Rae-Leigh Bradbury was only eight weeks old when she was kidnapped. But thanks to the newly created Amber Alert system, she was rescued two days later. She became the first child to ever be recovered with the help of the initiative, and this fall, the 18-year-old is heading to college.
In 1998, Bradbury's babysitter took her from her home in Arlington, TX. Two days after she disappeared, someone spotted the babysitter's turquoise truck. The police found the infant asleep in the car, and other than being hungry and dirty, she was safe. The whole ordeal took about 90 minutes thanks to the Amber Alert.
"I don't remember any of it, but I know the story," Bradbury, who now lives in Fort Worth, TX with her family, said during an interview with NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.
Even though Bradbury was too young to remember the kidnapping, her mother still does.
"When I start thinking about it, I start to weep up," her mother, Patricia Sokolowski, told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth. "I sort of cry because there's so much going, and it's all happening."
She added, "It was definitely a feeling that I don't wish on anyone, that emptiness, that 'don't know what to do feeling.'"
Thankfully, the horrible ordeal had a happy ending. Today, Bradbury is a high school senior eager to start the next chapter in her life. She will be attending the University of Texas in Austin this fall.
"I'm honestly so excited," she said. "I'm just so excited to just get out and see Austin, like Austin is a little weird, I'm excited cause I'm a little weird, too."
When Bradbury was kidnapped, the system was available in Texas but had yet to be used at a national level. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the PROTECT Act, which embraced the Amber Alert at a national level. As of February 2017, 868 children have been rescued specifically because of this initiative.
"I can do all these things — I can go to graduation, I can get married one day, I can go to college. It's just mind boggling 'cause some people don't get that luxury," Bradbury said.
She added, "I'm very, very grateful."