What Happened to Amber? Part 1

Published: Feb. 13, 2017 at 10:29 AM CST
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This is part one in Sarah Thomsen's series of Target 2 On Assignment reports, “What Happened to Amber?” - Aired in September of 2013.

This month marks a painful and difficult anniversary for the family of Amber Wilde.

The UW-Green Bay student vanished 15 years ago without a trace.

The case had gone cold — until this year when two new detectives took over.

Action 2 News has now learned there are new details in the search to find her.

“What happened to Amber?” That is the question that has loomed over Amber Wilde's family since September 23, 1998.

Over the years they never lost hope that someday they would know what happened to her.

Now Green Bay police say they are closer than ever to an answer.

It's been 15 years since her mother talked publicly. Even after this long, it's clear Amber's family is still very upset — yet deeply devoted to finding her.

“She was torn… from our lives,” grandmother Jane Wilde says emotionally.

Outside the home of Amber Wilde's grandparents, a sign has become a fixture in the neighborhood. Fourteen times they've changed the number of years she's been missing.

Amber's father can hardly believe next week they'll do it again.

“You sit back and you think about the span of time, and you don't know where the time has gone,” Steve Wilde said. “SHe's never out of our thoughts and our mind.”

That pain of missing her firstborn child is more than Amber's mother can take some days.

Julie Ketter breaks down as she tells us, “It gets easier to move on, but it's not easier to live without your children any way you look at it. So, it's been a long road.”

Amber, then 19, had just moved from West Bend to Green Bay to attend UWGB, hoping one day to become a pediatrician.

She was in a minor accident the morning of September 23, 1998, and hit her head on the windshield of her car.

She called her dad shortly after.

Steve recalled, “I said, 'Go talk to the nurse,' and she (the nurse) said just have somebody call you in the morning to make sure you're OK and that you answer the phone.”

That was the last time anyone in the family spoke to Amber.

“The following day I tried calling her repeatedly and never got an answer,” Steve said.

They immediately knew something was wrong.

Julie said, “Everything was fine, everything was normal… so, just out of the blue.”

Amber's family called police, but they were mistakenly told to wait 48 hours to file a missing persons report.

Eight days after she disappeared, Amber's car mysteriously appeared outside a bar near Lambeau Field.

The odometer registered more than 600 unaccounted for miles — and the driver's seat was pushed all the way back.

Amber's dad says she was short and never drove it that way.

Amber was also four-and-a-half months pregnant yet determined to finish school, so her family is convinced she did not just walk away.

“In my mind, it wouldn't have happened that way,” Julie told us.

“She wasn't 'I'm just going to get lost for a week or two.' That doesn't happen,” Steve said.

For more than a decade, police have conducted countless digs in Shawano County they say were based on credible tips.

Each time her family was there.

But each time they've come up empty.

“It was so devastating the first few years, it's like… you couldn't believe it was happening,” Julie said.

Still, they've never given up hope they'll find Amber and the person or people responsible for her disappearance.

“They took an incredible person off the face of the earth, and in my way of looking at it they're the lowest form of plant life. They're not worth being on the planet,” Steve said.

Julie said, crying, “We need closure so our hearts can mend, and we're a very broken family because there's someone missing.”

While this still weighs heavily on Amber's family, it is now, too, on the detectives who say it's their personal mission to solve this mystery.

Wednesday on Action 2 News at Ten, for the first time since starting this investigation all over again, the detectives tell us how they've taken this to a level never before reached and why they say they are close to cracking the case.