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Published: Sunday, 12/21/2008

Closure on Adam Walsh

IT WON'T relieve the heartache, but last week's identification by police of the killer of Adam Walsh should at least bring some closure for his family after 27 years.

The abduction and murder of Adam at the age of 6 became the catalyst for profound change across the country in how official searches for missing children are conducted, as well as stronger laws to protect youngsters.

Police in Hollywood, Fla., closed the books on the Walsh killing with the announcement that the killer was Ottis Toole, a drifter from Jacksonville, who was long considered a prime suspect in the homicide that sparked fear among parents nationwide.

Toole died in prison 12 years ago while serving a sentence for an unrelated murder. His niece says he confessed to her on his deathbed.

Adam disappeared from a Sears in a busy shopping mall on July 27, 1981. Two weeks later, his severed head was found in a Florida canal 120 miles away. His body was never found.

Four days after the boy's funeral, his family established the Adam Walsh Outreach Center for Missing Children. It has since become a national clearinghouse for families and law enforcement officers dealing with reports of missing children.

The tragedy also spurred the creation of missing persons units at every large police department, motivated the Walsh family to lobby Congress for stronger laws devoted to missing children, and prompted the television program America's Most Wanted, hosted by Adam's father, John.

Still, Mr. Walsh, a hotel developer, remained angry with the way his own son's unsolved death had been investigated by police, and with good cause. There were all sorts of inexcusable problems, from lost or destroyed evidence to missed leads and poor documentation.

Ultimately, the killer was conclusively linked to Adam's murder not because of any new evidence, but simply because police took another look at 27 years of information as well as botched police work, and decided it was time to finger the person responsible.

Police apologized to the Walshes for the mistakes but the grieving family now can finally close a vexing chapter in their lives. They can also take solace, at long last, in the investigatory improvements and efficiencies made by authorities dealing with every parent's nightmare: a missing child.

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