Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Amber Hagerman

"Bittersweet Thing"

Back in Texas, Glenda Whitson says she sides with those who see and hear too many Amber Alerts.

"I do think it's being overused," she said. "It was just supposed to be used for kids they knew were in danger, in cases where they knew there had been an abduction. Now they use it for runaways all the time, but there are thousands of runaways. You can't use an Amber Alert for a runaway."

Her opinion counts. Mrs. Whitson and her family have become seminal figures in national awareness about missing children.

Donna Norris
Donna Norris

Her daughter, Donna Norris, testified before Congress and stood near President Bush when he signed federal Amber Alert legislation into law.

President Bush signs the federal Amber legislation.
President Bush signs the federal Amber legislation.

"My little girl was abducted and butchered for this bill to even exist," Norris told reporters before the signing ceremony. "But it's saving children's lives. It's just a bittersweet thing."

That sadness is never far from the surface for the family.

Mrs. Whitson broke down during an interviewa recurring theme in her family's life, she said.

Her daughter, like everyone in the family, has what she called "sad days." Amber would have graduated high school this year.

"That was hard for her mother," Mrs. Whitson said. "Right about now Amber would be falling in love, maybe getting ready to get married, giving her mother grandchildren. Donna lost out on all of that."

Ricky Hagerman, now 16, is the focus of the family. He lives in Hurst, north of Arlington, where he plays high school football.

"He's a typical teenager," his grandmother said. "He wants a car, he wants a job so he can have some pocket money. But he's a good kid."

She said the family was opening gifts last Christmas when Ricky broke down.

"He still thinks about her all the time," Whitson said. "She was like his second mother. He says he misses her."

 "I Hope They're Safe'

Last year, Arlington officials planted a tree in memory of Amber Hagerman near the scene of her abduction.

Amber's Tree
Amber's Tree

Jimmie Whitson, her grandfather, helped build a sturdy wrought-iron fence around it, and the family decorates it with pink ribbons, Amber's favorite color.

The Whitsons pass the totem nearly every time they come or go from their home.

Glenda Whitson said she can't look at the tree without thinking of her granddaughter and that brief bicycle trip.

"All the kids still ride bikes around here," she said. "I suppose most of them don't even know what happened 10 years ago in this neighborhood. Maybe some of the parents don't either. Sometimes I see little-bitty young ones go by. I stop and say to myself, 'I hope they're safe.'"

Amber Hargerman montage
Amber Hargerman montage

 

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