Leaving a child alone can be one of the most stressful experiences for any parent. So, when Yesenia Barragan had no choice but to go out of town for work and leave her 4-year-old behind, she put her trust in her young teenage sister. A nerve-racking and potentially costly decision.
Shortly after her departure, Yesenia received the text message, "I'm baby". Something had clearly gone awry. This day would end up being one of the scariest days for these three girls, as what unfolded shortly following Yesenia's departure would shake them to the core, and will make you choose wisely who takes care of your children.
The Trials of a Working Mom
Yesenia Barragan lives in Montclair, California, surrounded by family and friends. Mother to a 4-year-old daughter, she holds a full-time job, and lives a normal life in the suburbs like many others.
But normal doesn't always mean easy, and juggling a career and motherhood has always been a complicated scenario. Yesenia trys her best, as any mother does, but there are times when she is forced to do things she isn't comfortable with to keep both her child and her job safe.
Making a Hard Decision
Yesenia's daughter Zoyee had recently been ill, and Yesenia had been taking time off to take care of her baby. She was lucky enough to work for a company that could accommodate such matters, but felt that she had pushed their flexibility about as far as she could.
Then came the last straw. There was a business meeting scheduled that Yesenia was expected to attend, however, it was held out of town. The urgency of the meeting has made her worry about what could she do, and who would take care of Zoyee while she was away.
A Family Affair
Yesenia went to consult with her mother Marie, thinking that she could help her make a decision. As Marie was concerned, the answer was clear - her younger daughter, Yesenia's sister Savannah, was ready to take on a responsibility like this. But Yesenia wasn't convinced.
Savannah was just 14, and although she loved her sister and knew that she was reliable, Yesenia was worried that she hadn't looked after Zoyee before, and she would be so far away. However, Yesenia's options were limited, and Savannah did have experience in babysitting.
Sister to Sister
Savannah Jones loved her sister and her little niece as much as they loved her, but she never expected that Yesenia would agree to let her babysit Zoyee when she was still so young herself. It was a big responsibility for her to take on.
That being said, Savannah's surprise upon hearing that her big sister trusted her enough to take care of her 4-year-old niece is quite understandable. She had a chance to prove how grown-up she could be to her entire family, and so she hoped that she could be able to live up to the task ahead of her.
Can't Shake That Feeling
The big day arrived, and Marie and Savannah made the drive over to Yesenia's house. Savannah waved happily back at her mom as she went to the door, but to Marie, something felt out of place. It was a feeling that she couldn't shake.
Marie spent enough time with her eldest daughter to be familiar with her neighborhood, and there was a car parked over the road that she didn't recognize. Maybe it was just a neighbor's new car, she thought, but the car's unfamiliarity and its strange, tinted windows made her feel very uneasy.
One Last Goodbye
Once Savannah was in the house, Yesenia went over all the procedures with her one more time. Thought already Savannah knew it well, Yesenia gave her the tour of the house, but this time pointing out potential hazards and showing her where she could find things that she might need in her new role.
Once she had gone over the routine one last time, Yesenia bent down to give her daughter Zoyee a final kiss and a hug. She handed Savannah her list of emergency numbers, then left the house, too worried to notice anything amiss.
Now the two were alone in Zoyee's family home. Savannah and the little girl went back into the lounge, and Savannah asked her niece to show her all of her toys. Zoyee had a toy box in there, and she immediately started to contentedly pull out each toy and present it to her aunt.
When Zoyee ran out of toys, Savannah suggested watching a film, and so the pair snuggled up together on the sofa to choose a Disney movie. They decided on Frozen and set the film playing. Frozen was in full swing, and the two girls were happily singing along when suddenly, there was a knock on the front door. Savannah glanced at the clock. It was 3:30 pm, she had no clue as to who could it be.
Turning the TV off, she walked slowly to the door. Yesenia was scheduled to be out of town for days, so no one should be looking for her here. Maybe it was a late delivery? Catching her breath, Savannah peered through the peephole of the door.
All Savannah saw was the slightly distorted silhouette of a man in a hat. She couldn't make out his features, but there was something distinctly off about his demeanor. He just didn't look or act like a salesman. He wasn't holding up any credentials or wearing a recognizable uniform, so Savannah knew that he couldn't be any kind of official. So what was he doing at her door? She took some steps back down the hall, hoping that the menacing figure would turn and leave.
As Savannah stood silent in the middle of the hallway, the man outside continued to knock. The minutes stretched out and still, he wouldn't go away. Just as she was reaching a screaming point, the knocking suddenly stopped.
Savannah let out an explosive breath. At last! But then, he started again. And this time, it was worse. The unwanted visitor started rattling the doorknob as he carried on, now thumping the door hard rather than knocking with any semblance of politeness. Savannah's danger sensors went from orange to a bright flashing red. This man wanted to get into the house, and there was nothing that she could do to stop him if he was determined. The two young girls were trapped.
A Place to Hide
She dashed back into the lounge and swept Zoyee up into her arms. For a split second, she stood racked with indecision as she tried to think faster than she had ever thought before. Then, instinct kicked in, and Savannah ran for the master bedroom. The banging on the front door carried on as Savannah, carrying Zoyee, reached the master bedroom, and desperately looked around, trying to force herself to calm down and think rationally. Where could they hide? Could they lock the door?
Savannah was quick to realize that the door was useless since the key wasn't in the lock, and she had no idea where to find it, but then she remembered there was another door - the en-suite bathroom. She headed straight to it, slamming it behind her and turning the lock just as the sounds from outside changed for the worse.
As the two girls entered the bathroom, the visitor decided that nobody was going to let him into the house, and took matters into his own hands. With one last mighty blow, he broke through the front door.
The sound of splintering wood filled the house as Savannah bent over her niece, trying to keep the tremble out of her voice as she gently told the preschooler that they were going to play a game, and Zoyee needed to be as quiet as a mouse to win.
A Stranger in the House
The man was searching the house, making no attempt to be quiet. Savannah could hear his heavy footsteps as he made his way toward the master bedroom. The house fell silent as the man surveyed the room. Savannah whispered to Zoyee to hide behind the toilet. She herself crouched in front of her 4-year-old niece, trying to shield her from the horror that Savannah was sure was about to happen. No matter what, she would protect the little girl from harm.
The two girls stayed, frozen in their huddled positions, ears straining for the smallest sound. Savannah knew that they couldn't stay there, undiscovered, forever. The man would find them sooner or later. But they were trapped in a dead-end. There was no escape possible for Savannah and her niece. Frantically, she tried to think of a solution. She instinctively folded herself even smaller as she heard a sound from the other side of the door. In doing so, she felt something pressing against her thigh.
She'd Forgotten About Her Cellphone
Savannah's hand flew to her pocket, and she stared dumbly at the object she pulled out. Contemplating how could she have forgotten about it, and with shaking fingers, she swiped open the phone and navigated to her messages app. She forced her fingers to obey her and started to type in a message to her mother. She had hit the send button before she realized that her autocorrect had rendered her text meaningless. She had inadvertently sent, "I'm baby."
Frustrated, Savannah took a deep breath and tried again. “He is inside mom he’s gonna here me,” she managed on her second attempt. Now all she could do was wait. The minutes seemed like hours as the pair listened to the man roaming the house. Maria got her daughter's text and knew immediately that something had to be done, and right now. But she didn't live close enough to get there on time, and emergency services would also probably take too long to arrive.
A Very Welcome Text
As Maria was trying to figure out how to save her daughter and granddaughter, the two girls were still hiding in the master bathroom, listening to the invader open cupboards and rummaging through drawers. He was ransacking the place.
“I kept staring at the door and hoping he wouldn’t try to open it,” Savannah would tell others after the ordeal. She didn't know how long she crouched there, soothing her frightened niece, waiting for it all to end, one way or another. Then, her phone buzzed.
Maria had texted Savannah back, and it was good news. She had called one of Yesenia's neighbors, and they were on their way over. Sure enough, very soon after, Savannah heard a new sound in her sister's house: a voice.
The new voice filled the house and the intruder panicked. He sprinted past the neighbor, pushing him out of his path to the front door - the girls were safe, and it wasn't long before the police arrived to survey the damage.
Gone With the Wind
The police inspection revealed that the invader had only actually ransacked two rooms in the house. Officers from the Montclair police department searched the house and area extensively, even using a member of the K-9 squad, but it seemed that the man had made a clean getaway.
The dogs had no problem picking up the man's scent in the house, they just couldn't follow it to fruition. He had been so careless in the house that it seemed amazing that he had simply disappeared.
Then, Savannah's sister and Zoyee's mom Yesenia arrived on the scene with her mother, Marie. The pair were so proud of how Savannah had handled the situation. “She was very smart and brave,” said Yesenia. “She did everything right.”
Savannah, while grateful that her family approved of her actions, was understandably still worried about the situation. After all, the man had broken into a house that he knew was occupied. Now he was roaming about, uncaught and able to carry on his evil endeavors.
What happened to Savannah Jones and her 4-year-old niece Zoyee on that fateful day will remain with them, and Savannah is doing what she can to process the event, and her family is helping her to deal with the emotions still flooding her.
“Relief," she said to a local news station, explaining how she felt: “Relief, and then knowing that he’s still out there, I don’t know, scary.” Hopefully, it won't be long until the police find the intruder. Savannah has been helping investigations by giving the most detailed description she could.
Rules of Babysitting
The investigation into the break-in at Yesenia's is ongoing, as is the search for the perpetrator. The Montclair police are sure that he won't be trying to finish the job there, however. Savannah scared him off well and proper.
They have been quick to praise the young girl's actions during that difficult situation. When babysitting, keep your phone on you, never try to engage a person invading your charge's home, and keep calm. A level head is the best weapon you have to keep you and your charges safe.
Amber Hagerman’s Murder Was Tragic, But There Was a Silver Lining
When a child is young, we’re convinced that they have their whole life ahead of them. The last thing that we expect to happen is a shocking tragedy that cuts their future short. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman when she was abducted in Arlington, Texas, on January 13, 1996.
Amber was just your typical American girl who loved to ride bicycles with her little brother, Ricky. One day, Amber’s usual playful adventure turned into a tragedy and she was abducted. Her lifeless body was discovered in a creek a few miles away. The story spread panic and heartache throughout the community, but it also inspired a new development that would save the lives of thousands of children to come.
A Strange Coincidence Leading up to the Tragedy
When a loved one is reported missing, authorities do their best to backtrack all steps and motivations that could have contributed to the crime. As fate would have it, Amber’s mother, Donna Williams, had recently been interviewed for a segment on Dallas news station WFAA.
The station was profiling families who had successfully gotten off of welfare. As a single mother, Donna shared her own experience. Included in the footage was a few shots of Amber. The segment was scheduled to run a few days after she disappeared and was supposed to be a story of hope. Instead, it became a reminder of a missing girl.
Details From the Day of the Disappearance
January 13, 1996, started off as any Saturday. By the time that the afternoon rolled by, people had largely forgotten their intentions for the day and were going through the motions of a relaxing weekend. At 3:10 pm, Amber jumped onto her pink bicycle and left her grandmother’s house, with her 5-year-old brother, Ricky, hot on her heels. The pair rode into the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store, cycling over a make-shift ramp in the lot.
Suddenly, Ricky remembered their mother’s instruction to stick to riding around the block, and he headed back, cycling the 1,000 feet home - leaving his sister behind.
An Old Man Witnessed a Shocking Event Unfold
With Ricky gone, Amber was left alone in the abandoned lot. Down the street, a 78-year-old man named Jimmie Kevil peeked through the chain-link fence that separated his backyard from the area of the store. What he saw left him speechless.
According to Jimmie, “I saw (Amber) riding up and down. She was by herself. I saw this black pickup. He pulled up, jumped out, and grabbed her. When she screamed, I figured the police ought to know about it, so I called them.” By the time that Jimmie shuffled inside to the phone, Amber had been shoved into the cab of the truck and driven away. Jimmie was the only witness.
Calling the Police and Activating Action
Jimmie Kevill was enjoying his Saturday afternoon when he witnessed a fearful Amber being abducted by a strange man. As a U.S Navy veteran and former sheriff’s deputy, Jimmie had a strong instinct and sense of the law, and he hurried to the house to call 911. While doing so, he saw the kidnapper escape from the parking lot and head west on Abram Street.
Unfortunately, Jimmie’s efforts were just a little too late. By the time that the police arrived, Amber was gone with the wind. Authorities arrived in large groups, with more than 50 police officers and federal agents scouring the area, but they were never able to find Amber and return her home alive.
A Few Details Hope to Narrow Down the Search - But to No Avail
After witnessing Amber’s abduction, Jimmie Kevill did what any responsible citizen would do and reported the event to the police. Although police weren’t able to find Amber, they were given a few helpful details from the elderly gent. Jimmie described the man in the pickup truck as a young, white or Hispanic, man. Estimated to be in his 20s or 30s, Jimmie further described him as under 6 feet tall, with a medium build and dark hair. His truck was a single-cap pickup. Solid black in color, the vehicle appeared to be in good condition with no identifying markers.
Police further narrowed down the vehicle to be a full-sized fleetside pickup with a short wheelbase, probably from the 1980s or 1990s. The description also included a non-sliding, clear rear window. While police were being informed of the abduction, Ricky was arriving home.
Ricky Returns Home - Alone
There was no reason for Donna Williams to ever think twice about her children’s safety. She believed that her simple safety instructions would be enough to keep her little ones protected. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.
A few minutes after leaving his sister in the parking lot, Ricky arrived at his grandmother’s home. He was alone, and the family was instantly alerted that something was wrong. They rushed to the parking lot to find their missing girl, but all that they found was Amber’s pink and white bicycle which she had received as a Christmas present a few weeks earlier. Also in the parking lot were police officers, who had already arrived in response to Jimmie’s 911 call.
Hope for Finding Amber Alive Was Shattered
In the five days that followed, Amber’s family counted the seconds until they could hold their little girl in their arms again. They desperately held onto the hope that Amber would be found alive and that her abductor would be apprehended. Tragically, this would not be the case.
Five days after Amber’s abduction, her lifeless, naked body was found in an overflowing creek roughly four miles from the abandoned parking lot, Her throat had been cut. At that moment, all hope of sharing any happy news with Amber's family evaporated. Now, authorities had a far more difficult task.
The Heartbreaking Moment of the Announcement
Nothing can prepare a parent for the agonizing news that their young child has been killed. After police knocked on the door of Donna Williams and Richard Hagerman, they gently told Amber’s parents that her body had been found dead. Her parents were in utter disbelief.
Despite their daughter being missing, they had held onto hope that their precious little girl was alive. In fact, they were so hopeful that she would be returned alive that they couldn’t believe what the police were telling them. Even after the chaplain left the family home, Richard Hagerman told reporters, “She’s still alive.” Now, police had the daunting task of finding Amber’s killer.
What Were the Surroundings at the Time?
People were plagued with questions about what had happened to innocent Amber Hagerman. Her lifeless body had been found approximately four miles away from the abandoned lot, so how had the ongoing search not stumbled across her body? There were even maintenance workers at the apartment complex near the creek, who had not noticed anything peculiar about the area a few hours before.
Authorities determined that Amber was kept alive for at least two days after her abduction, and then killed. When a heavy rainstorm flooded the area, the creek waters rose and carried her body to the location that it was found. Detectives had determined a possible narrative and were in a flurry to find concrete answers.
The Murderer Has Never Been Found
The story of Amber Hagerman produced the worst possible results. Despite the clues given by the only witness, Jimmie Kevil, the police were stuck between a rock and a hard place. None of their leads led to anything substantial, and Amber’s parents were left without closure.
Despite detectives in the Arlinton area working several tips, the lack of information stopped them in their tracks. There was no way to progress in the case, and the identity of Amber’s killing is still unknown. After reflection, there are a few key aspects that have slowed down the case...
There Was a Problem With Witnesses
Normally, when a child goes missing in the United States, they are returned to their home in a safe condition. However, when Arlington police found Amber’s abandoned bicycle, they knew that they were dealing with a situation far more sinister. Apart from Jimmie Kivel, the parking lot was truly abandoned, with no witnesses in sight. Even more challenging was the lack of witnesses that came forward to share information on the truck or suspicious happenings in the area.
One of the biggest concerns was that the locals in the area were fearful to speak up at the risk of deportation. A recent census revealed that under a fifth of Arlington’s residents were Hispanic, many of which were illegally living in the United States.
An Innovative Woman Has an Outstanding Idea
News of Amber’s abduction and murder spread through the community, igniting heartache and outrage. Could something have been done to prevent her death? Is there a way that Amber’s murderer could be brought to justice?
Diane Simone was a local woman who was particularly affected by the case. As a mother herself, the safety of her children was a top concern. Diane noticed that local radio stations interrupted entertainment to send out weather alerts. So, she thought what’s stopping them from sending out alerts for abducted children?
The Arrival of the AMBER Alert System
Diane’s idea gained momentum. The idea of interrupting a radio show’s schedule to broadcast an alert for a kidnapped child was revolutionary, and people hoped that it would make a difference. The idea instantly became popular.
Putting the plan into action, broadcasters in the area of Fort Worth combined their efforts with local law enforcement. Every time that there was a child abduction, viewers and listeners were instantly alerted. Through this process, the AMBER Alert system, named after Amber Hagerman, went nationwide in 1996.
The Contribution of the AMBER System Has Been Astounding
With the roll-out of the AMBER system, the hope was ignited that abducted or missing children would be returned home safely before they fall into the fatal hands of evil. Little did Diane Simone know the huge difference that the AMBER Alert system would have on the country.
Experts have reviewed the number of children that have been found safe thanks to the AMBER Alert system. It’s theorized that abductors are more likely to release children after realizing that an AMBER Alert has been issued. So, how does the system work?
How the AMBER Alert System Works
The AMBER Alert system has managed to produce such impressive results because of the slick and effective way that it works. The simple process starts with law enforcement making the decision that a child abduction case meets certain criteria.
Authorities then communicate with broadcasters and state transportation agencies, sharing the known details of the case that could help with a breakthrough. An alert then interrupts regular programming, sharing the details on statewide transportation signs, digital billboards, and even via text messages. All of this was inspired by Amber Hagerman.
A Bittersweet Development From a Tragedy
Donna Williams has continued to appear in media. The arrival of 2016 marked two decades since Amber Hagerman went missing, and Donna admits that she continues to struggle with the reality of her daughter's death. In one particular interview, she was asked her opinion on the AMBER Alert system. She said, “There’s another part of me that wonders what would have happened if we would have had the alert when Amber went missing. Could it have helped bring her back to me?”
For Donna, the system is a bittersweet byproduct of her daughter’s murder. She continues, “It’s saved children’s lives. It’s helped bring children back to mommy and daddy. It’s another legacy for my daughter, that she did not die in vain. She is still taking care of our little children like she did when she was here.”
The Value of the Alerts
Another 2016 interview featured Diane Simone, the mastermind behind the AMBER Alert system. She believes that the lack of information played a large role in Amber’s kidnapping and murder, which could’ve possibly been prevented with more awareness.
Speaking to media, Diane said, “They were saying Amber was taken at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, thrown in a pickup truck and driven somewhere, and that nobody saw anything. I’m sorry, that’s not possible. The problem was not that people didn’t see them, it’s that they didn’t know what they were seeing.” Diane concluded her statement by encouraging people to pay attention to the alerts because you never know the value that you could offer.
Every Minute Counts
When someone receives an AMBER Alert, they are receiving an instant update on a very real tragedy. Noting the details in the alert could stop a young child from dying before their time. AMBER Alerts are used when authorities believe a child’s life is in serious danger and should be taken seriously.
Citizens are also encouraged to realize that every minute in a child abduction case counts. Each passing minute reduces hope of finding the child alive, and you could help by taking note of the AMBER Alert. In fact, there are several instances where the AMBER Alert system has literally saved lives.
Finding Success in 90 Minutes
The AMBER Alert system continued to show its value time, and time again. In 1998, the system achieved astounding success, helping to rescue an 8-week-old infant from Arlington named Rae-Leigh Bradbury.
Rae-Leigh was kidnapped by her babysitter. An AMBER Alert was broadcast and the young child was safely reunited with her parents within a short 90 minutes. She would become the first child to be rescued as a result of the AMBER Alert. Since, Rae-Leigh has been living her best life, starting college at the University of Texas in 2017. The AMBER Alert system has been directly credited for recovering at least 1,029 children in the United States, if not more. With Amber’s name constantly being brought up, it was only a matter of time before her murder case was moved into public attention yet again.
Authorities Continue to Work on Amber’s Case
A quarter-century has passed since Amber’s abduction and murder, but police continue to work the case. Arlington police have recently renewed their efforts, pleading with the public to come forward with answers. Their efforts include a new, dedicated tip line and a $10,000 reward offered by Oak Farms Dairy for any new information leading to an arrest and indictment.
Sgt. Ben Lopez, a member of the original task force, says, “All this time, we’ve only had one witness. That’s why we’re pleading, if there’s anyone out there that has information — even if they think it’s just a small bit of information — (it) may be the lead we need to break this.” Police believe that the immigration status of some witnesses may be stopping them from coming forward with tips.
Don’t Worry About Immigration
Authorities ensure people that their immigration status won’t be considered, and it shouldn’t stop people from coming forward about Amber’s killer. Arlington Assistant Police Chief, Kevin Kolbye, addressed the public in a news conference, saying, “Our hope is that someone in the community saw something. Maybe they didn’t come forward 25 years ago out of fear or not wanting to get involved. Whatever reason, we need folks to search their minds and bring forward anything that may be (of) value to our investigation.”
Sgt. Lopez also said, “I would love to be able to give Donna, and Ricky, and the rest of the members of their family the answer to the question that they would like to know — of course, that is who did this to Amber — and bring that person to justice.”
DNA Evidence Offers a Break in the Case
One of the reasons that Amber’s case is moving center stage again is because of DNA evidence. The advancement of DNA technology, especially genetic genealogy, has helped law enforcement come back to cold cases and warm them up in a dramatic way. Arlington investigators hope that DNA evidence will contribute to a breakthrough and help them find Amber’s killer.
Although the public has been made aware of the existence of DNA evidence, there’s been no confirmation of what the physical evidence entails. Detective Grant Gildon admits that the information is something that only the killer would be aware of, and it has been kept secure for the past 25 years.
Final Words of Hope, Inspiring Justice for Amber
The DNA evidence will be submitted for testing, hoping that it will provide answers. Detective Grant Gildon continues, “On a yearly basis, I talk with all the major laboratories around the country to see if there are any new technologies or anything we could possibly be trying with the evidence that we have. That is what’s led to some new developments where we can try some things this year.”
While the family and authorities cling to hope for answers, Donna Williams continues to plead with the public to come forward with tips. She even addresses the killer, saying, “To Amber’s killer, I’m asking you today, please turn yourself in. Give Amber justice. Amber needs justice, deeply.” Until Amber Hagerman gets the justice that she deserves, the family finds a bit of peace knowing that her legacy helps to prevent heartache for other families through the AMBER Alert system.