On January 13, 1996, Amber Hagerman was taken near her grandparents’ home in Arlington, Texas. The 9-year-old was riding her bike in an abandoned parking lot when she was abducted by a person driving a pickup track. An extensive manhunt throughout North Texas followed. Sadly, four days later Amber’s body was found. The person responsible has never been caught.
Even if you aren’t familiar with Amber, you are likely aware of the emergency system that is her namesake: the Amber Alert. A new documentary on Peacock, Amber: The Girl Behind The Alert, introduces viewers to Amber as she was. Before she was abducted, Amber and her family were participating in a documentary for WFAA-TV about the realities of welfare. Archival footage is mixed in with current interviews of Amber’s mother, Donna Williams, and her brother, Ricky Hagerman, as well as members of the Arlington Police Department.
The Signal spoke with executive producer Elizabeth Fisher about the documentary. According to Fisher, the impetus for the documentary came after the twenty-fifth anniversary of Amber’s death in 2021. Williams was initially hesitant to film until the documentarians emphasized this would focus on Amber. “We convinced her to do this one last time and to really tell Amber’s story and to make it about her, it was only then that we peeled back the layers and found out about the documentary within the documentary,” said Fisher.
The footage that WFAA captured portrays a woman that is determined to give her children a happy life despite financial struggles. “Donna is a very quiet person, but she’s a very open person, she did that documentary to try and help other people who might have been in her position,” said Fisher. Indeed, it’s quite striking to see the family so comfortable with a crew in their home years before the modern era of reality television. After Amber’s abduction, Williams invited WFAA producer Pam Curry and her camera crew back into their home, as they were essentially a surrogate family.
For Fisher and the crew of the modern documentary, there was a fine line that they walked with showing the archival video, which includes scenes right after the abduction and the identification of Amber’s body. “We had to use discretion with what we shared.”
Arlington, Texas also becomes a character in the story. Right after Amber was abducted a neighbor in the parking lot called 911 and gave a description of the black pickup truck that took Amber. The lag time between that initial call and the 6:00 p.m. news would lead to the creation of the AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert.
Towards the end of the documentary, an adult named Rae-Leigh Bradbury offers her thanks to the child who helped save her life. Bradbury was abducted in 1998 in Arlington, and she was the first child rescued thanks to the upstart Amber Alert. Though that moment is triumphant, it doesn’t change the fact that Amber’s killer is still out there, according to Fisher. “I think the Amber Alert is the silver lining to this terrible tragedy, but it’s not the closure to the case that everyone so desperately wants and needs.”
Amber: The Girl Behind the Alert is streaming on Peacock now
A longtime writer and journalist, Jessica was thrilled to join the Texas Signal where she could utilize her unique perspective on politics and culture. As the Features and Opinion Editor, she is responsible for coordinating editorials and segments from diverse authors. She is also the host of the podcast the Tex Mix, as well as the co-host for the weekly SignalCast. Jessica attended Harvard College, is a onetime fitness blogger, and has now transitioned to recreational runner (for which her joints are thankful).