"I have had enough. With every breath in my body, whatever it takes and, most importantly, with you by my side, we are going to move heaven and earth to stop an evil that's been going on for far too long," says Oprah. "The children of this nation are being stolen, raped, tortured and killed by sexual predators who are walking right into your homes. How many times does it have to happen? How many children must be sacrificed? What price are we willing to pay before we take to the streets and say, 'Enough!'"
Six agonizing weeks after the murders, a surveillance camera captures Shasta in a convenience store with a man named Joseph Duncan. Later that night, Duncan enters a Denny's restaurant with Shasta. The manager calls 911. Within minutes, police descend upon the restaurant and capture Joseph Duncan. Two days later, detectives find young Dylan's charred remains at a remote Montana campsite.
The police report of Shasta's ordeal is a parent's living hell. Shasta told police that she was in bed when her mother woke her up and told her to come to the living room. Her mother, mother's boyfriend, and 13-year-old brother Slade were bound with zip ties and duct tape while Shasta watched. Then she and Dylan were tied up outside near a swing set. She told police that she could hear screams from inside the house as the three were bludgeoned to death.
Shasta says that she was taken to a remote campsite in the mountains. Shasta said Joseph Duncan bragged to her about the killings. Shasta said he even showed her the hammer that he had used to bludgeon her family. Shasta told police that she was repeatedly sexually molested.
Duncan was classified as a Level III sex offender, the most dangerous and likely to re-offend. At first he followed the rules, reporting regularly to his parole officer—but after two years, he slipped from sight. For months Duncan lived on the run, bouncing from state to state. Authorities believe that during this time he may have killed two girls in Seattle and raped and murdered a 10-year-old boy in California. When police finally caught up with Duncan in Missouri, they threw him in jail for violating parole. Four years later, he was out again.
Duncan settled in Fargo, North Dakota, registering as a sex offender as Megan's Law requires. Then, at a school playground in Minnesota, a man matching Duncan's description molested two young boys. Police suspected Duncan of the crime, and he was arrested and appeared before Judge Thomas Schrader. Despite Duncan's chilling record of sexual violence against children and his history of violating parole, Judge Schrader set bail at just $15,000—the judge claims he never knew the full extent of Duncan's sadistic past—and Duncan wrote a personal check and walked out of jail a free man. The online diary Duncan maintained began to read like postcards from hell: "It is a battle between me and my demons," he wrote. "I'm afraid…if they win, then a lot of people will be badly hurt."
Recently, Steve sat in the courtroom with Joseph Duncan to witness his not guilty plea." [The not guilty plea] was pretty much anticipated by everybody," Steve says. "It's a death penalty case, so it was highly unlikely he was going to go in there and say, 'Guilty.' The thing that bothered me the most is that he didn't speak at all. His lawyers did all the talking for him."
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Joseph Duncan. "I believe that's what is deserved in this case," Steve says, "and I am a believer in the death penalty. I believe if you take somebody's life, you should give yours in return. This guy took four lives and, unfortunately, we can only kill him once."
The alleged killer, convicted sex offender John Couey, was living right across the street. Jessica's heartbroken father, Mark, remembers two of his daughter's most prized possessions: her pink hat and her stuffed dolphin.
"It was purple and it had a white belly and when he took her out of here, he let her take her dolphin with her. And when they found her, he buried her alive and she was holding onto her dolphin." Left with only memories, this grieving father has made it his life's mission to never let another child suffer.
"I think that the best thing we can do is lock [child sex offenders] up for life. I think the system has really failed its people. We've waited too long to make changes. Every time we lose a child, we lose part of our future, a part that we're never going to know about," says Mark.
"And I think every time we lose a child, we reinforce the lie to ourselves," adds Oprah. "I know that sounds very harsh, but I think we do. How can we say we're a country that cares about children? How can we say in our hearts that we really do care about children and then consistently turn our backs?"
In one particularly chilling episode, authorities found a journal inside a convicted sex offender's jail cell. In the journal—what they're now calling the "Molester's Manual"—he had laid out a step-by-step plan to find his next victims.
One of these frightening fantasies involved finding his prey in a hospital emergency room: "Park in hospital parking lot. Look for families with girls. Be sure family is small. Not too many adults. Be sure children see you. Stand near counter as if speaking with parents. Tell her you need to be strong. Walk the girl to your car. Say, 'We're going to eat. Remember, we must get some food for your parents, too.'"
Andy says of the half-million sex offenders on the streets, about 25 percent—roughly 100,000 sex offenders—are not in compliance with their rules and conditions of parole, probation and registry. "That is a national public safety health crisis," Andy says.
Jeannette was assaulted, handcuffed, bound and put inside of a box. Just then, Jeannette's mom and brother arrived home. The attacker brutally beat them both and left with Jeannette, taking her captive. He repeatedly tortured her over a series of days.
Amazingly this 9-year-old girl made a brave decision to outsmart her attacker, David Montiel Cruz, so that, she says, he wouldn't be able to "hurt another child the same way he hurt me."
Jeannette figured out a way to slip out of her handcuffs. She grabbed some trinkets that had Cruz's fingerprints on them and then put her handcuffs back on. She then told Cruz that she had asthma and a contagious disease. He released her, but, Jeannette says, "He said, 'If you tell anyone about me or something I'm going to come back and kill your family and then kill you.'"
Police were shocked not only in the way that Jeannette was freed, but by the amount of evidence she'd collected. "When I started taking all the evidence out of my pocket, their mouths just dropped," she says. Jeannette led investigators to her kidnapper's front door. The judge called this one of the most horrific crimes he had ever seen and sentenced David Montiel Cruz to more than 100 years in prison.
While knowing she prevailed over Cruz empowers her, frightening memories still haunt Jeannette three years later. "When I see the stories in the news about other missing children, I start to cry," she says. "I prayed for Jessica and Shasta."