Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Amber Hagerman

Amber Alert

After the murder, a Dallas man asked a common-sense question: When a child is abducted and each minute matters, why can't the police and the media get together to inform the public with the same urgency of, say, a weather warning about a tornado or a hurricane?

Radio and television executives in the Metroplex adopted the idea, and the Dallas Amber Plan was initiated in July 1997. Under the plan, police provide broadcasters with timely information about abductionsincluding photos and descriptionsso word can be spread immediately to the public.

Sixteen months later, the Amber Plan proved its worth.

Sandra Fallis, a babysitter with a drug problem, disappeared with an 8-week-old child. An alert went out, and Fallis was apprehended within 90 minutes when a driver who heard the alert spotted the woman's truck. The child was safely returned.

Houston set up its own Amber Plan in 2000, and two years later Texas instituted a statewide Amber Alert. That same year the U.S. Justice Department began coordinating the program for states and cities. Today, all 50 states and hundreds of cities have Amber Alert plans.

Amber Alert Stamp
Amber Alert Stamp

By the federal government's count, some 240 children have been recovered due at least in part to Amber Alerts.

Glenda Whitson says she is always stopped cold when she hears her granddaughter's first name on TV or radio.

"My heart drops down to my shoes," she says, "because I know just what those people (the parents) are going through."

She calls the Amber Alert system "the right legacy" for her granddaughter.

"It feels good when some child is brought home and our baby helped," says Mrs. Whitson. "You just look up to heaven and say, 'You did it again, baby'...Of course I know sometimes it doesn't turn out good, but the Amber Alert gives them something more to go on from the very start."

 

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