Then-first lady Laura Bush hugs Rae Leigh Bradbury April 4, 2007, in Austin, Texas, during the announcement of the future opening of the Texas Regional Office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Bradbury was the first child in the United States to be recovered as a result of an Amber Alert when she was 8 weeks old in November 1998. Bradbury, now 18, is graduating high school and heading to college.
Photo: White House/Shealah Craighead
Photo: White House/Shealah Craighead

First child saved by Amber Alert headed to college

Rae Leigh Bradbury, 18, of Fort Worth, told the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate that she remembered nothing of her kidnapping, but knew the story well. Bradbury was just eight weeks old when her babysitter snatched her from her family’s apartment in Arlington. 

Her mother, Patricia Sokolowski, described the agony of losing her child, even temporarily. 

“It was definitely a feeling that I don’t wish on anyone, that emptiness, that ‘I don’t know what to do’ feeling,” Sokolowski told NBC 5 News

The Amber Alert system, which got its start in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area in 1996, led to a passerby spotting the babysitter’s truck about 90 minutes after the alert was issued. Bradbury was found asleep in a car seat in the truck. 

Bradbury, a senior at Boswell High School in Fort Worth, will be the first person in her family to go to college. She will be a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin in the fall. 

“I’m, honestly, so excited,” Bradbury told the news station. “I’m just so excited to just get out and see Austin. Austin is a little weird, (and) I’m excited because I’m a little weird, too.”

The teen has had an active life, serving as varsity cheer captain at her high school, as well as senior class president and a member of the National Honor Society, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported last August, around the 20th anniversary of the Amber Alert. She has also served as a tireless advocate for the system that saved her life, along with those of more than 800 children across the nation. 

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The Amber Alert is named for Amber Hagerman, who was abducted Jan. 13, 1996, as she rode her bike in the parking lot of a grocery store near her Arlington home. Her body was found five days later, floating in a creek a few miles from the store. 

The little girl’s throat had been slit, NBC News reported. More than 21 years after her slaying, Hagerman’s killer remains at large. 

Broadcasters in the area banned together later that year to form a coordinated system that could alert residents quickly in the case of an abducted child. The system was named America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, or the Amber Alert. 

Over the years, the Amber Alert system has expanded nationwide to include all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Canadian provinces have also adopted the system, as have several Mexican border states. 

Click here to learn more about the Amber Alert system.  

Alerts appear everywhere from digital road signs to radio broadcasts and are sent directly to people’s smartphones, as well as on social media sites, like Facebook. The fact that Hagerman’s name is connected to a system that has saved so many children gives her family some comfort, NBC said. 

“If it wasn’t for Amber, we would not have the Amber Alert today,” Hagerman’s mother, Donna Williams, said last year

Bradbury, who last year described Hagerman as a “guardian angel,” said she is thankful for the chance she has been given. 

“I can do all these things. I can go to graduation, I can get married one day, I can go to college,” Bradbury told NBC 5 News. “It’s just mind boggling, because some people don’t get that luxury. I’m very, very grateful.”

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