Detectives hope to generate new leads in 20-year-old case that prompted Amber Alerts

Ricky Hagerman, Amber’s brother, and her mom, Donna Williams, wipe away tears as retired Sgt. Mark Simpson talks about the iabduction and slaying of the 9-year-old girl.
Ricky Hagerman, Amber’s brother, and her mom, Donna Williams, wipe away tears as retired Sgt. Mark Simpson talks about the iabduction and slaying of the 9-year-old girl. Star-Telegram

Amber Hagerman’s mother has questions for the man who took her 9-year-old daughter and slashed her throat 20 years ago.

“Why did you take my little girl? Why did you touch where you are not supposed to? Why did you terrify her? Why did you take her clothing from her?” Donna Williams asked Tuesday.

The Hagerman family and detectives gathered at the Arlington police station Tuesday morning to draw fresh attention to the case, hoping once again to get new leads. The abduction, which led to the worldwide Amber Alert Program, was one of the nation’s most shocking cold cases.

Amber’s brother, Ricky Hagerman, was 5 when she was taken. Now 25, he cried as he remembered the day his sister was abducted — 20 years ago Wednesday .

“She was like my second mom,” he said. “I just remember that she was gone.”

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A team of detectives and police officials vowed Tuesday to continue searching for the man who grabbed the girl off her bicycle.

“Someone knows something,” said retired police Sgt. Mark Simpson, who led the initial task force on the case. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this case will one day be solved.”

Anyone with information should contact Detective Ben Lopez, 817-459-5373 or Tarrant County Crime Stoppers at 817-669-8477.

Detectives have pored over more than 8,000 leads. But they found no forensic evidence to link any suspects to the slaying.

“We’ve had no credible confessions in the case,” said Detective Ben Lopez, who is now the lead investigator.

Hagerman and Williams said the years since Amber was killed have been tough.

“Every day, she’s on my mind,” Hagerman said.

Amber’s abduction

Amber was taken as she rode her bicycle in a grocery store parking lot near East Abram Street and Browning Drive on Jan. 13, 1996.

A man working in his back yard called police after hearing the third-grader’s screams and seeing a man driving a dark-color pickup take the girl from her bike, then drive away with her.

A man walking his dog found Amber’s body four days later in north Arlington, on the bank of a creek east of Texas 360 and north of Green Oaks Boulevard Northeast.

Her throat had been slashed. She wore only a sock on her right foot.

Within days, almost 50 detectives were on the case and a task force was formed. But in 18 months, the number of investigators dwindled as leads started drying up. At one point, there was a $75,000 reward.

“As her mother, I’m not going to give up,” Williams said Tuesday. “I still have hope that he will be caught one day.”

Lopez estimated that the department still receives two to three tips a month.

“If we get a new lead now, we will check to see if that lead has already been covered,” Lopez said. “If it hasn’t, we will investigate it.”

Amber Alert Awareness Day

A year after her death, the Dallas-Fort Worth Association of Radio Managers teamed with area law enforcement agencies to implement the Amber Plan, an early warning broadcast system that notifies the public when a child is abducted.

The Amber Alert Program is used nationwide and in other countries including Canada, England, France, Greece and Portugal. Facebook users can also sign up to receive Amber Alerts issued in their state or region.

Wednesday is National Amber Alert Awarness Day.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which manages the Amber Alert Program in Texas, reported that 143 children were safely found during 141 DPS activations of the program from 2002 to 2015.

Simpson noted that training on how to investigate child abductions was limited in 1996.

“No question that this case has helped improve that throughout the country,” Simpson said.

Williams said the Amber Alert program has helped her get through these years.

“Amber would be very proud of the program,” Williams said. “But I also want people to remember that Amber sacrificed her life for it, and I don’t want anyone to forget her.”

Domingo Ramirez Jr.: 817-390-7763, @mingoramirezjr

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