STARKE, Fla. - The father of a 9-year-old South Florida boy raped and murdered in 1995 said he hopes the killer’s execution sends a strong signal to other would-be child molesters and abductors.
”Don’t kill the child. Because if you do, people will not forget, they will not forgive. We will hunt you down and we will put you to death,” said Don Ryce, whose son Jimmy Ryce was kidnapped at gunpoint after getting off a school bus.
He spoke Wednesday night after Juan Carlos Chavez, 46, was executed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison. Chavez was pronounced dead at 8:17 p.m., according to Gov. Rick Scott’s office.
Chavez abducted Jimmy Ryce at gunpoint after the boy got off a school bus on Sept. 11, 1995, in rural Miami-Dade County. Testimony showed Chavez raped the boy, shot him when he tried to escape, then dismembered his body and hid the parts in concrete-covered planters.
Ryce’s parents turned the tragedy’s pain into a push for stronger U.S. laws regarding confinement of sexual predators and improved police procedures in missing child cases. Their foundation provided hundreds of free canines to law enforcement agencies to aid in searches for children.
Despite an intensive search in 1995 by police and volunteers, regular appeals for help through the media and distribution of flyers about Jimmy, it wasn’t until three months later that Chavez’s landlady discovered the boy’s book bag and the murder weapon - a revolver Chavez had stolen from her house - in the trailer where Chavez lived. Chavez later confessed to police and led them to Jimmy’s remains.
He was tried and found guilty of murder, sexual battery and kidnapping.
Chavez made no final statement in the death chamber, but did submit a statement laced with religious references. He said he had found forgiveness in religion and that he wished for “unfailing love be upon us, upon me, upon those who today take the life out of this body, as well as those who in their blindness or in their pain desire my death. God bless us all.”
Don Ryce had said recently that he and his wife had become determined to turn their son’s horrific slaying into something positive, in part because they felt they owed something to all the people who tried to help find him. They also refused to wallow in misery.
”You’ve got to do something or you do nothing. That was just not the way we wanted to live the rest of our lives,” he said.
The Ryces created the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abduction, a nonprofit organization based in Vero Beach that works to increase public awareness and education about sexual predators. It also provides counseling for parents of victims and helps train law enforcement agencies in ways to respond to missing children cases.
The organization has also provided, free of charge, more than 400 bloodhounds to police departments around the country and abroad. Ryce said if police searching for Jimmy had bloodhounds they might have found him in time.
The Ryces also helped persuade then-President Bill Clinton to sign an executive order allowing missing-child flyers to be posted in federal buildings, which they had been prevented from doing for their own son.
Another accomplishment was 1998 passage in Florida of the Jimmy Ryce Act, versions of which have also been adopted in other states. Under the law, sexual predators found to be still highly dangerous can be detained through civil commitment even after they have served their prison sentences. Such people must prove they have been rehabilitated before they can be released. Chavez had no criminal record, so the law would not have affected him.
The Florida Supreme Court refused Wednesday morning to stay the execution to allow Chavez time to pursue appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit hours later. The appeals prompted a more than two-hour delay in Chavez’s scheduled execution.