TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Forty years ago -- July 27, 1981 -- 6-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from a South Florida shopping mall. His severed head was found two weeks later about 130 miles from where he was kidnapped.
The case forever changed the way parents protect their children and how Florida and the nation look for those who go missing.
Adam Walsh was left playing video games unattended in a department store in the summer of 1981. He has never seen alive again.
Self-proclaimed serial killer Otis Toole, who lived for a time in Jacksonville, confessed twice to killing Adam but was never tried for the murder and later recanted.
Following their son’s murder, John and Reve Walsh, began a crusade for kids and, later, all missing persons.
“Someday no one will have to face the anguish they have undergone,” said then-Gov. Bob Graham in 1983.
That same year Graham signed the first legislation in the country creating a missing children’s clearinghouse.
“It’s very rewarding, seeing your accomplishments finally come to lite, but it will never erase the that we’ve experienced,” said Reve Walsh after the bill signing ceremony.
At the time, the Walsh’s told us Toole wasn’t important. Saving kids was.
“We haven’t really concerned ourselves with vengeance. I think that is something that eats you up,” Reve Walsh said.
The first clearinghouse was housed just blocks from the state Capitol. In 1984, it became the temporary home of the national clearinghouse for missing kids.
Over the decades the staff has grown from four to 17. They work 24/7.
“Ultimately, that led to what we have today, where we receive these notifications on our phones and we receive more information through street signs and the lottery,” said FDLE Special Agent in Charge Chad Brown.
Since 2003 AMBER Alerts have recovered 227 of 244 children. Brown told shat that’s a stat the state can be proud of.
“It feels fantastic,” said Brown.
FDLE is encouraging people not to mute Amber Alerts on your phone because they save lives.
John Walsh went on to host national television shows highlighting missing persons. The couple went on to have three more children.