By John Walsh
We were living in South Florida, and our 6-year-old son, Adam, loved nothing more than going to the beach. He loved to swim and snorkel. Like me, he was fascinated by the ocean and everything in it. Adam could name all the different types of fish and coral. He knew a trigger fish from a grouper.
My son was the kindest little boy to other children, especially younger kids. He’d share his toys with them, and his books, especially his favorite ones about the ocean and pirates. Like other boys his age, he was a baseball fan. But, frankly, he’d rather stop and examine a butterfly in the outfield than catch a fly ball.
Now, that image of Adam, holding a baseball bat, is seared in the nation’s consciousness. On July 27, 1981, during a trip to a shopping mall in Hollywood, Florida, Adam was abducted by a child predator. He was gone.
We were frantic parents with nowhere to turn. There was no local, state or federal agency that could help. At the time, stolen cars could be entered into the FBI’s national database — but not stolen children. There were no AMBER Alerts, no national missing children hotline. No emotional support system for distraught families like us. Two weeks after he vanished, Adam was found murdered, a day that forever changed the course of our lives.
We channeled our anger and our rage into helping families of other missing children. My wife, Revé, founded the Adam Walsh Resource Center in our garage off a card table and a landline that would later become the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. I went on to testify on Capitol Hill to get legislation passed to help other families and other victims. After that, I began hosting “America’s Most Wanted” and catching real criminals.
Since opening its doors, that tiny nonprofit has grown beyond belief. NCMEC has helped law enforcement find more than 260,000 missing children. It has distributed literally billions of missing-child posters, trained more than 350,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors and health-care professionals and given emotional support to more than 70,000 distraught families. We could never have imagined the good it would do.
And it all came about because of Adam, because of our love and respect for the kind of person he was and how many other people loved him. He was the motivation to make something positive out of this tragedy. To make sure he didn’t die in vain. To make sure he wouldn’t just be another number, another murdered child, another statistic.
Twenty-five years after his abduction, Congress enacted the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which gave law enforcement the tools to quickly take dangerous predators off the street.
The SMART Office took the bull by the horns and implemented the act at full speed. It has been the key component in making this important piece of legislation work, and by doing so America’s children are safer. The SMART Office is one of the most committed and proficient agencies I’ve ever dealt with. I give them a huge pat on the back. I couldn’t thank them enough.