John Walsh is the Emmy®-winning, longtime host and executive producer of America’s Most Wanted – the groundbreaking reality program that helped law enforcement capture more than 1,100 dangerous fugitives and brought home more than 50 missing children since its debut in 1988. The program aired on FOX for 24 seasons. Following the phenomenal success of AMW, John was featured for four seasons on The Hunt, first on CNN before moving to HLN. The show has been credited with the capture of 12 more fugitives. A successor to the show, In Pursuit with John Walsh, will air on Discovery ID in December 2018.
John never sought the role of crime fighter and victims’ advocate, but it has been his life’s mission since July 27, 1981 – the day his 6-year-old child, Adam, was abducted from a shopping mall near his home in Hollywood, Florida. Adam was 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. Long-time prime suspect Ottis Toole was undeniably named Adam’s killer. Toole – a drifter with a long criminal record – died years earlier in prison, while serving time for other crimes. Although Adam’s case was finally closed, the pain of their loss lives on.
Born in Auburn, New York and educated at the University of Buffalo, John moved to Florida with his wife, Revé, where he was a successful hotel developer before Adam’s tragic abduction and murder.
The Walshes’ experience showed them that the nation was in desperate need of a coordinated national response to the issues of missing and sexually exploited children. Together, they founded the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 1984, after President Ronald Reagan signed the “Missing Children’s Assistance Act.”
NCMEC, as it’s known, has been at the forefront of child protection for more than 34 years and provides invaluable resources to parents, children and law enforcement in the United States and internationally. The nonprofit has helped law enforcement recover more than 277,000 missing children and operates the CyberTipline, the centralized reporting system in the U.S. for suspected child sexual exploitation. NCMEC’s CyberTipline has received more than 42 million reports – more than half in the last two years alone – as the problem has exploded on the internet.
NBC’s airing of two movies about the Walsh family’s story, "Adam" in 1983 and "Adam: His Song Continues" in 1986, woke the nation to the reality of child abduction and dramatized the incredible heartbreak and resilience of the Walshes. In a bold and courageous move, the network ran a roll call of missing children at the end of the movies, leading to the recovery of 65 children.
A hero to law enforcement, John has been honored numerous times by many local, state and federal agencies. In addition to being named “Man of the Year” by both the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI, John was also made an honorary U.S. Marshal. He is only the third person to receive this honor in the organization’s 200-plus-year history.
The entertainment industry has also recognized John’s contributions to television. In 2011, John received the prestigious Governor’s Award at the Creative Arts Emmy® Awards, a distinction voted upon by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Board of Governors which “salutes an individual, company or organization that has made a substantial impact and demonstrated the extraordinary use of television.” That same year, John was recognized by AFTRA as the recipient of the Foundation’s AMEE Award in Entertainment.
John’s three best-selling books: Tears of Rage, No Mercy and Public Enemies, tell his family’s story and details the toughest AMW cases he’s worked on.
Although he's never held political office, John’s been the driving force behind major pieces of child protection legislation. This hard work led to him being honored five times by four presidents: Ronald Reagan (twice), George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
On July 27, 2006 – 25 years to the day since Adam’s abduction – at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President George W. Bush signed a new, resolute law to track and apprehend convicted sex offenders who disappear after their release from prison: The “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.” July 27 is now a bittersweet day for the Walshes; it’s a date that marks the worst day of their lives in 1981, but also a day that brings hope to families who seek justice and answers, because of the law named for their son.
John and Revé have been blessed with three more children: Meghan, Callahan and Hayden and have three grandchildren. John and his wife remain very active with NCMEC and continue to fight for victims’ rights and for justice throughout the United States and wherever children or crime victims are in need.
Photo by Gail Daman