What Happened to Amber? Part 3

Published: Feb. 13, 2017 at 10:48 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

This is the third part in Sarah Thomsen's Target 2 On Assignment report, “What happened to Amber?” In part one, Amber Wilde's family talks about their struggle since her disappearance. In part two, police detectives talk candidly and reveal new details about the case. - Originally aired in September of 2013.

The family of a UW-Green Bay student missing for 15 years says for the first time in more than a decade they have confidence they'll soon know what happened to Amber Wilde.

Two new Green Bay police detectives have taken over her cold case and think they are closer than ever to solving it.

This gives the family new hope.

There haven't been many smiles for Amber Wilde's family since she vanished in 1998, but when they received a call from Green Bay police detectives saying they reopened the case and are close to solving it, that brought excitement and optimism they thought they'd never feel again.

Still, they know it's going to take someone out there — who's remained quiet for so long — to finally speak up.

So while police do their part, Amber's family is doing a little work of its own.

“I really personally think… it's really close,” Detective Lee Kingston said.

“It's really close.” Those are just three little words, but Amber's family has waited 15 painstakingly long years to hear detectives say them.

“I'm glad they're still on it. A lot of cold cases stay cold, and some never get solved, but this one… I believe will be one that will,” her mother, Julie Ketter, said.

It began September 23, 1998. Amber called her dad to say she was OK after being in a car accident and promised to talk to him the next day. That was the last conversation the 19-year-old ever had with her family.

“She never went a half a day without talking to me, so that was kind of when we knew something was up,” dad Steve Wilde said.

Her family began a frantic search to find her. That search continues to this day.

“It's not going to change. Nothing's going away and just saying, oh the heck with it, it's too long, we're not going to worry about it. Uh-uh. That's not going to happen,” Mr. Wilde said.

That's the attitude detectives Kingston and David Graf took when they were assigned this cold case in January.

“It was the thought of two fresh sets of eyes to look at it, read it over and run with it,” said Kingston.

They started the investigation all over again.

Previously-unidentified fingerprints are now entered in every database nationwide just waiting for a match.

The FBI is conducting additional DNA tests only the FBI is currently able to do.

And the two have talked to people never interviewed initially, which they will only say has produced “new developments.”

“There are people out there that do have information,” Graf said.

Amber was four-and-a-half months pregnant at the time she vanished.

Her family and police both think that had something to do with her disappearance and believe Amber was likely murdered.

Detectives think they're finally closing in on naming a suspect.

“Close, but not yet,” Kingston said.

Laurie Ehnert is Amber's aunt. “They're determined. They want to do something with this. You know, it's a good feeling.”

But Amber's family has not always felt that way.

“At least I'm of the opinion that they messed up so much in the beginning it was inevitable that they'd never solve it,” Mr. Wilde said.

Her family has been very critical of the way the first detectives handled the investigation, saying they waited too long to treat Amber's disappearance as suspicious and missed their chance at identifying a suspect.

Many of those harsh feelings have now subsided because of the efforts of these new detectives.

Kingston said, “When it's your family member, I think you just want as much, but sometimes you can't be given everything.”

“They did a real good foundation, so there's just a couple gaps that need to be filled in that foundation. That is what we're trying to do,” Graf said.

Despite their renewed faith in the investigation, Amber's family is taking matters into their own hands.

“We're just not going to stop. We're going to do what we need to do to get an answer,” Mr. Wilde said.

They are convinced the person or people responsible still live in Wisconsin. So much so, a few times each year Amber's grandmother hangs posters in businesses and public places hoping the right people read them.

“I keep them up to date, and I thought, 'I hope like hell that bothers you,'” grandmother Jane Wilde said.

“Maybe someone's conscience might be weighing on them. I know mine would be,” Ehnert said. “I believe this case will be solved… but when and where is not up to me.”

“I'm going to be the first one in the courtroom cheering. I'll stand on the benches cheering. I don't care if I'm 80 years old,” said Mr. Wilde. “I will feel better cheering when they get convicted of what they did, because it's wrong.”

Amber's family will take this message to the public in a news conference Monday, 15 years to the day Amber disappeared.

But they're asking anyone with any information, no matter how small, to call police immediately.