U.S.

Child Abductions That Changed America

kidnapping-graphic-2007

STEVEN STAYNER, 7
DEC. 1972: Merced, Calif. Kidnapped and held captive for seven years by Kenneth Parnell. Escaped in 1980 with a 5-year-old boy whom Parnell had abducted weeks earlier.
His Legacy: His kidnapping prompted a change in Calif. law to allow consecutive prison terms in similar abduction cases.

ETAN PATZ, 6
MAY 1979:
New York, N.Y. Disappeared during his morning walk to the schoolbus stop. He was never found.
His Legacy:
May 25, the day Etan was taken, became National Missing Children’s Day. He was the first child to have his photo on a milk carton.

ADAM WALSH, 6
JULY 1981:
Hollywood, Fla. Vanished during a trip to the mall. Weeks later, his head was found 120 miles from where he was taken.
His Legacy: John Walsh, Adam’s dad, went on to help create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, host “America’s Most Wanted” and lobby for the Adam Walsh Act, which created a national sex-offender registry.

JACOB WETTERLING, 11
OCT. 1989:
St. Joseph, Minn. Abducted by a gunman during a bike ride. He was never found.
His Legacy: Jacob’s parents helped launch the Jacob Wetterling Foundation to prevent child exploitation. In 1994, the Jacob Wetterling Act became the first law to institute a state sex-offender registry.

POLLY KLAAS, 12
OCT. 1993:
Petaluma, Calif. Snatched from her home. Two months later, Richard Davis led authorities to her body and confessed to taking Polly. He was sentenced to death.
Her Legacy: Her murder prompted the “three strikes and you’re out” law, which required sentences of 25 years to life in prison when a defendant committed a third felony.

AMBER HAGERMAN, 9
JAN. 1996:
Arlington, Texas. Taken while riding her bike near her grandparents’ home. Her body was found days later. No arrests were ever made.
Her Legacy: In 1996, local broadcasters and police created the Amber Alert system to help find abducted kids. The national program has helped in the rescue of hundreds of children.

ELIZABETH SMART, 14
JUNE 2002:
Salt Lake City, Utah. Abducted at gunpoint from her home. Found nine months later in a nearby suburb living with her captors. Two people await trial on charges of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault. 
Her Legacy: Elizabeth and her parents lobby for stronger sex-offender legislation.

JESSICA LUNSFORD, 9
FEB. 2005:
Homosassa, Fla. Taken from her home by John Couey, a registered sex offender who police say confessed to her murder. Couey pleaded not guilty. He’s awaiting trial.
Her Legacy:
The Jessica Lunsford Act was signed into law months after her death. It increased prison sentences for some convicted sex offenders and required them to wear electronic tracking devices.

Sources: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children; National Incidences Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children; Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report; News reports.

Graphic by Kevin Hand

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