ARLINGTON, Texas — "To Amber's killer, I'm asking you today, please turn yourself in. Give Amber justice. Amber needs justice deeply."
Donna Williams' tearful plea is no less heart-wrenching than it was 25 years ago today. Her daughter, Amber Hagerman, was just 9 years old when she was kidnapped from an Arlington parking lot. Her body was found four days later, less than four miles from where she went missing.
Her killer remains unknown. Her case remains unsolved.
Williams and the Arlington Police Department held a press conference Wednesday in the parking lot on the anniversary of Hagerman's abduction to plead for answers in the case.
Authorities said Hagerman was riding her pink bike in the parking lot of an abandoned Winn-Dixie grocery store around 3:15 p.m. with her brother on January 13, 1996. Her brother, who was 5 years old at the time, left to go back to their grandparents' house just around the block.
A witness, later identified as Jimmie Kevil, said a man driving a black pickup pulled up to the parking lot, grabbed Hagerman, and drove away.
Wednesday, Arlington Police released an updated description of the suspect and the truck. They said the kidnapper was a white or Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s (in 1996), under six feet tall and with a medium build. He had brown or black hair. The truck the man was driving was solid black, no chrome, either 1980s or 1990s full size, fleetside pickup with a single cab, a short wheelbase and in good condition. The truck did not have a sliding window and the rear window was clear.
According to Kevil, Hagerman screamed and kicked, trying to get away from the man, but couldn't get free. Police later collected Hagerman's bike from the parking lot.
"She loved school. She loved riding her bicycle," Williams said. "I miss her every day and she was just so full of life."
Sgt. Ben Lopez was a rookie patrol officer on that day in 1996 when he responded to the call for help when Hagerman was taken. He said even after 25 years, the case is with him. "This case is so personal to me because I've been involved in some aspect since the day Amber was abducted," he said at Wednesday's press conference.
A man walking his dog found Hagerman's body in a culvert four days later behind an apartment complex about four miles from the abandoned grocery store. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, investigators believed Hagerman was kept alive at least for two days, so people may have seen something.
Lopez said within the first year of the case, investigators combed through more than 5,500 leads. As of today, more than 7,000 leads have been investigated, but no clear answers have been found. "I would love to be able to give Donna Williams, Amber's mother, and the rest of the family the answer to the question, 'who did this to Amber?"
Hagerman's case would inspire an Arlington woman, Diane Simone, to reach out to the media, asking why there wasn't some sort of an alert for abducted children. She said there are alerts for severe weather so there should be something to help in emergencies like this. Simone's questions led to what we now know today as AMBER Alerts. AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.
Hagerman's legacy has since led to the recovery of 1,029 abducted children across the country. "She didn't die in vain," Williams said of her daughter. "She's still helping take care of our children and I'm proud of everything she'd done for our children here."
As for finding Hagerman's killer, Arlington police are hoping today's technology can help crack the case. They believe they have DNA of the killer and have submitted it, hoping a more complete profile can be built from it over the next few weeks. However, police believe there are people out there that know something. They are asking people to come forward and bring closure to Hagerman's family.
Authorities release new pictures of Amber Hagerman's unsolved case
Oak Farms Dairy is offering $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Hagerman's case, and the Arlington Police Department has set up a dedicated tipline at 817-575-8823.
KAGS sister station, WFAA in Dallas featured Donna Williams and her family in a documentary called "After Amber." We included a link to that documentary below: