Every year for the past 13 years, Donna Norris has spent the night of Jan. 13 in the very same parking lot in downtown Arlington, Texas, where her then 9-year-old daughter Amber Hagerman was last seen before being abducted and brutally murdered.
Tonight will be no different, said Norris, who plans to sing "Amazing Grace" by candlelight with family and friends in honor of Amber, whose death inspired the creation of the nationally known Amber Alert, now credited with safely locating nearly 500 children.
"This day is always going to be filled with raw emotion," Norris said on the eve of the 14-year anniversary of Amber's killing. "Amber was a giant part of my life. She was my world. Tomorrow will be really tough and there will be a lot of tears."
"It's bittersweet because Amber has saved so many children's lives so far," Norris said. "It's awesome, it's great, but I can't help but think what if there was an Amber Alert when she went missing?"
Norris said she continues to hold the vigil year after year, not only to remember her daughter but also to garner attention to her case; no arrests were ever made in connection with Amber murder.
"We want justice for Amber," Norris said of her daughter, who would be 23 now. "[Whoever did this] will be caught -- it's just a matter of time. I'm not going to give up on my baby girl. She will get justice."
Amber was abducted on a warm winter day in January 1996, when she and her little brother, Ricky, went on a bike ride around their family's neighborhood.
"They were riding their bikes like they always did, and were supposed to just go around the block," Norris said. "Amber decided she wanted to go a little further than where she was supposed to because there was a ramp where children would go."
"Eight minutes later and she was gone," said Norris, now 42, who was later told that an eyewitness who had been in a nearby yard heard Amber screaming as a man in a pickup truck forced her inside.
Nearly four days later – days Norris said she spent not sleeping or eating and pleading for whoever took her daughter to "return her to her mommy" – Amber's body was found in a creek a few miles from her home with her throat slashed.
When they finally located the little girl's body, authorities in Arlington said she was naked except for one sock and that the water in the creek had wiped away evidence that may have been helpful in finding the perpetrator.
"There had been a very large storm and Amber was not only in water but in running water in a creek bed, so there had been a tremendous amount of water flow over her body which obviously made it hard in terms of trace evidence," said Mike Simonds, the investigative sergeant who was in charge of Amber's case at the Arlington Police Department.
Simonds, who has since transferred to the Tarrant County Sherriff's Office, where he is the chief deputy, said that Amber's murder "stands out in his mind" as one of the most important.
"It's still very frustrating that we never made an arrest in the case -- it's a frustrating feeling," Simonds said. "You always think about the things that you could have done differently, or you feel badly for the family and wish you could provide them with relief.
"But the legacy Amber left is very, very important," he said. "There was a lot of good that came out of a very tragic situation."