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January 13, 2006

Friday the 13th Marks Amber Alert Anniversary

West Trenton, NJ - Tomorrow will be ten years since the abduction of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas. On January 13, 1996, Amber was abducted while riding her bicycle near her residence. A neighbor called the police and provided a description of the abductor and his vehicle. Police were unable to locate the suspect, and four days later, Amber's body was found in a drainage ditch four miles from her home. She had been sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. The case remains unsolved.

Outraged citizens contacted area radio stations and suggested that special alerts be broadcasted in the event of future incidents of this nature. In 1997, the Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Radio Managers teamed up with local law enforcement and developed a warning system in the event of a child abduction.

This innovative program has evolved into what is now known as the AMBER Alert Plan. The AMBER Alert Plan has expanded across the country and continues to shine as a cooperative effort between law enforcement and the broadcast media. Named in honor of Amber Hagerman, the AMBER acronym stands for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response." The activation of an AMBER Alert will result in the interruption of radio and television programming to broadcast descriptive information about the abduction. The information will be repeated at designated intervals as long as deemed appropriate.

In New Jersey, the Missing Persons Unit of the State Police acts as the gatekeeper for the program. All requests for AMBER Alert activations are directed to unit members who assess each case to ensure that the circumstances conform to the established protocols. If a decision is made to activate the plan, the Operational Dispatch Unit at State Police Headquarters in West Trenton will coordinate with New Jersey Network (NJN) to notify media outlets. Detectives and an analyst from the Missing Persons Unit will be deployed immediately to assist with all facets of the investigation.

Since its inception in 2002, the State Police has received 47 requests for AMBER Alert activations. This has resulted in 10 activations and a 100% recovery rate. In 2005, there were 17 requests for AMBER Alerts resulting in 1 activation. That occurred on April 11 when a 26-year-old East Orange man abducted his estranged girlfriend and their 4-month-old daughter in Irvington. The woman's father was shot by the suspect during the abduction. A sighting of the suspect's vehicle by a New Jersey Turnpike employee resulted in a cross-state pursuit by troopers culminating in a standoff in Lopatcong Township, Warren County. During subsequent negotiations with the suspect, the mother and child were released and the suspect ultimately surrendered.

Detective Sergeant First Class Jim Price of the Missing Persons Unit is the AMBER Alert coordinator for the State of New Jersey. Sergeant Price believes that strict adherence to the established protocols for the issuance of AMBER Alerts is essential for the integrity of the program. "Every activation request is evaluated thoroughly based on the circumstances," said Price. "We value the relationship with our media partners and believe that limited use of the plan lends to its credibility. The success rate reflects the effectiveness of the program."

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), based in Alexandria, Virginia, has been the driving force behind coordinating the AMBER program nationally. NCMEC is a private, nonprofit organization that works in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. NCMEC was established in 1984 to help find missing children and address the issue of child exploitation. It has provided valuable resources to law enforcement entities throughout the world which aid in the recovery of missing children.

Currently, there are 114 AMBER plans in effect throughout the nation. There are 50 statewide plans, 27 regional plans, and 37 local plans. These plans have resulted in the recovery of 241 abducted children. Criteria pertaining to the activation of AMBER Alerts vary somewhat from plan to plan. The lack of monitoring by an independent authority has resulted in the overuse of the plan in some venues which diminishes the effectiveness.

NCMEC has joined forces with the wireless telephone industry to institute a program that allows subscribers to receive text messages on their cellular phones in the event of an AMBER Alert. Consumers can sign up for the service, which is free of charge, at

In the event of an AMBER Alert, citizens are encouraged to monitor media outlets for updates as they maintain vigilance. They are requested to call 911 immediately in the event of a sighting of the described vehicle, suspect, or victim. Citizens are also reminded to refrain from intervening and putting themselves at risk.


  • The child must be under the age of 18
  • The child must be in danger of serious bodily harm or death
  • There must be enough descriptive information to believe an AMBER Alert will help locate the child
  • There must be a short enough time interval between the time the child was last seen and the time the child was reported missing to believe an AMBER Alert will help locate the child.

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