Skip to comments.Bush signs national Amber bill - Former kidnap victims from AV in Washington for event
Posted on 05/01/2003 11:36:42 AM PDT by BenLurkin
Amber Hagerman's mother made her way to the White House on Wednesday with a heavy heart and as much pride as a mother can muster.
Amber disappeared seven years ago in northern Texas. Thanks to the law President George W. Bush signed with Amber's mother at his side, her name will be linked nationwide with the missing-child alerts that have helped save at least 64 children.
"It's a bittersweet thing," Donna Norris said before the Rose Garden ceremony. "My little girl was abducted and butchered for this bill to even exist. But it's saving children's lives. It's just a bittersweet thing."
Families of other abducted children were also on hand to witness Bush sign the national Amber alert system into law as part of legislation that also cracks down on child pornography and stiffens penalties for sex crimes against children. Among those to witness the signing were Antelope Valley teenagers Jacqueline Marris and Tamara Brooks, who were kidnapped this summer in Quartz Hill.
Norris represented the parents whose children did not come back. Others represented those who did, including Elizabeth Smart, the Utah girl abducted at knifepoint last year from her bedroom. Her parents spent the next nine months praying for her return and pushing for a national Amber alert system. They held Elizabeth close and beamed throughout the ceremony.
Several of the youngsters on hand owed their lives directly to Amber alerts, which started in the Dallas area and have since spread to 41 states, including Wisconsin, which joined the list Wednesday.
Former Assemblyman George Runner, R-Lancaster, authored a resolution in early 2001 calling upon Gov. Gray Davis to implement the Amber alert program which uses the Emergency Alert System to mobilize the public when details are available about missing children, the abductor and his or her vehicle.
When Davis did not act on the resolution, Runner wrote legislation a year later, which Davis signed into law Sept. 12.
Runner watched the Rose Garden ceremony on television Wednesday.
"It was exciting to see him sign it, but also to see the results of Amber alerts saving the lives of our two young people in the Antelope Valley," Runner said.
Palmdale High School teacher Gary Cothran was also glad to hear the president signed the national bill. Cothran first told Runner about the Amber alert system after attending a conference in Florida.
Cothran said he doesn't think about the system daily, but is reminded of its importance when he learns of another child saved from the system in the media.
"What brings it to mind periodically is the fact that it is saving lives," Cothran said. "It renews my memory of it."
Cothran said he is concerned about creating national standards for the system's use because the alerts may become ineffective if issued too often. Each state has its own regulations for issuing an alert, such as the age of the child abducted, he said.
"If there is not some national standards to its usage, it will get overused and become ineffective," Cothran said.
"Car alarms no one pays attention to them anymore," he added. "They are labeled 'the boy who cried wolf.' That would be my only concern."
With so many states, like California, creating and saving children with Amber alerts, a national system made sense to many lawmakers and children's advocates.
"It is so common sense," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "It is the ultimate good idea."
Even so, the Amber alert bill stalled for months in Congress. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, and Texas GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had long pushed for a nationwide alert system. The Senate passed the measure overwhelmingly, but GOP House leaders insisted on a broader bill, with Amber as just one provision.
The new law does not require states to establish an alert system, but for those that do, it provides money for highway signs and training for state and local authorities. It requires the Justice Department to create standards for the use of Amber alerts. It also boosts penalties for crimes against children and bans computer-generated child pornography.
"No family should ever have to endure the nightmare of losing a child," Bush said, flanked by the Smarts, Norris and others who know the terror of child abduction. "Because of you, children and parents you may never meet will be spared from the harm and anguish your families have known."
Norris worked with local police and broadcasters to create the Amber alert system, which piggybacked on the old emergency broadcast network. In many areas, authorities now use not only radio and TV, but highway signs to give the public details about missing children and suspects.
It's a great legacy for Amber, Norris said, but she'd rather have her daughter back.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, 1996, a man in a black pickup truck snatched the third-grader off her bicycle in a grocery store parking lot, just a block from the home of Amber's grandparents. A witness called police, told them what the truck looked like and which way it had turned on Abrams Street. But officials had no way to enlist the public's help. Four days later, a man walking a dog after a rainstorm found her body in a creek.
The $75,000 reward is still unclaimed.
Norris, 35, moved from Arlington, Texas, to Hurst, Texas, after Amber disappeared. Like other parents thrust into the spotlight by tragedy, she has become a spokeswoman of sorts. She went to Kansas recently to talk about Amber alerts. She talks to law enforcement groups. After the bill signing, she was scheduled to do a special edition of America's Most Wanted, a TV show hosted by John Walsh, whose 6-year-old son, Adam, was abducted and murdered. Walsh was a vocal advocate for the bill and he, too, was at the Rose Garden.
It was a return visit for Norris, who was present in October 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act, which set tougher penalties for child molesters.
"Amber, when she was here, she was always a little mommy to all the smaller children and watched out for them," Norris said. "I know she's looking down from heaven and smiling."
While it's gratifying that her daughter inspired so much worthwhile legislation, Norris said, being a symbol takes a toll.
The Arlington Police Department has received tens of thousands of leads in Amber's case. Two or three still trickle in each month, and each one gets tracked down, said Sgt. Mark Simpson, who supervises the investigation. He was also at the White House on Wednesday.
"You never quit. This is the kind of case that you just never quit," Simpson said.
Is he pleased to see the Amber system go nationwide? He figures Amber herself would have had a "better than good chance" if the system existed seven years ago.
"Within 30 minutes we could have had the word out on radio," he said. "We had a description of the truck. We had the direction the truck was traveling. Time is critical."
Amber would be 16 now. Her brother, Ricky Hagerman, is 12. He stood at his mother's side, a few feet from the president, somber and without fidgeting. Norris began to weep when the president spoke of Amber's disappearance. Attorney General John Ashcroft patted her shoulder as she wiped her eyes. After Bush signed the law, hers was the first hand he shook. Then he kissed her cheek and gave Ricky's hand a solemn shake. The boy and mother hugged tightly.
Amber's grandmother, Glenda Whitson, recalled how Amber used to hike her little brother up on her hip and tote him around like her own baby.
"She wasn't too much bigger than he was. I can still see her doing that. She would have made a good mother," Whitson said, laughing and sniffling at her home in Arlington, where Amber was visiting when she took her last bike ride. "If it just saved one, that'd be worth it all. It makes me feel proud. I just feel like my grandchild's up there watching all the little children."
Somewhere along the way, "Amber" became an acronym - America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. It's only a coincidence that it sounds so natural in an era of yellow and orange alerts; her mother just liked the name.
"It's kind of eerie in a way," Whitson said.
Whitson had to stay home to tend to other grandchildren. But seeing the president sign the Amber alert into law, she said, "is the greatest thing in the world. It makes my day. I just feel like, well, Amber didn't die in vain.
"Every time I hear an Amber alert, my heart just drops down to my shoes. Because I know it could be a child that ends like Amber did. I have a good feeling, too, that maybe they're going to catch someone this time."
George Runner and his wife Sharon are among the good guys in California politics. Also from the A.V. is Senator Petee Knight, a former X-15 pilot and staunch conservative.
Marris and Brooks are also local heroes. IIRC Brooks has a sister who graduated USMA.
Elizabeth Smart plays the harp as her parents, Ed and Lois Smart, left, and television talk show host John Walsh, middle, watch on a rooftop in Washington, Wednesday, April 30, 2003, during a taping of THE JOHN WALSH SHOW. During the show, scheduled to air Friday, Ed and Lois Smart speak about the new nationwide Amber Alert legislation President Bush (news - web sites) signed Wednesday. Elizabeth, 15, plays two songs on the harp but doesn't speak during the program, said spokesman Gary Rosen. (AP Photo/The John Walsh Show)
I came across it while looking at the pics of our President from today, your more than welcome ;)
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