ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – The death of 9-year-old Arlington girl Amber Hagerman remains one of the most notable unsolved murder cases in Texas. The child was kidnapped, assaulted and killed in Arlington. Wednesday marks 20 years since her disappearance, and police are pushing for new information on this milestone anniversary.
Hagerman and her 5-year-old brother were riding their bicycles to an abandoned Arlington grocery store. Jim Kevil witnessed the abduction. “I saw her riding up and down,” Kevil recalled. “I saw this black pickup. He pulled up, jumped out and grabbed her. When she screamed, I figured the police ought to know about it, so I called them.”
Four days later, a man walking his dog near the Forest Hill Apartments in Arlington, just a few miles from where the child was snatched, spotted a little girl’s body at the bottom of a creek bed. It was Hagerman.
Few people have forgotten this case, and her family hopes that nobody gives up on identifying her killer.
Hagerman’s mother held a special news conference on Tuesday morning, looking back at the two decades since her daughter’s disappearance. She was joined by the girl’s younger brother and detectives who had previously worked on the case, along with investigators assigned to the case now.
“I’m not going to give up,” said mother Donna Williams on Tuesday. “I still have hope that he will be caught one day.”
The Arlington Police Department has received around 8,000 leads since the case first began, but nothing has directed them to the child’s killer. There is no forensic evidence to identify the person who took Hagerman’s life. But detectives still believe that someone out there has knowledge that will help them bring closure to the Hagerman family.
“I think about her every day, every second,” said Williams. “I miss my little girl. It hurts.”
Anyone with information about the case is urged to contact Det. Ben Lopez at 817-459-5373. Oak Farms has offered a $10,000 reward for details that lead to the arrest and indictment of the suspect. Tipsters may also remain anonymous by contacting the Tarrant County Crime Stoppers at 817-469-TIPS. Click here to see a list of other Arlington cold cases.
“We treat every lead as if it is the one that will break this case,” said Lt. Mike Hollier with the Arlington Police Department. In fact, authorities said that renewed interest leading up to the 20th anniversary of the case has already produced new tips which are being pursued.
“Her killer is still out there, and Amber needs justice,” Williams said.
Police do have a few persons of interest in the Hagerman case — people with ties to the community or a past record of similar crimes — and continue to watch over those individuals.
“There’s no doubt in my mind at all that this case will be solved,” stated retired Sgt. Mark Simpson, the leader of the task force that was established to find Hagerman’s murderer. “What we’re looking for is just the right piece of information that can push us in the right direction.”
The Arlington Police Department on Tuesday also posted a video on YouTube that documents the case. Within just a day, that video had been viewed nearly 1,400 times.
Hagerman’s case led directly to a nationwide system that continues to save lives — the Amber Alert. It has changed how police and the media treat endangered child cases. The system better warns the public about missing children. Officials stated that it has saved more than 650 children across the country.
The case has also led to advancements in training for officers who work on child abduction cases. “Back in ’96, there was not a lot of training that had been done on working child abduction investigations. And, as a result of that, there was an initiative on a national level, to where investigators are much better trained now, or have the opportunity for training,” Simpson said.
“She sacrificed her life for the Amber Alert,” said Williams.
Shortly after the Tuesday news conference, Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed January 13 as Amber Alert Awareness Day across the State of Texas. “Please don’t forget Amber,” the girl’s mother said. “Always remember her.”
Authorities are taking advantage of Wednesday’s anniversary to share strategies for parents to use when it comes to protecting their kids. Police in Prosper have three tips for families.
First, create a family password with your children. If someone else needs to pick up your kids, teach the young ones to first ask for that password, and only go with people who know the secret word.
Second, parents should limit the information that is made public about their kids. That includes all stories and pictures posted onto social media accounts.
Third, create a safety profile that dispatchers can access when a child is missing. (That can be done here.) With this profile set, 911 dispatcher can immediately disperse the child’s photograph and information to first responders in the field.