Amber Renee Barker, born on October 14, 1987, was 10 years old at the time and lived in Oklahoma City with her mother. Bonnie Barker was a single mother, and her ex-husband lived in another area. The girl had seven siblings. 1
She was a student at James Monroe Elementary School and, like any child at that age, had many interests. Family and friends of Amber remember that she was very good with animals, loved riding her bike, and wanted to be a welder when she grew up.
The abduction of Amber Barker
On December 18, 1997, around 3:00 PM, Amber leaves on her bike to meet a friend who lived 800 meters away from her house. While playing at her friend’s house, Amber made a call to her mother, and everything seemed fine.
At around 5:00 PM, the little girl leaves her friend’s house riding her 10-speed blue bicycle and is last seen riding on a local street towards her home.
The journey shouldn’t have taken more than five minutes, and it was quite common for the girl to ride around her neighborhood and meet neighboring friends to play. However, Amber never returned home.
At 7:20 PM, Bonnie calls the police and reports her daughter’s disappearance. About 35 FBI agents, district police officers, family members, and neighbors set out to search for Amber. The police even set up a computer program to help organize tips and information at the command post.
During the neighborhood search walks, a family member found Amber’s silver ring on one of the streets leading to her house.
Her 18-year-old sister, Tonja Barker, and the girls’ aunt, Joan Barker, 38, distributed flyers with Amber’s photo and characteristics. A man told Joan that he saw the girl riding her bike in front of the Drexel Condominiums (a residential complex near Amber’s house) at 5:25 PM, and on the same street, there was a boy selling candy as she passed by.
The bicycle and Amber’s clothes are found
On the following morning, between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM, the girl’s bike was found about a kilometer south of the Drexel Condominiums. There was no damage to the equipment, and it was leaning against a tree, as if it had been parked there.
Two days after Amber’s disappearance, on December 20, police found the girl’s sneakers. The left shoe was found one block away from the right shoe.
A sock that may have belonged to Amber and her beige coat were found near a garden on Drexel Street. The police were never able to find the pants and underwear that Amber was wearing that day.
Until Christmas, the search for Amber Barker was intense, with a large part of the local population working together with the police.
In search of any clue
Amber’s mother, Bonnie, was desperate. While searching for clues in her daughter’s room, she remembered a comment the girl had made the day before her disappearance.
Amber told her mother that she was afraid of Daniel John Smith, 24, the husband of her sister, 22-year-old Debbie Barker. She reported that she had seen Daniel that day and was afraid he would force her into his car.
Amber’s mother quickly contacted the police. Daniel had already spoken to the authorities on the night of the abduction and claimed to know nothing about her disappearance. On December 20, they decided to talk to him again and began searching for him.
Who was Daniel John Smith?
Daniel Smith did not have an easy childhood. Due to his mother’s drug addiction and neglect, he was taken away from home and placed for adoption at the age of six.
He was never adopted by a family and grew up living in various foster homes. By the beginning of his teenage years, he already had problems with alcohol and drugs.
At the time of Amber’s disappearance, Daniel was serving a five-year sentence for kidnapping, as he had attacked a woman in a parking lot on April 23, 1995.
The man claimed he was drunk and trying to steal the victim’s car keys. The police initially charged him with robbery, but the charge was later changed to kidnapping.
Authorities added a second charge for intimidating a state witness after Smith threatened a security guard during his court hearing.
As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Daniel Smith pleaded guilty to kidnapping and was sent to a four-month training program at the William S. Key Correctional Center for young adults.
The charge of intimidating the state witness was dropped, and his good behavior and success in the rehabilitation program were decisive factors in the District Attorney’s Office of Oklahoma County suspending his five-year sentence. He was subsequently released.
In November 1996, District Judge Leamon Freeman sentenced Daniel to five years of probation but imposed a deferred sentence.
The terms of his probation were simple: Daniel Smith had to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, receive counseling, and maintain part-time employment.
He was assigned a probation officer, whom he met with once a month. However, it didn’t take long for him to get into trouble again.
Domestic Violence against Debbie Barker
On November 30, 1997, the police received a call from Debbie Barker, Amber Baker’s sister. During the call, she reported being assaulted by her husband, Daniel Smith, after she refused to have sexual relations that day.
The police didn’t seem to make significant efforts to hold Daniel accountable, and days before Amber’s disappearance, he failed to attend an AA meeting, leading to a warrant for his arrest for probation violation.
Body found in Ray Trent Park
On December 21, 1997, the police found Daniel’s silver Mitsubishi at a convenience store. The next morning, volunteers from the Del Aire Neighborhood Watch Association and police officers searched a park located nearby.
At 11:30 AM on December 22, 1997, investigators found Daniel Smith’s body hanging from a tree in Ray Trent Park. His death was ruled a suicide.
There are some discrepancies regarding the location in this case. The spot where Daniel’s body was found seemed to be less than 1.6 km from the convenience store, but Google Maps shows the park about 8 km north of the store.
If the website is correct, it doesn’t make sense for Smith to walk 5 miles to commit suicide; he would have likely parked his car closer to the park. Theories of possible murder were raised but quickly dismissed by the police.
All Pointing to the Same Suspect
Daniel Smith was at Bonnie Barker’s house when Amber called from her friend’s house on the day of her disappearance. Shortly after the call, Daniel left Barker’s residence, following a path that likely would have been part of Amber’s route back.
Debbie Barker stated in 2013 that she does not believe Smith kidnapped her sister. She reported that another man was responsible but did not provide his name. Debbie has a child with Daniel, and she is now married again and leading a normal life.
She also suggested that the coroner misclassified Daniel’s death as suicide but did not provide further details. She further mentioned that she gave another name to the police at the time, but they didn’t take it into consideration.
Amber’s parents said in 1997 that they believed Daniel Smith did not act alone in kidnapping Amber. They had theories that the suspect had planned the crime for some time.
Amber Never Returned Home
After Amber’s disappearance, Bonnie Barker kept her daughter’s Christmas presents under the tree, hoping she would come home. When that didn’t happen, she decided to move from the location. Bonnie Barker passed away in 2014.
In 2015, a year after Amber’s mother passed away, the lead investigator in the case obtained a search warrant requesting DNA samples from inmate Forrest Jay Rice. This was supposedly the name Debbie Barker had given to the police at the time of the case.
Forrest Jay Rice. / Photo: Reproduction.
The DNA lab technicians found blue fibers on Amber’s beige coat and what appeared to be vomit. Initial tests indicated the presence of a possible ejaculation in the vomit.
Daniel Smith’s car had blue fabric seats, blue carpeting, and a vinyl dashboard in the same color. The police also recovered hairs from the passenger side and driver’s side of the vehicle.
There was a tiny drop of blood on Amber’s shoe, but authorities couldn’t link it to a specific person. In 1997, it wasn’t possible to extract a DNA profile as the technology didn’t exist.
Fifteen years later, tests revealed a partial male DNA profile. A TV program reported in an episode aired in 2015 that Forrest Jay Rice admitted to the police that Daniel Smith was at his apartment on the night Amber disappeared, and they spent time using drugs that day.
He also admitted to being with Daniel Smith on the day he committed suicide. Forrest Jay Rice had lived in various places, including OKC, Moore, and Guthrie. He also goes by the name Steven Brent Henley and was 22 years old at the time of the disappearance.
The case remains unsolved to this day, and the DNA samples, fibers on the clothing, and collected hairs have never been able to determine the killer’s profile.
Final Considerations on the Case
Some people believe that Amber’s abductor(s) took off her clothes in the car and threw them out the window. Then she was taken to another location, possibly Smith or Rice’s residence, where she was raped before being killed and disposed of.
We know that she was potentially sexually assaulted due to the potential ejaculation found on her coat, along with traces of vomit.
The police never found her pants and underwear, so it’s possible that the killer(s) destroyed or buried them along with the body because there was likely a lot of DNA on them.
Her bicycle was found intact near a tree, so her abductor didn’t knock her off the bike with a vehicle. She likely parked it herself when she met someone she knew.
As for Daniel Smith’s suicide, many people don’t believe in this theory. It’s possible that he was murdered since he was involved in petty crimes and drugs, or even that his accomplice in Amber’s abduction may have killed him to prevent him from saying anything to the police.
Interestingly, a case with so much genetic material collected at the scene has never been able to definitively point to or exclude a suspect. It’s heartbreaking to think that Bonnie Barker, Amber’s mother, passed away without receiving justice for her daughter.