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Protecting Children from Sexual Predators; Interview with Mark Lunsford

Aired April 21, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all so much for joining us tonight.
Innocent children kidnapped, assaulted, killed. How could anyone do that to a child? Tonight, the mind of a sexual predator and what you can do to protect your children.


ZAHN (voice-over): On the night of February 23, 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford disappears from her home south of Tampa, Florida, her body discovered nearly a month later. She had been sexually assaulted, possibly buried alive. Police charged this man, John Couey, a convicted sex offender who had been staying across the street. Police say he hadn't registered his location with the state.

Also in Florida, 13-year-old Sarah Lunde, last seen on April 9. Her partially clothed body is discovered a week later, weighed down in a fishing pond near Tampa Bay. The next day, police say this man, David Onstott, confessed to killing her, Onstott, a convicted rapist who authorities say hadn't registered his location. The girl's mother had been dating him in the past.

In Florida alone, there are at least 30,000 convicted sex offenders or predators walking free, because they've either of been paroled or finished serving their sentences. Nationwide, there are as many as a half-million convicted sex offenders on the streets and in our neighborhoods. It's a problem that crosses all economic lines, just as likely in rural towns as in the inner city.

Since 1996, all 50 states have required sex offenders to register with law enforcement, so you can learn if they're living in your neighborhood. But finding out isn't so easy. Each state has its own system. Private organizations keep lists as well, if you have a computer, if the sex offenders is registered, and if they've kept their information up to date.

Police say the John Couey and David Onstott had not. It's estimated that one in five don't. And if they don't, we have no idea if they're across the street, down the block, or somewhere nearby watching you or your children.

Tonight, hard questions. Can sex crimes be prevented? Can sex offenders ever be cured? Should they always be watched? It's everything you need to know about the predator nearby.


ZAHN: And, in a moment, I'll be talking with Mark Lunsford, Jessica's father, who is tragically familiar with this terrible problem. He's campaigning for tighter controls on sex offenders.

The current requirement for sex offenders to register is known as Megan's law, after 7-year-old Megan Nicole Kanka. Nearly 11 years ago, a neighbor lured Megan from her home, then raped and killed her. Megan's parents funneled their grief into action to stop the same horrible crime from happening to other children. But while they have found comfort in the fact that their daughter's name lives on, Richard and Maureen Kanka know the job isn't done.


ZAHN (voice-over): They're the stories that strike fear into the heart of a parent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please come home. We're all searching for you. We love you and miss you very much.

ZAHN: The most innocent of victims tortured, terrorized or worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They believe they've found the body of a small child here.

ZAHN: Promising lives like Sarah Lunde and Jessica Lunsford, allegedly killed by known sex offenders, John Couey and David Onstott, living free, legally in their neighborhoods, neighborhoods that may be just like yours.

Maureen Kanka knows this danger all too well; 11 years after a neighbor raped and murdered her 7-year-old daughter, Megan, Maureen now takes comfort in the good that's come from her little girl's death.

MAUREEN KANKA, MOTHER OF MEGAN: It was meant to be. Megan was the poster child for community notification.

ZAHN: Community notification became Maureen's battle cry, as she and her husband fought to pass the now famous Megan, which requires all 50 states to make public the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders.

KANKA: If we had known there were three sex offenders across the street, my daughter would be alive and well today. And that was the purpose of Megan's Law.

ZAHN: Thanks to the Internet, community notification is possible with just the click of a mouse. Just type a zip code into your state's online sex offender registry and a sobering list of names, photos, and past crimes will appear.

KANKA: I think that anyone who worries about the privacy and the rights of the offender needs to be locked up with the offender. ZAHN: With half a million sex offenders living freely in the U.S., Maureen says one thing is clear.

KANKA: No matter what we do, we are never going to be able to cover everyone.

ZAHN: Lawmakers in Florida are proposing a bold solution, force sex offenders to wear an electronic monitoring device for the rest of their lives.


ZAHN: The efforts to plug the gaps in Megan's Law continue. Just last year, various states passed 80 laws to increase restrictions on sex offenders.

It has been about a month since the murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, killed, police say, by a sex offender who moved in practically next door without notifying authorities. Well, today in Washington, Jessica's father, Mark, stood with members of Congress who are proposing a bill that would require states to keep better track of convicted sex crimes.


MARK LUNSFORD, FATHER OF JESSICA: I will never see Jessie go on her first date. I will never be a grandfather to her children. There's more to raising a child than bumps and bruises and Band-Aids and bicycles. I will never have those things with Jessie. Eight weeks ago, a repeat sex offender stole this life away from me. Today, my daughter is gone.


ZAHN: Heartbreaking to watch.

Joining me now from Washington, Mark Lunsford. With him, Anne Seymour, who also fights for victims' rights.

Thank you, both, for being with us.

Mark, I know this is a very difficult time for you, but describe to us what it felt like to be in Congress today among folks who are going to support this bill, at the same time that similar legislation was passed in the Florida State Senate. What did that mean to you?

LUNSFORD: It meant a lot to me, Paula.

The people that I had met, the Congress members, they made me feel very comfortable and that they're trying everything they can to get new laws passed and to work on -- make the changes to fill the loopholes in the cracks that these people are slipping through.

ZAHN: And I know, Mark, you have said you would pay any price to save any child out there from the fate that your daughter was subjected to. Do you really believe that these pieces of legislation can ultimately save lives?

LUNSFORD: Yes, they can, Paula. But, I mean, it's also up to the judges to follow the sentencing guidelines and to really crack down on these people.

ZAHN: Do you think, if this bill had been in effect, it could have saved Jessica's life?

LUNSFORD: I think this bill will save children's lives now. And I think, if it would have been here before, maybe. Maybe it would have saved Jessie and Sarah.

ZAHN: Anne, what is the biggest prediction this new legislation would provide that we don't already see on the books?

ANNE SEYMOUR, VICTIMS' ADVOCATE: Well, I think it provides incentives to the states to actually do what they are supposed to be doing. And that is keeping an eye on convicted sex offenders.

That, combined with Congressman Poe's Child Predator Act, which would establish a national sex offender registry, the combination of the two are going to go very, very far to ensure that we know where sex offenders are, that communities are notified and that we can keep tabs on them for the rest of their lives.

ZAHN: And, Mark, as you spoke with members of the national Congress and also individual members of state legislation in Florida, what was their reaction to the reality of trying to strengthen these laws?

LUNSFORD: Well, they made me feel very comfortable. And they were very -- they just -- gosh, you got me a nervous wreck here.


ZAHN: Oh, I don't want to do that. What you're doing is so important and we want to better understand how you think this legislation might change things for the better.

LUNSFORD: Well, it will. There's no mights to it. It will.

And the members of Congress, Congressman Poe, my congresswoman, Ginny Brown Waite, they are working very hard. And so are a lot of members of Congress. And I just can't tell them how much I appreciate their efforts.

ZAHN: And while you're pushing forward this legislation, Mark, you have to know that a nation has grieved with you, as they've watched you so valiantly look for your daughter and now taking on this very important issue.

Help us better understand what we all need to know about what your family has been through.

LUNSFORD: The worst roller-coaster ride, emotional roller- coaster ride, you could ever imagine. It's hard to describe. I wouldn't even know how to begin.

And without the support of my community and surrounding counties, people that came to help, other states, people that wrote letters and cards, I mean, that's where I got my strength from. And that's what gave me a reason to keep doing what I'm doing. I just wouldn't have been able to do it without people like Rudnick (ph) and just all my friends.

ZAHN: And I know that we have all been heartened to see how you have taken your own pain and loss and turned it into action, actually helping other families who are going through similar losses.


ZAHN: How hard has that been for you on an emotional level?

LUNSFORD: Well, it's just something that has to be done. I mean, I know it's difficult to go through. And there's other families that just -- it's hard for them. And I understand that. But I chose to take my anger and turn it into something positive and fight back.

We have to fight back. We have to do everything can to stop these predators and these sex offenders from reoccurring and doing these crimes again. We know, without a doubt, that they will strike out again. So, we just can't give them that opportunity.

ZAHN: Well, we've already seen the power of your work play out, both at the state level and national level.

Mark Lunsford, thank you so much for being with us today. I know you've had an exhausting day.

LUNSFORD: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Anne Seymour, thank you for your time as well.

And we should mention that Mark Lunsford is one of our choices for the person of the day. We picked him for his tireless efforts to prevent further tragedies to children, also the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, for making its first ever bust of a major Internet drug ring, or Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell for keeping Republicans and Democrats happy, relatively speaking, after signing a bill that gives gay couples civil unions.

Go to We'll let you know who won later on in the hour.

Still ahead tonight, another father, the tragedy that turned John Walsh into one of America's best-known crime fighters.


ZAHN: Coming up, a sexual offender argues that treatment can work. But can he be cured?

And a little bit later on, he has flushed out fugitives, helped to find thousands of missing children, John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted."

But, first, moving up on 15 minutes past the hour, Erica Hill standing by from Headline News.

Hi, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula. Good to see you.

The United States now has its first director of national intelligence. Career diplomat John Negroponte was sworn in at the White House less than an hour after he won Senate confirmation today. His mission? To coordinate and improve the government's 15 much criticized spy agencies. Negroponte is the former ambassador to Iraq.

In Iraq today, 11 people killed in a commercial helicopter crash. Six of the dead were American employees of the security firm Blackwater USA. U.S. military sources suspect missile fire caused the crash. The Islamic Army in Iraq is claiming responsibility. It released video of what it says is the wreckage of the chopper. The group has carried out numerous attacks in the past and has taken several hostages.

HILL: President Bush may soon be getting much of the money he's requested for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate approved $81 billion for those missions today. The Pentagon says it needs the money by the first week of May. House and Senate negotiators still must work out some of the differences, though.

And that's the latest from Headline News at this hour -- Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Thanks, Erica. See you in about 30 minutes.

And when we come back, we're going to go inside the mind of a child molester.


"STEVEN," CONVICTED PEDOPHILE: I'm the guy that's going to take the long way around a group of kids in a shopping mall.


ZAHN: Can pedophiles ever be cured? An abuser and the experts weigh in next.


ZAHN: When we hear about sex crimes against children, we all ask, why? It's unimaginable. But to better understand the mind of a sexual offender, you're about to hear from one.

Here's our report from senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STEVEN: It involved several young male boys over a period of time, from the time I was about 20 to 47, 48 years old. And it wasn't a continuous thing. It was something that went like a broken tire, flat tire in the car. You'd go along and things would be OK and then you would hit the flat spot and you would abuse.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's no doubt this 52-year-old man is a pedophile. The bigger question, is he a criminal or a patient?

STEVEN: I'm the guy that's going to take the long way around a group of kids in a shopping mall.

GUPTA: Steven, who asked for his name to be changed and to be interviewed in silhouette, spent three years in prison after being convicted of acts of pedophilia as a crime. Today, he's being treated for pedophilia as an illness.

Admittedly, it is blurry. Increasingly, we medicalize bad behavior. Alcoholism, violence, even murder may all be due to imbalances of chemicals in the brain. But the risk is, we may let criminals pay a lesser price for monstrous deeds or punish patients for whom treatment could prevent future crimes.

STEVEN: It's not a disease, as it's a bacteria or a virus. It is a mental illness. OK? It's a cognitive dysfunction that people can get. Is somebody born with it? Some people might be born with it.

GUPTA: As for Steven himself, he's not sure whether he was born with it. He is sure that, for almost 30 years, he molested more than a dozen children. It was only the combined force of the police, court, and prison that could break Steven's cycle of abuse. Pedophilia has been a diagnosable mental illness for decades, simply defined as an abnormal sexual attraction for children.

And while there are no brain scans or blood tests to confirm the diagnoses, there is a battery of treatments ranging from psychotherapy to antidepressants to forms of chemical castration with antiandrogens, aimed at reducing testosterone and sex drive.

DR. PAUL FEDOROFF, PSYCHIATRIST: The aim of treatment in pedophilia is not for people to stop having sex, but rather to modify their sexual interest, so that they become noncriminal.

GUPTA: Steven's course involves two strategies, antidepressants to curb sex drive and psychotherapy to understand why he has abused. Now six years after being convicted, he says he no longer thinks of children sexually.

STEVEN: I don't spend enough time thinking about them to have fantasies. So, it's like a guillotine coming down. There's a child. I remember terrible things happened. I don't want to go there, clank, done. Out of -- let's change our thought pattern, go someplace else.

GUPTA: But can treatment work for everyone? Can pedophilia ever really be cured? Many are cautious, including Dr. Gene Abel, director of behavioral medicine at Emory University.

DR. GENE ABEL, DIRECTOR OF BEHAVIORAL MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Rheumatoid arthritis never goes away. Congestive heart failure is never cured. Diabetes is never cured. This is not cured. This behavior, inappropriate behavior, is not cured. We just help the person stop this behavior.

STEVEN: I would say, when you get to the definition of cured being, I don't want to, I don't feel like it, and I have no interest, if that's your definition of cured, then you have got a lot of people out there that have been cured. If your definition of to be cured, never ever having had a pedophilic thought in your life, then there is no cure. An alcoholic is not a drunk if he never drinks again, all right? Is he cured? Well, might as well be.

GUPTA: As far as pedophiles go, though, for now at least they will be treated as both patients and criminals.


ZAHN: So, Sanjay, we have heard a number of conflicting opinions about whether you can ever rehabilitate these sex offenders. What do you think?

GUPTA: Well, the most prevalent opinion that we heard is that it really depends on how you redefine rehabilitate.

In one sense, to get rid of the actual urges, probably very difficult to do that. But to stop the actual acting upon the urges, much more likely. This has been studied in terms of the effectiveness of therapy. The largest study, about 26,000 -- look at that number -- 26,000 pedophiles, about 15 percent recidivism rate after rehabilitation. It's gotten even better now. People think that it may be as low as 5 percent.

But, again, if they still have urges, have they been rehabilitated?

ZAHN: It was so chilling to hear that pedophile I guess talk as candidly he could about what he's done, why he's done this. And he sort of made this parallel between alcoholism and being a pedophile. Does that make any sense to you? And is there any linkage?

GUPTA: You know, there is some linkage here. And I don't want to hedge. But there's all this medicalization of bad behavior, which are referred to in the piece.

You know, Alcohol, you can develop a dependence, a tolerance, withdrawal, all these sorts of things with alcoholism. You don't get that same sort of thing with pedophilia. You don't develop a tolerance, for example, to pedophilia. But the parallel is that they can be treated the same way, rehabilitated the same way, in the sense that behavioral therapy may work. In some cases, drugs might work.

But, again, you know, with alcoholics, they say, if you have one drink again, you might be back to being an alcoholic. And the same thing with pedophilia. If you act upon one of these urges, you are obviously back to being a pedophile.

ZAHN: Sanjay, helping -- helping us tonight better understand some of the conflicts in this debate. Please stick around, Sanjay. We are going to come back to you.

Coming up, could a serious illness actually turn someone into a sexual predator?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He called me from the hospital and said -- and he was crying -- and he said, they found a tumor. And I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy. It's a tumor that's been doing all of this.


ZAHN: A controversial diagnoses and a radical try for a cure when we come back.

And then, a little bit later on, the man behind "America's Most Wanted," John Walsh, and the crime that changed him forever.


ZAHN: So, the experts are split on whether pedophiles can be cured. You probably have your own opinion as well. But, wait. Listen to this unusual case.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't really remember when I started noticing things were different. I don't really remember a time when things weren't bad, when things weren't weird or uneasy.

ZAHN: Christina (ph) is speaking publicly for the first time about being sexually molested by her stepfather when she was just 12 years old. Her mother, Ann (ph), says she first noticed her husband -- we'll call him John Doe -- acting differently on Thanksgiving 1999.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got into just a really awful fight that day. And it was shortly after that that he began -- this is really hard to say on national TV -- he began touching my daughter.

ZAHN: John Doe pleaded guilty to charges of sexual battery. But what no one knew at the time was that he had an illness and it was growing worse by the day.

RUSSELL SWERDLOW, NEUROLOGIST: And, over here, you can see the tumor in the right frontal part of the brain.

ZAHN: When doctors finally discovered it, the tumor in John Doe's skull was the size of a fist. Dr. Russ Swerdlow, a neurologist who treated him, co-wrote a paper linking the tumor to John Doe's pedophilia.

SWERDLOW: We're pretty confident that this tumor was responsible for a number of reasons. Number one, it was affecting a well- recognized impulse control center in the brain. The other reason is that, after the tumor was removed, he was better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I can still remember the phone call. He called me from the hospital and said -- and he was crying -- and he said, they found a tumor. And I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy. It's a tumor that's been doing all of this.

ZAHN: By that time, Ann had separated from her husband. But a few months after an operation to remove the tumor they reconciled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it was really all physiological, maybe, gosh I would want a second chance. By June of that year, he had moved back in. But by December, I was discovering pornography on the computer again. And in January, we realized -- found out the tumor had grown back.

ZAHN: John Doe had a second operation, but by then his marriage to Ann was over. She still questions whether the tumor was entirely responsible for her husband's behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So why only my daughter? Thank God only one child. But why only? So that's the part that I say, well, yes, I wonder.

Why did he only do it when I was gone? Where's the free-will when there there's some question as to -- some way of knowing that there was something he was doing was wrong on some level, he must have known. So if he knew, then what does that say? Is that the tumor?

ZAHN: Dr. Angie Barrill is a forensic neuropsychologist. He's also skeptical about how much a tumor could contribute to pedophilia.

DR. ANGIE BARRILL, FORENSIC NEUROPSYCHOLOGIST: I think people's sexual tastes if you will and why they are so directed toward children as adults, is a complex issue that can't be explained simply by suggesting that someone has a tumor in their frontal lobes or they've had frontal lobe injury. It just doesn't work like that.

ZAHN: Dr. Berrill says the tumor is more likely to have removed some of John Doe's inhibitions causing him to act on impulses he would otherwise control.

The exact cause may never be fully explained. And Ann and Christina are no longer in touch with John Doe. They have moved on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think for a while, I was a little distrustful of the opposite sex. But I don't think it's a long-term thing. I think of it as an isolated issue.

ZAHN: Ann has remarried and started her own business. She specializes in hypnosis as a way to deal with traumatic experiences.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have been on that side myself. I have been down that deep, dark hole, and I didn't know where to go. And to know that it is a temporary situation, to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, to know that there is healing, that there is joy, that you can experience love and trust again is, to me, the most amazing gift.


ZAHN: And senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me again. Once again, totally blown away by the candor of that mom and her daughter.

But have you ever heard of a case like this where there's even speculation that a tumor could have turned somebody into a pedophile?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not specifically pedophilia. You know, it's well known that the area where this tumor is, the frontal lobes, is a part of your brain responsible for judgment. And people who have tumors there, or damaged in that area of their brain, do tend to their lose judgment and inhibitions.

Interestingly -- and I read the paper about John Doe -- he did have a strong sort of interest in pornography even at a young age. Then it went away. Maybe this brain tumor sort of disinhibited him and started to have some of those terrible traits come out once again.

ZAHN: Let's talk about what seems to be the dividing line between one of these pedophiles sexually abusing a child and then choosing to kill.

GUPTA: Right.

ZAHN: What is the pattern that we're seeing across the country?

GUPTA: Well you know, it's interesting, we have seen a couple -- very high-profile, very scary and sad cases recently of murder, of killing afterwards. But that is actually not the trend, an important point. Most pedophiles -- and I talked to psychologist about this -- don't kill their victims ultimately. In fact, a lot of them are either in paternal or guardian-type roles and actually care for those children as well. So that's actually not a common trend.

Obviously a couple of cases here with the subsequent murder may have been due to a significant amount of abuse in the assailant's life early on. Maybe a significant amount of violence exposure early on as well. Hard to say. But that is not trend, though, Paula.

ZAHN: Hard to listen to all of this, but important for all of us to learn from it. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you.

GUPTA: Thank you.

ZAHN: Coming up next, John Walsh remembers the little boy who changed his life.


JOHN WALSH, AMERICA'S MOST WANTED: A lot of people used to say, Adam is so gracious, he's so loving, he's so kind. He lights up a room when he comes in the room.


ZAHN: John Walsh on what might have been and how his life became a crusade for justice when his own son was murdered.


ZAHN: Well, for those of you looking at your digital clocks closely, if you have one, we are a little more than 20 minutes away from LARRY KING LIVE who tops the hour tonight. Who is joining you this evening, Larry?

LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: Early tonight, too. It's nice to be with you earlier than usual, Paula.

ZAHN: We like to surprise you, Larry, so you never know exactly when we're going to come to you.

KING: I like surprises.

We are going to do a show tonight on a disease that afflicts over 20 million Americans -- the disease is depression. And the guest will include Margo Kita and Tanya Tucker and Chad Allen and Linda Dano. All of whom have been afflicted with in diseases. There's no other word for it. It is a disease. It is treatable. And we'll have a psychiatrist on to discuss that as well. Depression is the topic at the top hour with viewer calls.

ZAHN: Well, I respect the fact that they are all willing to talk about it. Because I think it makes a huge difference to the audience, many of whom who are experiencing some of the same symptoms. Thanks, Larry. See you at the top of the hour.

KING: Bye.

ZAHN: And right now, we're going to check in with Erica Hill, who joins us with the rest of the day's news and the headlines. What's the latest, Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: Hello again to you, Paula. We start with a military jury which has convicted Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar of premeditated murder and attempted murder in a grenade attack on his comrades in Kuwait two years ago.

The soldiers were waiting orders to invade Iraq. You may remember the story. Two officers died in that attack, 14 other people were wounded. Prosecutors say Akbar told investigators he was concerned U.S. troops would kill fellow Muslims in Iraq. He could get the death penalty.

The House of Representatives has passed an $8 billion energy bill that would allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Similar bills have passed the House twice before only to die in the Senate. And a stolen violin valued at $850,000 has been recovered in California. The 200-year-old instrument was turned into police by a person who reported finding it. It was not damaged. The violin had been on loan to a 20-year-old musician who says she left it car last Sunday when she went grocery shopping. Said she was only gone for 10 minutes. Police are still investigating the disappearance.

And, turning our attention now to technology and money, Apple Computer, one of the big market-movers this year -- here's Valerie Morris with more.


VALERIE MORRIS, CNN BUSINESS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Apple's iPod may be getting all of the attention, but investors are tuning into the company's stock. Apple shares have surged 30 percent so far this year, after tripling in 2004. The big reason for the stellar performance, of course, stand-out sales of the iPod, with more than 15 million sold to date.

And there's more news from the company that could bode well for the stock: later this month, Apple plans to release its new Tiger operating system, a more user-friendly software designed to create more buzz on the street.


HILL: And that was Valerie Morris, again, with a look at Apple Computer, and that's going to do for us from Headline News. Paula, we'll turn it back over to you.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Erica, appreciate it.

Coming up next, John Walsh on the ups and terrible downs that made what him what he is today.

And please don't forget to vote for our "Person of the Day." Should it be Mark Lunsford who's in Washington standing up for stronger laws against sexual predators; the DEA for making its first drug bust of a major internet drug ring; or Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell for engineering a bipartisan bill that gives gay couples civil unions, but not marriage, making some sort of peace between the Democrats and the Republicans. Please go to and vote.


ZAHN: John Walsh is known to millions as the tough-talking victim's advocate who helps hunt down dangerous criminals on "America's Most Wanted." But it's a role Walsh never expected, never wanted. Walsh was an ordinary man, a loving father, when a crime of unspeakable horror tore his world apart. His story in tonight's "People in the News."


UM: Now, from our Washington crime center, John Walsh. ZAHN (voice-over): He's the driving source behind "America's Most Wanted."

JOHN WALSH, HOST "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED": This week, your tips have led to, not one, but two captures.

ZAHN: John Walsh, the nation's go-to guy from fugitives to missing children.

WALSH: So please join me...

UM: He's the hardest working guy I have ever met in show business.

UF: I think he has probably visited almost every single city in the United States talking to people.

ZAHN: John Walsh has become synonymous with fighting crime and with catching the uncatchable, with giving voice to the voiceless. After more than 15 years on "America's Most Wanted," Walsh is a certified pop culture icon, wrapped in a leather jacket. TV host, crusader, activist, John Walsh has been in the public eye for more than 20 years, years no father should have ever had to bear.

John Walsh was born the day after Christmas, 1945, in Auburn, New York, the first of four children.

SUSAN SCHINDEHETTE, CO-AUTHOR "JOHN WALSH: TEARS OF RAGE": John grew up as part a big family in upstate New York, Irish-Catholic, very traditional values. He had a wonderful, wonderful father, and I've met his mother, and she was a lovely, lovely woman.

ZAHN: Walsh idolized his parents, especially his father, who was known as "Gentleman Jack," or, more often, by his nickname Adam.

WALSH: I had a great father, went to Notre Dame, he was a World War II hero, B-24 bomber pilot. I was lucky and blessed, but I was wild. I just loved to have fun. I loved dangerous sports. In those days, you know, people didn't get a gun and kill somebody, you fought. We fist fought.

ZAHN: If Walsh sometimes fought for fun, he more often than not fought to protect. Somewhere early on, he had picked up the idea that it was his job, his duty, to take care of things.

SCHINDEHETTE: John really felt this kind of overwhelming sense of responsibility, that he was tougher and stronger and smarter and would last longer than anybody who came up against him.

ZAHN: Walsh was popular growing up, even more so when he entered college. He was single and loving it, until a young woman named Reve (ph) Drew walked into his life.

WALSH: I met Reve when I was in college. She's a beautiful lady. I remember one of my buddies said, you know, there is this beautiful gal who wants to meet you over here and I'm going to take you over and introduce you to her, and that was the beginning.

ZAHN: John Walsh and Reve Drew began dating, and eventually they left upstate New York for Florida. By 1971, the self-described hell- raiser was married and working as a marketing executive in the hotel industry. Walsh's work also took him around the world, away from home, away from Reve.

SCHINDEHETTE: One of the points that John made is that he and Reve did not want to start a family immediately.

WALSH: Well, I always thought of a father would be a huge responsibility, and I think Reve thought the same thing.

ZAHN: On November 14th, 1974, after more than four years of marriage, Reve gave birth to a baby boy, a son the Walshes named Adam, after John's father.

SCHINDEHETTE: After Adam was born, these two carefree people, I think, shifted their sights.

ZAHN: The Walshes doted on their new son. They took him to the Bahamas to share John's love of the ocean. They took him to Disney World. Adam was never alone.

WALSH: A lot of people used to say, Adam is so gracious. He's so loving. He's so kind. He lights up a room when he comes in the room. He's an old soul, and it kind of summed up Adam. He was that kind of a loving -- he was so -- he was very different than me.

ZAHN: John and Reve hovered over Adam, partly out of instinct, but mostly out of love, out of joy.

WALSH: Reve was a full-time, stay-at-home, 100-percent devoted mom, brought Adam to school, private school, brought him every single day, picked him up every single day.

ZAHN: If the Walshes were sometimes overprotective, Adam didn't seem to notice. In the summer of 1981, Adam was 6 and he was learning to play baseball, and when he wasn't running the bases, he was with Reve as she went about her daily routine in Hollywood, Florida.

On July 27th, 1981, Reve and Adam were out running errands. It was an ordinary day. They stopped at the Hollywood Mall and went into Sears to buy some lamps.

SCHINDEHETTE: She and Adam went into the store and, in the center of the toy department was something that was brand new, brand new. They were called video games. No one had really seen much of them, and as soon as they got to the video games, Adam said, Mom, Mom, can I stay here and play with the games? And she said, OK, Adam. Now, I'm going to be over in the lamp department. It's just around the corner.

ZAHN: Reve didn't specifically tell Adam to stay put. She'd never had to warn him before. SCHINDEHETTE: Reve came around the corner and went back to where the video games were. And she said to me, it wasn't just that Adam wasn't there. She said, it was so quiet all of a sudden. All of a sudden, no one was there.

ZAHN: Suddenly the little boy who'd never strayed had vanished without a trace.

Coming up, an unimaginable tragedy turns tears into rage.

WALSH: We don't exist to bury our children. You're not supposed to bury your children. They're your legacy.



ZAHN: Out of personal tragedy, John Walsh rebuilt his life while fighting for justice, but his own son's murder remains unsolved, even now, 24 years later. Walsh has had no closure over this loss.


ZAHN (voice-over): Two weeks after Adam Walsh vanished in the summer of 1981, the remains of a small boy were found in a canal, 150 miles north of Hollywood, Florida. John and Reve Walsh were in New York at the time. They'd just appeared on a national morning show, pleading for information about their missing son. John was in a hotel by himself when the phone rang.

WALSH; The worst phone call in my life. The worst day of my life. It was my best friend. And he said, those remains -- my son was decapitated -- is Adam. And that's all I remember. I remember smashing things and wrecking things and throwing things around. And I don't remember breaking into the room. But I was told they did, security. And I guess they got a hotel doctor or a doctor from somewhere, and I told them that what I had to do was call Reve. I had to find Reve, because I didn't want anybody else to tell her. I wanted to tell her myself. I said, you know, this is going to be the hardest thing I have ever done, but I have to do it myself.

ZAHN: The abduction and murder of his son Adam nearly consumed John Walsh. For a time, he didn't want to go on. Desperate and grieving, Walsh looked for answers. But all he found were more questions.

ERNIE ALLEN, MISSING & EXPLOITED CHILDREN CENTER: Twenty years ago, if your child was abducted, you were pretty much on your own. Today, there's a national network for disseminating images and information. There are 50-state missing children clearing houses. Twenty years ago, there were none.

ZAHN: John and Reve started a local missing children's center out of their garage, and eight weeks after Adam's death, they testified before Congress on behalf of the Missing Children's Act, which would require the authorities to keep files on missing children and unidentified bodies.

John Walsh had come to Washington for help, for action. What he ran into was resistance.

SCHINDEHETTE:: He was a nobody from Florida, and it was a sad story and he'd lost his little boy, and they wanted to pat him on the head and have him go away.

WALSH: We don't even know how many of our children are missing.

ZAHN: But Walsh wouldn't go away. Wouldn't give up.

WALSH: Any coroner will tell you most children are murdered in 24 hours.

ZAHN: And his persistence paid off. In 1982, he was there when President Ronald Reagan signed the Missing Children's Act into law. Walsh's activism helped establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. By this time, he was becoming a very familiar face, not only in Washington, but around the nation.

Walsh continued to hone his on-camera skills, through news conferences and talk show appearances. Appearances that impressed executives at a fledgling new network called FOX.

WALSH: I became a victim of crime when my young son Adam...

ZAHN: They had an idea for a new program that would profile criminals and solicit tips from viewers. TV was ready for John Walsh, but he wasn't sure he was ready for TV. He said no for six months, until finally...

WALSH: I asked Reve. I said, you know, Reve, they want me to do a pilot. I don't know what a pilot is. And Reve said, you know what, do it, that's what we're about.

WALSH: Good evening from Washington, D.C. I'm John Walsh.

ZAHN: "America's Most Wanted" debuted in February of 1988.

WALSH: Our first case is from the FBI's 10 most wanted list.

ZAHN: The first person profiled was caught three days later.

ANNOUNCER: "America's Most Wanted" is where America fights...

ZAHN: And a once reluctant John Walsh has been the host for nearly 20 years.

WALSH: Good evening.

ZAHN: In that time, "America's Most Wanted" has led to the capture of hundred of fugitives.

No one has ever been charged in Adam Walsh's murder. In 1997, however, John published "Tears of Rage." In it, he and his co-author combed through Adam's 10,000-page police report. They also name a suspect.

WALSH: I believe that Otis Toole, serial killer who died on death row in Florida from AIDS and cirrhosis of the liver killed Adam. He confessed to Adam's murder on several occasions, in spite of the media saying he recanted his story. He didn't recant his confession; his lawyer did.

ZAHN: Over the last two decades, John Walsh has been a tireless advocate not only for children's rights, but also victims' rights. He has fought for new laws and he has helped thousands, and he's done it all with one person in mind.

WALSH: I've often thought that I wanted to make sure Adam didn't die in vain, that his beautiful little life wasn't in vain. And, you know, I think -- I think he's up there, saying, "go get'em, dad. Hang in there."


ZAHN: Dad is hanging in there and then some. John and Reve Walsh still work for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He's also campaigning for a constitutional amendment to guarantee victims' rights.

Before we leave you, you've had your say. Here's our person of the day. The choices, again, Mark Lunsford, for going to Washington to push for tougher laws to track sex offenders. And the DEA, for its first bust of a major Internet drug ring. And Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell, for keeping Democrats and Republicans happy after signing a bill giving gay couples civil unions.

Your choice? Mark Lunsford, a man who was the guest at the top of our hour.

There's such a lack of uniformity in the sex offender registries from state to state that you might want to learn more about the laws in your area. You can find more information at our Web site, Hope it's helpful.

Thank you all so much for being with us tonight. We'll be back, same time, same place tomorrow night. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.



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