The 1981 abduction and murder of Adam Walsh, formally pinned on a dead serial killer Tuesday, led to advances in police searches for missing youngsters and a notable shift in the view parents and children have of the world, reports the Associated Press. The boy’s death and his father’s transformation from a hotel developer to an activist helped put missing children’s faces on milk cartons and in mailboxes, started fingerprinting programs and increased security at schools and stores. It spurred the creation of missing persons units at every large police department. And it prompted legislation to create a national center, database and toll-free line devoted to missing children. It also prompted the television program ”America’s Most Wanted,” hosted by John Walsh, which brought such cases into millions of homes.
”In 1981, when a child disappeared, you couldn’t enter information about a child into the FBI database. You could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns but not stolen children,” said Ernie Allen, president of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, co-founded by John Walsh. But Richard Moran, a Mount Holyoke College sociologist and criminologist, said John Walsh’s work has made children and adults more afraid of the world. ”He ended up really producing a generation of cautious and afraid kids who view all adults and strangers as a threat to them and it made parents extremely paranoid about the safety of their children,” Moran said.