by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
August 20, 2002
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It was startling to see the surveillance films from Wal-mart's parking lot showing a kidnapping in progress, the perpetrator speeding off, the distraught mother trying to hold onto the car carrying her baby until she, scraped and bruised, fell away. I was surprised to see the short video but not disappointed. We know such cameras exist but mumble about rights of privacy.
We have to get over thinking the intended use of these systems is to spy on us. I'm sure dozens of cameras caught me tugging away to readjust my panty line, but if the camera also caught a madman brandishing a gun two lanes over, I wouldn't cry foul. In truth, I never realized how effective the cameras can be.
There was the familiar "All Points Bulletin" alerting all police precincts, sending faxes to hospitals, day care centers and other likely points. Thus, twenty miles north of the park where four-year old Jessica was taken, the watchful eye of a health care provider thought the little girl being treated for a sore throat could be the missing child. It turned out she was and the police reunited mother, father and child in a matter of hours. Her hair had been cut, her clothes had been changed but she was recognized.
To verify correct spelling of a name, I turned on CNN just in time to see Baby Nancy Crystal Chavez now in safe hands after being spotted by police 200 miles north of that Wal-mart parking lot we saw in the video tapes. The kidnapper had eluded police for 24 hours but was stopped short of the Utah border.
These were two happy endings and all because of the Amber Alert, so named by Texas Law Enforcement when they initiated the anti-kidnapping system.
Amber Hagerman, a little girl from Arlington, Texas was last seen riding her bicycle and then not seen: she was abducted and murdered in 1997. The newspapers, local television channels and radio stations started working together getting descriptions and related information instantly before the public. Neighbors heard, jumped into their cars, combed the streets and alleys looking - just looking.
There was an instance of a little girl playing outside with one of her girlfriends. A man grabbed her, swung her into the truck. She was assaulted but found later on an interstate highway. She said the man got upset and angry when the radio kept repeating over and over the description of his truck. He made her get out.
The police acknowledge the plan is working and now a nationwide system is set up. Statistics are grim but show that three out of four children abducted and slain are dead in three to four hours. The technology used allows for spreading the word instantly, and, "all points" now means every corner of the earth.
This is such a powerful tool (makes you wonder why employing all media wasn't thought of sooner) that I can't type fast enough to keep ahead of the breaking news. You would think since capture is so likely in this August of disbelief, there would be an ending to this heinous crime. But, no. It is no more a deterrent than death row is to a murderer.
What we do get is nothing like the profile we may have in our minds. I picture swarthy, dirty. But these innocents are victims of someone old or young; tall or short; light or dark-haired; fat or thin; and of any race or ethnic group. They are faceless, and they walk and work among us.
Oh, yes, there is one common denominator: "He seemed so nice, so helpful... ." is said about most. And, as for the women kidnappers who just want the baby, we saw two of them this week. "Ordinary," is how I'd describe them. And "things like this" do happen in our own neighborhood.
That's the depressing news this month. The impressive news is what we're discovering about our police departments. Just when we suspect all police are sitting by the side of the road to catch us easing on the brakes as we pass, or wearing hard hats at construction sites to video-catch speeders where traffic violations double the fine, or too fat to run catch a scofflaw at the curb - just when our confidence is down, we see them in action.
The police facing cameras during the nationwide Amber Alert were at the top of their game. They addressed the community, the press, the nation as articulate, knowledgeable, representatives of those in charge of the investigations. And, they brought results. And they announced those results giving credit to media and neighbors who worked tirelessly to help bring the investigation to its conclusion. At times we wept; at times we cheered.
As I write, there are still children recently kidnapped and missing. The Amber Alert is in place. However, not every missing child meets the criteria necessary to set the plan in motion. There are many 911 calls made each year to report a missing child. Most often it's a snatch 'n' grab by a parent in a custody fight. Others are teen runaways. Thousands of reports are filed. Two or three hundred of these youngsters are actually kidnapped and killed - or, they are never seen again either because their bodies were not found or they were raised with a different identity. It's for these children that an Amber Alert is set in motion.
It's not easy to suggest that Amber Hagerman was the sacrificial lamb for a greater good. But, it remains her murder that brought about changes that will save other little children from the same fate. At last, a little girl who did not die in vain, as thousands have through the centuries, at the hands of some psycho-sociopath. Thanks to the memory of Amber we now have tools in place to stop predators exactly where they start and before they get to where they're going.
Is it enough? Are there more things we can do? Is it time for poor sweet Amber to rest in peace?