WESTFIELD, NJ - Having an honest conversation with children about their online activities, mandating that DNA samples are taken upon arrest and emphasizing the importance of being vigilant anywhere, are key ways we can keep our children safe, according to crime fighting TV show host John Walsh.
Walsh paid a visit to Westfield’s Presbyterian Church on Sunday evening for a Keeping Children Safer program and to provide and update the public on his non-profit National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Most people will know Walsh from his role as the host of America's Most Wanted, a hit TV show that has helped locate and capture 1,050 dangerous fugitives and bring home more than 50 missing children during the past 22 years.
Walsh said that although crimes against children still take place in the open at stores and schools, the Internet has become the primary hunting ground for predators.
“I tell these young girls, that you need to friend your parents so they know what you are doing because you know that wonderful 15 year old boy or girl who posts their photo to Facebook and looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, that’s a creepy 50-year old guy somewhere. I hunt those guys down.”
Walsh is not just a reality TV show host. On July 27, 1981 Walsh’s son Adam was abducted from a mall near his home in Hollywood, Florida, and found murdered two weeks later.
The case remained unsolved for 27 years. But in December 2008, after a long investigation that was re-opened by the Hollywood Police Department -- and with assistance from dedicated active and retired criminal justice professionals -- Adam's case was finally closed with Ottis Toole confirmed as the killer.
Because of the duration of his son’s case, Walsh is pushing for a national law that would require law enforcement to take a DNA sample from anyone arrested. “DNA is the fingerprint of the 21st Century,” Walsh said.
Predators are cunning and smart, Walsh said. He mentioned a particular case where a predator who he caught in Belize was a chess instructor who hosted boys at his house. A 12-year old girls spotted him after watching America’s Most Wanted.
Walsh also recounted the arrest of John List, who on November 9, 1971, murdered his wife, mother, and three children in Westfield, and then disappeared. He had planned everything so meticulously that nearly a month passed before anyone noticed that anything was amiss.
It took 20 years and $1 million dollars to go through the traditional law enforcement channels to attempt to find List. After America’s Most Wanted got involved, List was apprehended in two days and has since died in jail.
The TV show also serves to highlight the importance of personal responsibility in keeping children safe. To deliver that message, Walsh said he supports mandating child safety courses in schools.
“I believe that knowledge is power,” Walsh said. “I truly had no clue about crime and exploitation of children until I became a victim in 1981. Because I lived in beautiful little Hollywood Florida, I thought I could live outside the city and protect my family. I was so wrong.”