CODE ADAM – A legacy keeping your child safe.


Adam Walsh

Adam Walsh

Code Adam is a “missing child” safety program in the United States and Canada, originally created by Wal-Mart retail stores in 1994.

Code Adam is named in memory of Adam Walsh, the 6-year-old son of John Walsh (the host of America’s Most Wanted.). Adam was abducted from a Sears department store in Florida on July 27, 1981.  He and his mother, Reve Walsh, had gone to the Sears not far from their home to shop for lamps.  When they arrived at Sears, Adam saw some children playing video games and asked if he could join them.  His mother agreed and headed off to the lamp department.  The lamp Adam’s mother was looking for was actually not in stock, so less than 10 minutes after she left Adam, she returned to find him gone.  For two long and terrifying hours Reve searched for Adam all over the store before employees called the police or joined in the search.  Reve’s pleas were dismissed with replies like “Oh, well, he probably just wandered off.”  It turns out when the group of older boys playing video games began to squabble, a security guard was called and told the boys to leave the store.  The security guard had asked the boys if their parents were in the store, which they replied no to.  Adam was a shy little boy, and it is believed that he was too shy to speak out to the security guard.  The guard assumed Adam was with the older boys, and left him alone outside an exit door in an area he wasn’t familiar with.

Posters with Adam’s image were widely distributed throughout the southern Florida area. Local television stations broadcasted Adam’s smiling, freckled face wearing a baseball cap, hoping for some sort of lead. But no new information was developed and sadly two weeks later, Adam’s severed head was found in a canal at Vera Beach, some 120 miles away from the mall where he was kidnapped. Adam’s body was never recovered.

Convicted serial killer, Ottis Toole, confessed to murdering Adam, saying he lured the little boy to his Cadillac making promises of toys and candy.  Tolle said that Adam was at first docile, but as the drive went on, Adam began to cry and scream.  It was then that Toole says he began striking Adam in the head and chest while strangling the little boy.  He then pulled off onto a deserted service road in Indian River County, where he decapitated Adam.  Tolle claimed to have incinerated Adam’s body in an old refrigerator when he returned to Jacksonville.  Considering that Tolle was a known cannibal, there were reports that he had actually dismembered Adam and consumed him, these reports were later ruled out.

Toole repeatedly confessed and then retracted his confessions about murdering Adam.  His recanting of these confessions as well as the loss of evidence, particularly the bloodstained carpet from Toole’s Cadillac, resulted in Toole never being charged with any crime in relation to the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh.

Toole died in September of 2006 of cirrhosis of the liver while serving a life sentence in prison.  After his death, Toole’s niece told John Walsh that Toole had made a deathbed confession to killing Adam.  His confessions are strongly believed to be legitimate as he was able to describe details which only the murderer would know.  On December 16, 2008, after an exhausted review of Adam’s case, law enforcement, with John Walsh present, made an official statement saying that Toole was in fact Adam’s killer, and his case has been officially closed.

It only took a moment to shatter the worlds of John and Reve Walsh.  Adam, a smart, kind little boy, was taken from this world in a moment at the hands of a monster.  Grieving the loss of their son, Adam’s parents did something courageous and selfless, and created a legacy for the beautiful soul this world had lost.

John Walsh helped to form the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, after which Code Adam was founded.  On July 25, 2006, the US Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, and President Bush signed it into law on July 27, 2006 while John and Reve Walsh looked on.  This bill institutes a national database of convicted child molesters, and increases penalties for sexual and violent offenses against children.

Code Adam is now practiced in tens of thousands of establishments, many of which are large chain retailers, and has trained hundreds of thousands of employees on Code Adam protocol.  Companies that do implement the program generally place a Code Adam decal at the front of the business.


Wal-Mart along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), has offered to assist in training workshops in order for other companies to implement the program.  The program is simple and straight forward, and it saves children’s lives.

Employees at these businesses are trained to do the following six steps:

  1. If a visitor reports a child is missing, a detailed description of the child and what he or she is wearing is obtained. Additionally, all exterior access to the building is locked and monitored; anyone approaching a door is turned away.
  2. 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.
  3. If the child is not found within 10 minutes, law enforcement is called.
  4. If the child is found and appears to have been lost and unharmed, the child is reunited with the searching family member.
  5. 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.
  6. The Code Adam page will be canceled after the child is found or law enforcement takes over.

In Crawfordsville, Indiana, Code Adam procedure stopped the attempted abduction of a 3 year-old girl.  When the little girl was reported missing, WalMart employees jumped into action issuing the Code Adam Alert in the store.  The little girl was found with a man, with a prior record of child abduction, who was then arrested and later convicted.

The success stories of Code Adam are significant and encouraging.  However, what is often forgotten is that beyond these success stories where abductors were caught in the process of abducting a child, there are thousands of potential abductions that never occurred thanks to Code Adam.  The large blue and white decal signifying that a store’s employees are educated and empowered to thwart an abduction as soon as a child is reported missing is a powerful symbol to potential abductors that they will not have the opportunity to go unnoticed in this establishment.  It is a simple program, one that can be executed instantaneously by any staff member.  The store is locked down until the child is found or law enforcement takes over, and in the same time, locking the store down also ensures that the scene is preserved, witnesses and all, ready for law enforcement to have the opportunity to ascertain important information accurately and quickly.  Code Adam has raised awareness of child abduction, and has educated society by showing them that by implementing their program, we can make a difference and save children’s lives.

When the world lost Adam Walsh, it was hard to see a ray of hope amidst the grief and horror of this little boy’s murder.  However as time passed, it began coming clear that the light Adam shined on this world, is still very much present.  His legacy has gone on to save thousands of children through the work of John and Reve Walsh inspired by Adam.  Adam’s physical body may be gone, but his spirit will forever remain, especially in the hearts of every child he has helped to keep safe.  Grieving the loss of such innocence is overwhelming, but the sorrow fades slightly when you see that picture of a young boy, baseball bat in hand, knowing that the life he had was one filled with love and promise, and knowing that he will forever be changing the world with the program Code Adam.  I know I personally am eternally grateful to the Walsh’s for setting programs and foundations into place that help make this world a safer one for my sons. Promoting the Code Adam program is something to be done with pride, and I am honored to be a supporter of all that Code Adam has done.

So next time you are out and about, running errands with kids in tow, take a look for that blue and white decal, and when you see it, send a quiet thanks Adam’s way, a thanks for being the angel sitting on our children’s shoulders.

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