In the 31 years since his son’s death, John Walsh has helped change legislation regarding missing children and sex offenders and capture about 1,200 fugitives through 'America's Most Wanted.'
Photographer: Neilson Barnard, Getty Images
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VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Thirty years ago, “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh and his wife, Reve, moved to Vero Beach to get away from the memories they had of living in Broward County, where their 6-year-old son, Adam, was abducted at a Hollywood mall and killed a year later.
In the 31 years since Adam’s death, Walsh has helped change legislation regarding missing children and sex offenders and capture about 1,200 fugitives and more than 50 missing children through his TV show.
In 2008, Adam’s case was finally solved and the killer found. But for the parents of a murdered child, Walsh said, there is no such thing as closure.
“We’ll always be the parents of a murdered child,” he said. “Someone rips your heart out and you somehow manage to keep breathing and walking around.”
Walsh will speak at “Every woman is my sister,” an event organized by domestic violence awareness nonprofit Safe Space of Stuart in Vero Beach on March 23. He said many of the cases he profiles on “America’s Most Wanted” involve domestic violence.
In one of those cases, a man who killed his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend was caught after being identified on the show. He escaped prison and threatened to kill Walsh. The man was eventually captured in Colorado, he said.
The TV host and child abuse activist has gotten used to receiving death threats, he said. He had three children after Adam’s death, and they grew up used to having bodyguards around. His two oldest children have left Vero Beach and his youngest son, Hayden, attends St. Edward’s School, where he is the student body president.
“They had to grow up with a lot of different things, a lot of attention to security,” Walsh said. “I profile cartel guys, mobster, serial killers.”
He said although his children never met Adam, they followed their parents journey to solve his case. Adam was murdered and decapitated in 1981. His head was found in a canal two weeks later. When he disappeared, there were no Amber Alerts, Walsh said, or hotlines the family could call or major campaigns that searched for missing children.
The family has helped change that. They created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and pushed for the passage of the Missing Children’s Assistance Act in 1984 and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2005.
Walsh also pushed for Adam’s case to be reopened and 27 years after the murder Hollywood police concluded that Ottis Toole, a serial killer who died in jail in 1996, killed Adam.
Joe Matthews, a retired Miami Beach police detective who helped resolve the case also helped discover the killer of Andrea Parsons this year. The Port Salerno girl was kidnapped in 1993 and has been featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” Walsh said he has not met her family.
“Not knowing is the worst for the parents,” he said. “What happened to my child? Are they alive? Who did it? It’s about justice.”
Many people with unsolved murder cases in their families approach Walsh after polo matches in Vero Beach, he said. His producers turn down about 100 cases a week because of high demand.
The favorite case he has helped solve was of Elizabeth Smart, a 14-year-old abducted in Utah who was on “America’s Most Wanted” 17 times, Walsh said. She was found alive nine months later. She invited him to her wedding last year.
But there are also unresolved cases that still bother him, like Jacob Wetterling, a Minnesota boy who disappeared in 1989 and whose remains were never found.
“I’ve run into his parents, and they try to keep hope alive,” he said. “I say, ‘Never give up.’”
Although Adam’s case has been solved, Walsh has not stop telling his story. He said it is still painful to talk about the day he died but he’s not afraid to revisit those memories.
“The real victim was Adam. He’s the one who went through the kidnapping, murder and decapitation,” he said. “We decided to make sure he didn’t die in vain. When I talk about it I have to talk about it. It’s really the children who are victims.”
IF YOU GO:
What: Every woman is my sister
When: 5:30 p.m. March 23
Where: The Club at Pointe West, 7500 14th Lane, Vero Beach
Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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