Fifteen years ago today, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted as she rode her bicycle in the parking lot of an abandoned story in east Arlington, Texas. Police say they are no closer to making an arrest than they were in 1996, but Amber's legacy survives in the Amber Alert system operating in some form in 50 states and several foreign countries, reports the Dallas Morning News. The notification system has been credited with saving 500 abducted or missing children since its inception and is widely praised by experts as an essential tool for quickly moving to rescue endangered children.
But some critics say the system isn't nearly as prolific at saving the lives of children who are in real danger – primarily youngsters abducted by homicidal sexual predators who don't know their victims – as its supporters claim. “It's not that the Amber Alert is bad, it's just not as good as people think,” said Dr. Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University. Levin said there “might be a hundred cases a year where a child is actually abducted by a stranger, sexually abused and then killed. So you're not going to see too many success stories. But even where there are apparent successes, and the Amber Alert is used, that doesn't necessarily mean that it was the Amber Alert that caused the child to be returned home.”