Moms

From 2012: Another child safe thanks to her idea for Amber Alerts

Massage therapist Diana R. Simone in her Fort Worth office in 2002, when she was unmasked as the anonymous radio listener who suggested Amber Alerts.
Massage therapist Diana R. Simone in her Fort Worth office in 2002, when she was unmasked as the anonymous radio listener who suggested Amber Alerts. Star-Telegram archives

Awakened as she dozed in front of the TV, a Hood County massage therapist reached for her buzzing phone.

“It’s awfully late,” Diana Simone thought.

But then she saw the words “Amber Alert.”

The search for Fort Worth fifth-grader Jessica Smith had reached the woman who first suggested a state and national child abduction alert.

She drowsily grabbed a pen and wrote down fugitive Kimberly Smith’s license number.

“I see they found the little girl,” Simone said Tuesday, with only a hint of pride.

“I always write [the license number] down.”

In 1996, Simone broke down crying in the middle of a massage when she heard that Arlington police had found the body of third-grader Amber Hagerman.

She told the Fort Worth minister on her massage table that there must be a way to alert cellphones for child abductions.

The late Rev. Tom Stoker, a minister and musician, lifted his head and asked, “Why not radio?”

Her two phone calls to KDMX/102.9 FM host Kim Ashley and follow-up letter suggesting an “Amber’s Plan” alert spurred local radio managers to action.

Simone never sought attention. We didn’t even know her name for years.

After Stoker found a copy of the letter, Simone and radio managers were among the Amber co-creators honored in a 2003 White House ceremony.

Now in her 60s, she has retold the story in motivational books but mostly lives quietly in Granbury.

“It’s mostly all a memory now,” she said.

“It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to children.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has counted 554 children rescued, some directly because a motorist knew about an alert.

Maybe that’s why fewer alerts involve strangers and more involve family members like Smith’s, leaving police unsure whether to call for a search.

Simone said she hopes police never hesitate.

“The first three hours of the search are the most critical,” she said.

“People I know say they’d rather risk a false alarm than a tragedy.”

She considers the success as proof one person can make a difference.

“You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be famous, and you don’t have to devote your life to a cause,” she said.

Just pick up the phone.

Diana Simone’s January 1996 letter to KDMX/102.9 FM

Dear Jennifer,

As we discussed on the telephone Friday, January 19, concerning the Amber Hagerman tragedy, it occurred to me that in the vast majority of abduction cases we hear about, children are being put into vehicles and transported from the point of abduction, point A, to somewhere, point B.

Considering the population density of the metroplex area, that seems virtually impossible to complete without being seen by someone. In Amber’s case, for example, I’m sure a number of people saw her in that black pickup truck but simply did not know what they were seeing.

To remedy this, I would like to suggest an emergency system be set up so that when a verified 911 call is placed, all the radio stations in the area would be notified immediately and they would interrupt programming to broadcast an emergency alert, giving whatever information and descriptions that are pertinent.

In this way, thousands of people would be alerted within minutes of an occurrence, greatly minimizing the chance of successful escape. Naturally, citizens would be advised not to interfere, but simply call in any sightings of the suspect vehicle or persons.

Also, a great number of my colleagues and clients feel that this type of a response system may act as a strong deterrent, since possible perpetrators would be aware that virtually everyone on the roads, etc., would be looking for them.

I want to thank you and Kim Ashley for your interest and support of this idea. I sincerely hope this plan or something similar [can] be enacted so children of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area may experience their childhood as a time of joy, rather than [as] one of fear of apprehension.

If you are able to gather support for this Emergency Broadcast Plan, my one request is that it be known as Amber’s Plan.

Sincerely,

Diana Simone

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.

  Comments