When Oprah Show viewers are called to action, there's no limit to what they can achieve. In September 2008, Oprah asked viewers at home to contact their senators and demand that Senate Bill 1738, The PROTECT Our Children Act, be passed into law. Nearly half a million people contacted their senators, and on September 15, 2008, the bill passed. Now, Oprah and John Walsh are asking you to take more action on behalf of the nation's children.
In 1981, John's son Adam was shopping with his mother when he disappeared from a Florida department store. A nationwide hunt for the 6-year-old followed, but the ending wasn't what anyone had hoped for. Sixteen days after Adam went missing, fishermen discovered his severed head in a canal 120 miles away from the store where he was last seen. "For almost three decades, his case was one of our nation's most well-known and also heartbreaking unsolved mysteries," Oprah says. "Adam's body has never been found, and for 27 years, his case was unsolved."
After Adam's death, John became a champion for child safety and crime victims everywhere. As the host of America's Most Wanted, John has helped rescue dozens of missing children and has brought more than 1,000 criminals to justice.
John helped solve crimes for more than 20 years before the case nearest to his heart finally came to a close. In December 2008, police named convicted serial killer Ottis Toole, who had died in prison in 1996, as Adam's murderer.
Though the case wasn't officially closed until 2008, John says he always thought Toole was to blame for his son's death. "Toole's niece had called America's Most Wanted three years ago and said: 'Before [Toole] died, he confessed to me, and no one has ever talked to me. No one has ever come to see me from the Hollywood Police Department,'" he says.
After Adam's abduction, John says the police investigating the case made many mistakes, including losing evidence. "I've been so angry over the years," he says. "[The police] lost the bloody carpet from Toole's car. The FBI said, 'We would have tested that carpet in one day.'"
After remaining a cold case for 27 years, John says the new chief of the Hollywood Police Department, Chad Wagner, finally set out to make things right. "[He] said: 'I believe that this police department has made some huge mistakes, and we want to reopen the case. I want to look at it from a different perspective with fresh eyes,'" John says. "He said: 'We're going to close this case. We lost evidence. We took a defensive position. We're going to close the case and apologize to you at a national press conference.'"
John says when that day finally came, he was incredibly emotional. "The most ironic thing is that I fought so hard for justice to get closure for other people, and it isn't about closure. ... It's about justice. It's about ending that journey," he says.
The road to justice was long for John and his family, but he says he isn't bitter. "I've never been a vigilante. I've never believed in that," he says. "This chief manned up, and he said, 'We have two detectives who were trained at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that you and your wife created years ago.' And he said: 'We owe it to you. It's going to be tough. [But] I've got broad shoulders, and I'm going to do it on national television.'"
Though John and his wife, Reve, never stopped fighting for Adam, their lives have changed a lot in the past 27 years. "We have a beautiful daughter who is an artist in New York, Meghan. Callahan, who just graduated from college, is a 24-year-old, beautiful boy. And we have a 14-year-old," he says. "They lived under the specter of Adam and seeing us go through the ups and down. And [wondering]: 'Boy, are Mom and Dad ever going to get justice? We never met this brother.'"
Though John's story has made plenty of headlines, he says people must not forget that the real victims are the kids who go missing or get abused. "In the beginning, I was so mad. I was so angry. There was nobody to help us out," he says. "But Reve was the first one who said: 'You know, John, we've got to remember who the real victim is here. It was Adam. So let's saddle up and do something.'"
All the fighting John does is to make sure children don't die in vain, he says. "You don't want to make people paranoid or terrify them. You want to say: 'This is serious business. This happens in America. It can happen to anybody,'" he says. "You try to honor your child."
One of the scariest things about Adam's case is that it happened before the Internet even existed. In today's world, there are so many more outlets for predators to find and exploit children. "I hunt these guys down for a living," John says. "They're everywhere, and they're better than anybody at it. They know the laws. They know what applies to them. ... [The Internet] is their private hunting ground."
In order to make the world a safer place for children, John says people need to take action. "Knowledge is power," John says. "People need to get busy ... you are a champion for your kids."
One thing viewers can do today, John says, is write to their senators and state representatives and demand that the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act gets funding and reauthorization by the July 2009 deadline. The act was passed on July 25, 2006—20 years after Adam's abduction—and it established a National Sex Offender Registry law. However, recent news reports reveal that most states will not be in compliance with the law by the upcoming deadline. If senators and state representatives don't comply with and fully fund the act, it will run out.