Grieving Town Mobilizes to Save Kidnapped Kids

    Police, Media and Citizens Unite to Nab Abductors

Nov. 27, 1999, ©1999 By Karen Ireland

ARLINGTON, Texas ( -- Though more than three years have gone by, the Dallas-Fort Worth community still grieves for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl slain after being snatched from a parking lot while riding her bike.

Despite an eyewitness account and a description of the truck used to spirit the girl away Jan. 13, 1996, authorities were unable to trace her kidnapper. Amber's nude body was found in a creek three days later.

"Our community has never recovered from her death," said Arlington police spokesman Dee Anderson.

Public gets information in minutes

But the sense of helplessness that followed her killing has lessened with the implementation of an innovative program that bears her name.

The Amber Plan, a cooperative effort between police departments and local radio and television stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, alerts the public whenever a child has been abducted.

When investigators have a case that meets the program's requirements, a fax detailing the suspected abduction is sent to two designated radio stations. Newsroom staff checks with police to verify the validity of the alert, then broadcast the information to other media outlets.

Participating radio and television stations -- about 35 in all B interrupt their programming to pass the information on to the public. The process takes about 10 minutes, according to WBAP radio assignment editor Freda Ross-Finlay.

At least 7 children recovered

Since its inception in July 1997, Anderson told, the Amber Plan -- also known as the Amber Alert -- has been activated 25 times, directly resulting in the recovery of an abducted child in at least seven cases.

In nearby Carrollton, police spokesman Jack Adams credits the Amber Plan with the safe recovery of an abducted 4-year-old and the arrest of her suspected kidnapper.

Daisy Romero was reported missing at 9 p.m. Aug. 1 after she followed a family friend out of her apartment and didn't come home.

"Initially, there was no concern of foul play," Adams said.

But detectives initiated an extensive search the next morning when the pair still hadn't returned.

Girl heard her name on radio

The alert was activated Aug. 2 at 8 p.m. Descriptions of Daisy, her suspected abductor and the vehicle they might be in were broadcast throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

A woman heard the alert while driving and stopped at a convenience store to call police when she recognized the vehicle, Adams said. A detective found the car in a parking lot near the county jail and apprehended Josefa Perdes minutes later. The missing girl was with her.

"Within an hour and 45 minutes, we had them both," Adams said. "The Amber Alert worked."

Perdes, 39, remains in jail on $2,500 bond, charged with kidnapping and unauthorized use of a vehicle.

Adams noted that Daisy told police she heard her name on the radio.

"We speculate that Perdes heard the alert and was in the area to either turn herself in or drop the girl off and escape," he said.

The Carrollton case is not unique for its success.

Success attributed to community

Police believe a tragedy was averted in March when the 9-year-old victim of an abduction was released by her kidnapper after the Amber Alert sounded. The child, who had been lured by a stranger offering to show her kittens, told police her attacker was listening to the radio when he abruptly pulled over and ordered her out of the truck he'd forced her into only hours before.

Anderson attributes the program's success to its simplicity and an overwhelming response from the public.

"It has become such a part of our culture," he said. "I can't go anywhere without people wanting to talk about it."

Nobody knows for sure who came up with the idea of the alert, but Anderson says it's generally credited to an unknown radio listener who called a station to suggest that community residents could help police locate suspects if they only knew what to look for. The Association of Radio Managers in Dallas-Fort Worth approached law enforcement with the idea, and the Amber Plan was launched about 18 months after Amber's death.

A chance to fight back

The chance to fight back is a big draw. Anderson gets daily calls from law enforcement agencies and citizens who want to set up similar programs in their communities. He and other members of the committee set up to oversee the plan are helping other cities through the process.

"The Amber Plan gives people a sense that there is something we can do," Anderson said.

Anyone who would like information about the Amber Plan is invited to call the Arlington Police Department at (817) 459-5600.

Karen Ireland is an staff writer

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