Ten Years After the Abduction and Murder of Amber Hagerman, the Polly Klaas® Foundation Reflects on the Track Record of California Amber Alerts

Statement by Glena Records, Director of Communications & Education, Polly Klaas® Foundation

"Today marks a solemn anniversary for the family of Amber Hagerman and her community of Arlington, Texas. Ten years ago, while riding her bicycle, the nine-year-old was abducted and brutally murdered. To honor Amber and prevent other children from such a tragic fate, Amber's family and law enforcement officials created a system of electronic alerts that warn the public and police when a child is kidnapped. 

"In 2002, Amber Alerts were saving lives in the 13 states that used them, but California was not one of them. The Polly Klaas Foundation worked with others to encourage Governor Gray Davis to implement a statewide system, which he did on July 31, 2002. The next day, California's first alerts were issued, saving two teenage girls in Lancaster County who were kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a convicted felon.

"We then took our Amber Alert campaign national and are gratified that all 50 states now have statewide systems—and that President Bush signed the National Amber Alert System into law on April 30, 2003. But what is the track record of the alerts today?"

  • Ten years later, Amber Alerts have helped law enforcement safely recover more than 241 children in the U.S., nearly half (112) of whom kidnapped in California.
  • California averages nearly two alerts and more than two recovered children each month.
  • Only one in six California alerts were issued for abductions by strangers in the past two years.
  • Many more, approximately 63 percent of alerts for that same period, were for children kidnapped by family members.

"The Justice Department reports that 78 percent of all U.S. abductions are by family members. That comes out to 200,000 each year—one every three minutes. Not all warrant Amber Alerts, but many are dangerous situations that require immediate police intervention.

"The Justice Department also estimates that half of family abductions result in the child missing for more than a week, if they are returned at all. Psychologists believe that for every day a child is removed from their permanent home, the more lasting the trauma and the longer the recovery period. That is why Amber Alerts for family abductions, which often return children in California within hours or days, make such a difference for a child's well-being. 

"California Amber Alert officials and law enforcement should continue their great work by using alerts for dangerous family kidnappings. Such abductions are more than just 'civil disputes,' and we should employ our best tools for protecting and recovering any missing child.

"Every day we hear from families desperate to find their missing children. Too often the abductor is family. We like to believe that we receive fewer desperate calls because of the alerts that honor Amber Hagerman. Nothing could make us happier than to hear our phones ring less because even more alerts are used for qualifying abductions."

*Marc Klaas is not affiliated with the Polly Klaas Foundation*