When 9-year-old Amber Hagerman disappeared on Jan. 13, 1996, Sgt. Ben Lopez quickly realized hers wasn’t an ordinary missing-child case.
That afternoon, he was a patrol officer driving around Arlington in search of the black pickup truck thought to be connected to her disappearance. He realized how serious the situation was when he noticed media vans parked nearby.
“I remember seeing that and immediately realising that this was a genuine stranger kidnapping,” Lopez said. “Of course, all of us were hoping to find her alive at that time.”
Arlington Police Sgt. Ben Lopez and Det. Grant Gildon are pictured at an Amber Hagerman memorial. Twenty-five years after her kidnapping, they remain hopeful that her case will be solved one day.
Amber Was Discovered
Amber was found dead in an Arlington creekbed a few days later. In the subsequent 25 years, no one has been caught for her kidnapping or murder. However, as the anniversary of her kidnapping draws near, detectives remain optimistic that the case will be solved.
For the first time, police declared they had DNA evidence that, one day, with modern technology and the resolution of other high-profile cold cases, might help in identifying her killer.
Lopez, who later worked for years as the lead detective on Amber’s case, or the other two detectives who oversaw the investigation have never forgotten the case.
In 2010 Detective retirement
Prior to his retirement in 2010, Detective Jim Ford served as the principal investigator. The case was then taken on by Lopez, a murder investigator. Detective Grant Gildon is now in charge of handling the case’s continuing stream of tips.
What happened to Amber led to modifications in how kidnappings of children are handled across the country. Her shocking kidnapping and murder drew national attention and prompted calls for quicker action when missing children are reported.
She inspired the creation of the Amber Alert, which bears her name. According to the Justice Department, 988 children nationwide have been located safe thanks to the Amber Alert system as of May 2020.
After 25 years
Arlington police have received about 7,000 tips in the wake of Amber’s kidnapping. The department occasionally receives information on cold cases, but Amber’s case is distinct, according to Lopez. More information than for any other cold case comes in, he claimed, about what might have happened to Amber.
“Whenever the anniversary date is mentioned or if a similar crime occurs elsewhere in the nation. Someone in the public will call us as a result of those kinds of things, he predicted.
What Makes a Cold Case Hard
While those leads are important, Gildon noted that the period after a murder makes cold cases challenging. It is impossible to recreate or reinvestigate many aspects of the investigation. Jimmie Kevil, the person who saw Amber being taken, has since passed away, according to Gildon. Ford and other officers who were aware of the situation have also done so.
The case’s facts are largely unchanged from those from 1996. With her brother, Amber was bicycling in the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store when a man in a pickup truck pulled her off the bike, loaded her into his truck, and took off. Amber reportedly cried and made an attempt to kick her kidnapper, according to Kevil, the only known observer. Four days later, her body was found.
A white or Hispanic man who would have been in his 20s or 30s at the time of the crime is described as the suspect by police. He stood at under six feet, was of average build, and had either black or brown hair.
According to police, the car he was operating was a full-size black fleetside single-cab pickup with a short wheelbase. At the time, it was in reasonable condition with no obvious damage, no chrome or striping, and a clear rear window.
25 years later, the explanation you have from the first day and some of the earliest details still hold true, according to Gildon.
Recent developments in other local cold cases include an arrest in September in the 1974 Fort Worth teen murder of Carla Walker. Gildon claimed that he keeps hope alive for Amber’s case and routinely researches advancements in technology that might aid in supplying her family with answers.
For instance, in the Walker case, police identified a potential relative of the teen’s killer using genealogical DNA testing and a scant amount of physical evidence. 2018 saw the capture of the Golden State Killer thanks to similar technology.
According to Gildon, the Arlington investigators have thought about using similar technology in Amber’s case.
He stated, “I believe a breakthrough may occur. Five or ten years ago, I would have never imagined that they could have done some of the things that they have done now. “Some of the aspects that we’ve noticed help solve cases in other parts of the country. So, I continue to be optimistic.
Due to the fact that only the murderer would be aware of the specifics of the physical evidence in Amber’s case, Arlington police declined to provide them. They do not want any phoney confessions.
Since Amber’s body was discovered after torrential rains that might have washed away evidence, it is unclear what would have been preserved from the original crime scene.
The only thing we can say at this point, according to Gildon, is that we have kept track of our evidence the entire time and that it is still possible to use it all. The Amber Alert’s legacy
When an alert about a missing child flashes on Lopez’s or Gildon’s phones, their thoughts immediately turn to Amber.
Gildon said: “Whenever I see it, I frequently consider how much I hope it was a service that had been available at the time of her kidnapping.
The kidnapping of Amber inspired the development of the Amber Alert, which eventually became a global child abduction alert system. The Texas Department of Public Safety reported that since the program’s implementation in 2002, 251 Amber Alerts have been activated, and 263 people have been safely located as a result. The department added that some of these alerts are for multiple missing children at once.
Regional Amber Alerts may be sent out by local authorities, but statewide alerts must be requested from the Department of Public Safety.
A statewide Amber Alert is only issued in cases of missing children that meet specific requirements, such as whether there is enough information to alert the public and the degree of risk the child might be in. Police may issue a missing child alert in other situations, but not via the same media outlets as an Amber Alert.
According to Lopez, it’s crucial for Arlington police to know that the alert Amber sparked has assisted in reuniting families. He is aware that Amber’s family will value this as well — “that at least she lives on through that,” Lopez said.
“Someone is out there.”
Amber’s mother Donna Williams and brother Ricky Hagerman, 30, remain in close contact with the police. Williams calls to make sure they are aware of any news regarding a similar case or a cold case that has been solved, according to the detectives.
She declined to give an interview for this story, stating that she would rather speak at a news conference with Arlington police on Wednesday to mark the 25th anniversary of Amber’s kidnapping.
She pleaded with the public and the media in a police department news release to focus on identifying and prosecuting Amber’s killer.
The Time Pass
Gildon and Lopez asserted that as time passes on, focus becomes increasingly important. For them, along with all the investigators who have been involved in Amber’s case. The solution might lie with fresh observers who haven’t emerged since the beginning of the investigation.
There are people close to the person who committed this crime who are aware of what happened. Whether they heard something, saw something, or have simply come to believe that they were a part of Amber’s murder over time,” Gildon said. Someone who is aware of what happened is out there.