Marc Klaas and Erin Runnion both saw their daughter's killers brought to justice. And both felt that they wanted to create something lasting to help other children. The group they started lobbies for stronger laws against child predators so no other parent will have to endure the pain they have experienced. "Knowing that there were other parents out there who had managed to make a difference in their child's name -- all of that served to give me the strength to know that I, too, could make a difference," said Erin, whose five-year-old daughter, Samantha, was abducted in 2002 and found dead the next day.
"It may not be your child, but it may be your child's best friend," she added. "These crimes will affect all of us. When one in four girls and one in eight to ten boys are being sexually assaulted before they're 14 years old, this is a pandemic issue that we cannot afford to ignore . . . I honestly think it is eroding the very heart of our nation. And it's up to all of us to take a part in stopping it."
Last year, the group's work lead to the passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act; sadly, though it was signed into law by Pres. Bush, it still lacks the funding needed from Congress to implement it.
Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007: Jerry and Judy Horton gave up their careers as educators, cashed in their life savings, and dedicated their lives to helping special people. Their daughter, Kelly, has Down syndrome, and they founded the 267-acre "Down Home Ranch" in Elgin, Texas, for Kelly and others who are, as they call them, "differently-abled," with special needs. Jerry and Judy want the ranch to be a place where residents can live, in dignity, long after their parents die. They say they'd like to see their special community become a model for others across the country.
For more on the Down Home Ranch, click here.
Tuesday, Oct. 30: Doris Hicks is principal of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology, located in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. After Katrina, her school was filled with 14 feet of water; once that drained away, she was left with a school that was decimated on the inside and minus hundreds of students, gone because they were driven from their homes. Still, she would not let the school drift away; through her determination, it reopened and today is thriving. "This neighborhood is not doomed," she says.
Monday, Oct. 29:Joseph Democko, 24, was heartbroken when his three young nephews were put into foster care after their mother, his sister, fell into a life controlled by drugs and domestic abuse. He visited the boys every chance he could, pained to watch them experience the life within the foster care system.
So he formulated a plan -- he would take the boys in and raise them on his own. He took parenting classes, moved to a bigger apartment and worked with social workers to bring the boys into his home. Just barely an adult himself, he became one of the country's youngest adoptive parents. Now Chris, 6, Anthony, 5, and George, 3, know what it's like to live in a stable home.
Ever modest, Joseph says of his heroic act, "I'm just me, average little Joe, just doing what I have to do."
For more on People's Heroes of the Year, click here.