The sun beat down like a fist on the gathering, the audience in suits, starched uniforms and summer dresses lined up in rows of plastic chairs the color of skim milk, fluttering paper fans.
It might have been the faithful in a southern church waiting for the strains of "I Come to the Garden." Only the paper fans had flags on one side and the White House, not a line drawing of a steeple, on the other. The garden they had come to was the Rose Garden, and 25 years after the brutal molestation and murder of eight-year-old Adam Walsh's, his spirit was being both laid to rest and lifted up at the same time.
Backed by a clutch of Congressmen, brothers Biden and Hatch, Specter and Dorgan, and with America's Most Wanted host John Walsh at this side, President Geore W Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
It was the culmination, though not the end, of Walsh's 25 years of fighting to prevent other parents from, as the president put it, "sparing the children of families you will never meet the anguish your familes have known."
Walsh nodded as the president ticked off the toughened penalties, sex offender registries and online predator task forces in the bill.
The audience gave Walsh an extended standing ovation while one of the videographers manning the dozens of TV cameras lined up to capture the moment cracked: "Let's see who drops first up on stage." Followed quickly by a "down in front, down in front" to an audience member blocking the money shot.
In addition to the parents of abducted and slain children, the audience included a state trooper, Officer Williams, in brown uniform and hat cocked forward at attention. And there was Elizabeth Smart–symbol of the almost-impossible: the beautiful young child abducted by a stranger but found miraculously alive months later. And then the others, like Walsh, and Marc Klaas, father of Polly, and far too many more.
Fox has put on some really bad reality programming in its tabloid past, car chases, medical anomolies, exposing magicians as though it were somehow news that they weren't actually sawing women in half, that sort of thing. But America's Most Wanted has become an institution, and John Walsh a symbol of the ability of one person to move others to action, amplified by the power of the media.
By John Eggerton