John Walsh made it his life's mission to help victims of crime after his son was kidnapped and brutally murdered 25 years ago.
"I went from a very comfortable, 'American dream,' says Walsh, "having a beautiful home and a beautiful wife, all the 'toys' that come with material success, to being a heartbroken father of a murdered child."
On July 27th, 1981, Walsh's 6-year-old son, Adam, was abducted at a store in a shopping center near his family's home in Hollywood, Florida. Adam's remains were found 16 days later in a drainage ditch. The murder suspect was never charged and never confessed, but later died in prison sentenced for other crimes.
Walsh, 61, says he and his wife, Reve, searched for a way to keep from "spiraling downward into a terrible hell."
"So many people said to me, 'Well, it's God's plan,'" he recalls. "I said, 'I don't think God ever planned to have a 6-year old boy brutally murdered to test us.' Others said, 'Well, time will heal.' It's 25 years now and time has dulled the pain a little bit, but it hasn't healed us."
Looking back at the months after Adam's murder, Walsh says a chance conversation changed his life. A Florida coroner urged him to go to Washington, D.C., and convince Congress to pass a law mandating the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, to become involved in missing children cases. "That was a kind of pivotal thing when he said, 'You know, John, that FBI computer, the National Crime Information Computer -- this big monolithic computer that the FBI uses -- stores stolen boats, planes, and cars. But it does not have a place for missing children or even unidentified dead -- and the coroner said that this bill would change that."
John Walsh had a mission
"At that time, in that creepy morgue at eleven o'clock at night," he says, "I think that I stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided to channel that anger and bitterness into making sure that maybe it didn't happen to another child. I knew that was unrealistic, but if there were other parents of missing children like us, there would be better resources and they would at least get some help to get their child back."
Walsh and his wife went to Washington, D.C., and over a period of three years, called on Congress at countless public hearings and news conferences to approve two key bills, which ultimately passed and became law. One requires the FBI to use its vast resources to help solve cases like the Walsh's. Congress also created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a non-profit agency that helps parents search for missing children and investigates cases of child molestation.
Congress Passes Major Bill
This year, a quarter century after the murder of Adam Walsh, Congress passed another major bill to help authorities catch child sex offenders.
In July, President Bush signed the "Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act," which Walsh says is "a huge piece of legislation." The law establishes sex offender registries in every state, mandatory tracking of child and adult sexual predators, and 500 new U.S. Marshals charged with tracking criminals worldwide who prey upon children.
John Walsh remains a very visible advocate for criminal justice. He's the nation's, perhaps the world's, most famous crime fighter as host of a weekly television program called America's Most Wanted. The one-hour show, which has gone on location to places like the Persian Gulf, profiles fugitives from justice, including terrorists, and invites viewers with any information about them to telephone a toll-free hotline number.
On TV and On the Web, America's Most Wanted Gets Results
The program has led to the arrest of 911 dangerous fugitives in 30 countries, including 15 criminals who were on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.
"I think people are pretty universal worldwide: I don't think it really matters what religion, what country, what background you come from," he says. "I think people want to see justice. They don't want to see people hurt."
But Walsh says his motivation is different from the average person's. "Because I'll never get over the murder of my 6-year-old boy. I'll never be able to figure out why people do such terrible things. I know one thing: you have to fight back."
On his TV program, Walsh looks straight into the camera and says to viewers, "You can make a difference." John Walsh knows from experience.