He would have been 31 years old last November – November 14 to be exact, which stands out for me, because that is my birthday, too.
We could’ve been peers, he and I. Oh sure, we probably would never have met, but we would have been fellow members of Generation X.
Perhaps, looking back, he would have laughed with his friends about the days when “party like its 1999” sounded like a time a million years in the future.
But of course, he isn’t 31. Instead, he is perpetually, endlessly, frustratingly six years old.
If you remember him at all, you probably remember a photograph of a little boy, baseball cap casting shadow on his face as he holds his bat, ready to swing.
A snapshot taken on a sunny day – probably before some interminable Little League game that no one even remembered the score of a day later, if they kept score at all.
Safe no more. The boy in the snapshot was Adam Walsh and in 1981, at six years old, he was kidnapped from a Florida department store.
In that moment, he became – and made – history.
That photo, a little boy with a baseball bat, became the first widely circulated modern-media handling of a “missing child.”
I remember Adam. I was just old enough when he disappeared to be aware of the furor over this one lost boy.
Later, I remember his parents – grownups even! – crying on the evening news when parts of their son were located.
Even as a child I understood the understated horror of the word: parts.
They found only pieces of Adam, and his family – and my childlike sense of security – would never be whole again.
Bad Guys. I grew up in the “scream and run” era.
By this, I mean that my mother, and most of the mothers on our block, advocated a “scream and run” response to any “bad guys” who might try to grab us from the streets.
Vans, for some reason, figured prominently in these scenarios.
Prior to the advent of the warm ‘n’ fuzzy family minivan, 1970s-era vans were seen as suspect.
All the kids who roamed the streets of my tight-knit neighborhood from dawn to dusk knew to give wide berth to “bad guys” in vans.
I think, looking back, we thought they would have bumper stickers or something to alert us to their “badness.”
That, or a definite resemblance to Charles Manson – all wild-eyed and bushy-haired (another 1970s “baddie” was always “the bushy-haired stranger).
Boomers. In this manner, we were better prepared than our parents’ generation – the baby boomers who apparently roamed their hometowns in packs almost completely devoid of adult supervision.
As savvy 1970s kids, we scoffed at stories of our victimized predecessors dumb enough to accept candy from strangers (presumably the bushy-haired kind).
We were too cool for THAT.
Now, as a modern parent, I would no more allow my child to roam even the “safest” neighborhood unattended than I would allow him to play with nuclear waste.
We the savvy – and far more stressed out – parental generation know that bad guys often look more like a sweet uncle (or clean-cut neighbor) and less like Manson.
We know that little girls are snatched out of their beds.
We know that little boys have rounded the corner in department stores and disappeared into thin air.
Frazzled, but not foolish. We are smarter. We take precautions. We are, quite frankly, obsessive.
We know that a “Code Adam” in a retail environment causes any compassionate adult in the vicinity to drop everything and search frantically for the missing child.
We further know that any parent who has ever “misplaced” a child for even moments knows what it feels like for time to – interminably – stand still and their heart to seemingly stop completely.
As parents, we can no longer believe “Oh, he’s around here someplace.”
Instead, we can instantaneously imagine the volunteer searchers fanning out to search the ravines; the pleas on CNN for safe return; the moment when our entire world would spin out of control and our very souls would die.
Lesson learned. If we have learned anything from the Adam Walshes of the world, the Jessica Lunsfords, the Shasta and Dylan Groenes, it is this: In the more than two decades since Adam Walsh disappeared, we have, apparently, learned nothing.
We continue to allow a society where convicted child molesters roam free and our children must be kept under lock and key.
Until we find the courage – and common sense – to do something about that, I fear our sense of security will, along with our children, continue to be missing and presumed lost.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt believes “Megan’s Law” is not enough. She welcomes comment c/o firstname.lastname@example.org, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460, or http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt.)
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