, neighbors, and more than 50 police officers and federal agents searched tirelessly for Amber.
They also passed out fliers, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Four days later, Amber was found dead, four miles from where she was last seen.
It was approaching midnight on Jan. 17, 1996, when a man walking his dog near the Forest Hill Apartments in North Arlington discovered the body of a young female floating face-down in a small creek.
The witness wasted no time in alerting the police.
When officers arrived on the scene, they noticed the victim was naked and had one sock on her right foot.
The body was later identified as Amber after “matching a thumbprint from a school safety card—a far cry from the child ID apps now offered on today’s smartphones,” Yahoo News reported.
Amber’s body was transported to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office in Fort Worth, Texas, for an autopsy, which showed she had been kept alive for at least two days after she was kidnapped.
During that time, the pathologist concluded that she had been beaten and repeatedly sexually assaulted before the perpetrator slit her throat and discarded her remains.
The cuts on her neck are what ultimately led to Amber’s death.
It is unknown where the suspect initially placed her body, as investigators believe Amber was swept into the creek, located behind the Forest Hill Apartments, during the powerful rainstorm, which caused the creek to rise rapidly.
Maintenance workers at the apartment complex told law enforcement officers that they did not see a body or anything peculiar before the storm commenced.
Detectives and police officers with the Arlington Police Department have worked diligently to find Amber’s killer.
They have followed up on more than 8,000 leads, but they were unable to find evidence, such as DNA or a murder weapon, linking a suspect to the slaying.
Arlington police Det. Ben Lopez said, “We still get three or four leads a month on it and we’re up to about 6,800 leads now since the case began. Anytime we get a lead we still investigate it to see where it goes.”
“Certainly, over the years, there have been some leads we got excited about and then over time, we eliminated them and we became disappointed.”
However, family members remain hopeful that they will one day find out who killed Amber, and that person will be brought to justice, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In a news conference that was held at the Arlington police station in 2016, Amber’s mom questioned her daughter’s killer.
“Why did you take my little girl?” Williams said. “Why did you touch where you are not supposed to? Why did you terrify her? Why did you take her clothing from her?”
One week after Amber was found dead, thousands of mourners congregated at the First United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas, where a six-hour wake was held in her honor.
During the wake, she was eulogized as the “child of the nation,” according to The Spokesman-Review.
Rev. Ann Stevens, who is an associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church, said: “Amber is survived by a nation stunned and saddened and enraged that once again such unspeakable and fiendish evil has stricken one of our children.”
“Fellow students at an elementary school who are now bewildered and frightened by what they see and hear. She is survived by a neighborhood thrust into a time of wondering and searching and crying.”
Amber was laid to rest in a blue casket at the Moore Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Tarrant County, Texas, joining 30 other children in the cemetery.
Her grave is located in the Babyland area which overlooks a small body of water. The words “now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep” are inscribed on her headstone.
After Amber was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered, new child protection laws were passed to ensure the safety of children.
In Oct. 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act, which, according to the Texas State Historical Associate, “expanded federal court jurisdiction over repeat child sex offenders and mandated life in prison for those convicted of a second sexual offense against a child.”
Later that month, twenty-five Dallas–Fort Worth-area radio stations contrived the Amber Plan, which was a system used to alert the community if a child was abducted.
That plan was intermittent when President George W. Bush signed the PROTECT Act and established the AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert System in April 2003.
The U.S. Department of Justice reported that “the Amber Alert System is being used in all 50 states and 30 other countries. Since September 2019, more than 900 children have been successfully recovered through the AMBER Alert system.”
Although the Amber Alert doesn’t bring Amber back, authorities said there is a sense of peace knowing her case has helped an innumerable amount of children across the globe.
Anyone with information regarding the unsolved murder of Amber Rene Hagerman is encouraged to contact Arlington police at (817) 459-5373. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Tarrant County Crime Stoppers at (817) 469-TIPS.
A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.