TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - What started with the abduction, sexual assault and murder of a Texas girl on Jan. 13, 1996, is now a nationally recognized call for help whenever an abducted child is in imminent danger.
AMBER alert began as a partnership between law enforcement officials and broadcasters to notify the public when a child is kidnapped, oftentimes by a family member.
Since its creation, nearly 800 children have been rescued and returned to safety as a result of the notifications.
AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.
But it is also named after Amber Hagerman, the 9-year-old who was riding her bike in Texas 20 years ago, when she was snatched up by a stranger in a pickup truck and taken away.
Local radio and TV stations covered the story at length as the police and FBI searched for Amber. Her body was found four days later and her kidnapping and murder remain unsolved to this day.
A concerned citizen contacted a Dallas-area radio station at the time suggesting that station repeat news bulletins about abducted children similar to severe weather warnings.
Industry leaders in Texas agreed that such a program would provide an important public service and potentially save children's lives, creating the first AMBER plan in July 1997.
Less than four years later, in January 2001, plans for an Arizona AMBER Alert system began.
In September 2002, Arizona Gov. Jane Hull formally announced the activation of a unique partnership between Arizona broadcasters, law enforcement, Arizona Department of Transportation and the Arizona Lottery.
Last week, an Arizona AMBER Alert was issued for three kids reportedly picked up by their parents in Yuma and taken away. Authorities said the parents ignored a court order to turn over their children to the Department of Child Services. The Alert was canceled after the children were found safely; however, their parents are still at large.
Today, the Arizona Broadcasters Association is just one of two state broadcasters' associations nationwide to have President and CEO as state AMBER Alert coordinator.
From its primitive radio-only beginning, AMBER Alerts are now distributed via commercial radio stations, Internet radio, satellite radio, television station and cable TV by the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio.
The alerts are also issued via email, electronic traffic-condition signs, commercial electronic billboards and through wireless device SMS text messages. AMBER Alert has also joined up with Google, Bing and Facebook.
The U.S. Department of Justice recommends the following criteria for issuing an AMBER Alert:
- There is reasonable belief by law enforcement an abduction has occurred
- The abducted is a child under 17 years old
- The law enforcement agency believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death
- There is enough descriptive information about the victim and abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child