Before Shawn Hornbeck, Ben Ownby and Elizabeth Smart, there was Adam Walsh. Unfortunately, in Adam's case there was no happy ending.
On July 27, 1981, 6-year-old Adam Walsh and his mother Revé went to a department store about a mile away from their home in Florida to shop for lamps. When the mother and son went into the store, Adam saw some children playing video games on a television display. He asked to play the video games. His mother agreed - and that would be the last time she would see her son alive.
Revé went to look for her lamp and returned to the television display within 10 minutes. Adam was nowhere to be found though.
After looking for Adam on her own for two hours, someone finally called the local police department. In the coming week thousands of fliers with Adam's picture were distributed through the local area. Adam's parents went on national TV pleading for anyone who might have any information about their son to come forward.
Sixteen days after Adam disappeared from the store his body was found and identified.
Since the death of his son, Adam's father John Walsh has made a career out of fighting crime. Walsh is the host of the Fox TV Show “Americas Most Wanted.” In addition to hosting the show, Walsh has served as an advocate for missing children.
On July 27, 2006 President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Act into law. The law established a comprehensive national system for the registration of sex offenders and three categories of sex offenders. It also requires sex offenders to appear in person to verify their registration. As a result of the law, a term of 20 years of imprisonment can be imposed for offenders who knowingly fail to register. Sex offenders must register as a condition of probation or supervised release.
In 1994 Code Adam was created and named in memory of Adam Walsh. Code Adam is used as a search tool for lost and possibly abducted children in shopping centers and establishments across the country. When a business participates in the program, a decal is displayed in the entrance.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Web site there are six steps employees are trained to follow when a Code Adam is announced.
If a visitor reports a child is missing, a detailed description of the child and what he or she is wearing is obtained. The employee goes to the nearest in-house telephone and pages Code Adam, describing the child's physical features and clothing. As designated employees monitor front entrances, other employees begin looking for the child. If the child is not found within 10 minutes, law enforcement is called.
If the child is found and appears to have been lost and unharmed, the child is reunited with the searching family member. If the child is found accompanied by someone other than a parent or legal guardian, reasonable efforts to delay their departure will be used without putting the child, staff, or visitors at risk. Law enforcement will be notified and given details about the person accompanying the child. The Code Adam page will be canceled after the child is found or law enforcement arrives.
Wal-Mart has been an active participant in the Code Adam program since its inception.
“Mr. (Sam) Walton believed so much in family,” said Desloge Wal-Mart Supercenter Assistant Manager Donna Lewis. “He would have done anything to save a child's life.”
Lewis said it is protocol at Wal-Mart that when a Code Adam is paged that all associates stop what they are doing and look for the child.
“We don't announce the child's name over the intercom because we don't want to give it to a possible kidnapper. We do give a description of the child. Our associates are trained to walk the aisles until the child is found. Members of management go to all of the entrances to make sure the child does not leave the store. If the child is leaving the store with someone other than a parent or caregiver, we are instructed to try and stop them.”
Lewis said Wal-Mart used to go into lockdown mode during a Code Adam, but due to safety reasons the company had to abandon that policy.
“All it takes is for a parent or a caregiver to go up to an associate and say that a child is missing and a Code Adam will be paged,” Lewis said. “When you see the horror on a parent's face when they tell you that their child is missing, it's a vivid picture that stays with you.”
Lewis said associates not only search the store, but they also look in the parking lot.
“There are several instances where a child gets separated from a parent so they go out to the car and wait for their mom or dad,” Lewis said. “Another place we typically find children is in the toy department. That is usually the first place that we look. Usually within 5-10 minutes we find the child. We have been lucky so far, nothing bad has happened.”
Lewis said Code Adams are paged on average twice a week.
JCPenney also participates in the Code Adam program.
“We have been involved in the program for at least the past six years,” said Farmington JCPenney Store Manager Roger Sawall. “We have probably been a part of it longer than that. We follow the protocol that has been established. We search the store and put associates at all entrances and exits. After 10 minutes we notify the police. We typically have one or two Code Adams every other month.”
Sawall said Code Adam is something his department store takes very seriously.
“We have a video that our employees train on,” Sawall said. “We have found kids over the years in some weird places. Kids like to hide. Our customers have given us feedback that they really appreciate the Code Adam program and the fact we participate in it.”