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Editorial: Adam Walsh case closed
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Adam Walsh would have turned 34 years old last month. Perhaps he would have gone to college, had a successful career, married and had a child of his own.
Instead, at age 6, Adam was abducted from a Sears department store in Hollywood on July 27, 1981, and killed. On Aug. 10, his severed head was found in a canal in Vero Beach.
The kidnapping and gruesome murder of the cute young boy riveted the nation’s attention and changed forever how the nation views and handles cases of missing children.
Last week, police closed the book on Adam’s case, concluding he was murdered by drifter and serial killer Ottis Toole, who died in prison in 1996 where he was serving a life sentence for other crimes.
Toole had long been the primary suspect in the kidnapping and murder, but a combination of sloppy police work and confessions and recants by Toole kept resolution out of reach. After reopening the case and after a reported deathbed confession by Toole, police decided that with the evidence they had, Toole could have been tried and convicted of the crime.
The announcement last week brought some closure to the Walsh family. It could not, however, end the pain.
Adam’s death was a sensational news story in South Florida for a couple of weeks. Then it was forgotten as just another tragic crime. But his frustrated, angry and determined parents had other plans.
Just days after Adam’s funeral, John Walsh, a partner in a hotel management company, and Reve Walsh established the Adam Walsh Outreach Center for Missing Children, a clearinghouse for reports of missing children and an advocate for new laws dealing with the crimes. Their efforts led to the Missing Children Act of 1982 and the Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984.
That center evolved into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In 1988, John Walsh became host of the TV series, “America’s Most Wanted,” which has solved hundreds of crimes with the assistance of tips provided by viewers.
Also in the late 1980s, “Code Adam,” an announcement of a missing child in a store, became routine across the nation.
John and Reve Walsh brought intense new understanding to the issue of missing children and led the way in changes to legislation and law-enforcement procedures.
As much as the 9/11 attacks shattered American innocence about terrorism, so the kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh shattered innocence about child abductions.
Parents are more careful to keep their children in sight while shopping, not allowing them to enter public restrooms alone, watching over them or having others monitor them as they walk to school or a bus stop. Law enforcement has learned to respond much more urgently to reports of missing children. Lawmakers have become more aggressive in dealing with child stalkers and pedophiles.
How many lives of children have been saved because of the awareness brought by Adam’s family? Surely it is in the hundreds. As a result of their suffering, so many other parents have been spared similar suffering.
No amount of gratitude for what they have accomplished, however, can ever overcome the loss Adam’s parents have faced. But a nation is grateful to them and weeps with them at the conclusion of their awful journey.
Copyright, 2008, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, Used here with permission. No additional reproduction or distribution of this article in any form is permitted without the written approval of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers (http://www.tcpalm.com).