Code Adam: What Is It and How Can You Help?

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You’ve probably seen the bright blue signs posted at the mall. Maybe you’ve even heard the sad story about the little boy named Adam who disappeared while shopping with his mother. But do you know what to do during a Code Adam emergency–and how to get help if your child goes missing?

Code Adam is the name for a set of emergency procedures that store employees follow when a child goes missing. The program began with Walmart and is now common in most malls, grocery stores, theme parks, and other public places. Since 2003, all federal office buildings also follow the program.

How It Works

As soon as a parent or caregiver realizes that a child is missing, they should immediately find a store employee. It’s far better to have a false alarm than to wait too long. Don’t try to find them yourself.

The employee will ask for a detailed description, including the child’s name. However, store employees who have been trained on Code Adam will not announce the name over the intercom or PA system. That’s because a potential abductor could use the child’s name to build trust with their victim.

Instead, the employee will announce a Code Adam along with a description of the child’s appearance. Other store workers will move to the exits and monitor anyone trying to leave. However, most stores (other than Walmart) won’t attempt to stop a child from being taken from the premises.

Ideally, the missing child will be found and the Code Adam will be canceled. However, if the team isn’t able to find the missing child within 10 minutes, the police will be called in.

The Tragic Origin of the Name

Why is it called Code Adam? It’s to honor a 6-year-old boy named Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Florida shopping mall in 1981. His mother searched the store and then asked a clerk to page her son over the intercom, but it was already too late.

More than 2 weeks after he disappeared, fishermen found Adam’s partial remains in a canal. It wasn’t until 2008 that Florida police were finally able to close the case. Serial killer Ottis Toole was conclusively proved to have abducted and murdered Adam Walsh. Toole died in prison after being convicted for separate killings.

After the tragedy, his parents became an advocate for children’s welfare. John and Reve Walsh founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and successfully lobbied for the Missing Children’s Act. John Walsh is best known now as the host of America’s Most Wanted and In Pursuit With John Walsh.