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Every Parent`s Nightmare: Surviving Parents Take Action

Aired December 29, 2010 - 19:00:00   ET



JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): Tonight, an ISSUES special investigation. "Every Parent`s Nightmare." Five parents living normal lives, their children at home sleeping in bed, innocently walking home from school, or playing in their own front yard when they were suddenly snatched by predators with one goal: to harm them.

JOHN COUEY, CONVICTED FOR MURDER: I went over there and took her out of the house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you say to her?

COUEY: I just told her to come home with me and be quiet. I sexually assaulted her. I went out there one night and dug a hole and put her in it and buried her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was she dead already?

COUEY: No. She was still alive. I buried her alive. So she suffered.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, five parents who have been to hell and back, their precious babies taken away from them, relive their unthinkable pain in the hopes that we can make a change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you opened the door to Jessie`s bedroom that morning, what did you see?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had she ever been gone before at that time of the morning?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was anything else missing from the room that you noticed?

LUNSFORD: Her purple dolphin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know how she got that purple doll?

LUNSFORD: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did she get it?

LUNSFORD: I won it for her the Sunday before at the fair.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What are the problems with our broken justice system? How can we fix them? Why are child sex offenders walking the streets?

LUNSFORD: How many times does someone have to tell you they`re a bad person before you do something with them? They mock the system. They laugh at lawmakers. They laugh at legislators, and they laugh at us. Because they`re going to get away with it, and they know it.

No one is safe, and these brave parents are fighting to change that.

(on camera) Tonight, on part two of our ISSUES special investigation, "Every Parent`s Nightmare," unthinkable horror. Five parents who have faced evil, parents whose innocent children have been violently attacked. We go inside their heartbreaking stories and their fight for change.

Hey, Ed Smart! How are you? Congratulations on making it across the country for kids.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: What would you tell America about what you have accomplished today with all these people and why?

SMART: Well, I think that what we`ve done is raise awareness to what our children need to know so that they can not go through what our children have gone through.


VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): They call themselves the Surviving Parents Coalition. Parents who say they`re in the same horrifying club. They have survived the unthinkable: the loss of a child, a child missing, a child attacked. They are turning their unbearable grief into action: biking across the United States, pushing for safety, and valiantly fighting to fix a broken justice system.

Hundreds of relatives of missing and murdered children join forces in Hollywood, California, at the Surviving Parents Ride for Their Lives rally. Mothers held posters with pictures of their children. Some had vanished decades ago without a trace.

SAMANTHA PICHLER, BROTHER JOE MISSING FOR FIVE YEARS: I miss him, and I love him, and I want him to come home. He`s my brother. He`s my whole world. I love him. I love him.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Has anything ever been the same since the day he vanished?


KATHY PICHLER, SON JOE MISSING SINCE 2006: And it never will be. And whoever knows -- I feel like someone is just, like, dangling us like puppets. And nothing matters -- nothing will be OK until Joe is found, no matter what that means. Whether he walks through the door or he`s carried to us. He has to come home. Nothing will be OK until he`s home.

WANDA COTTON, SON RANDY MISSING SINCE 1980: It`s just -- he just disappeared off the face of the earth.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You never found him.

COTTON: Never.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Did you ever find out what happened to him?

COTTON: No. Over the years a serial killer said that he murdered him, and I don`t believe that. And people said they`ve seen him across the country, but never anything positive.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And you`ve lived with that for 30 years.

COTTON: Thirty years, every day. And until the day I die I will search for my child.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You`ll never stop searching.

COTTON: Never, never until the day I die. I will never stop. Ever.

SMART: There are many here that do not have their children back, but we have united for one reason, and that reason is we want to se more children come back. We want to get to the point where we don`t hear about any more.

As we`ve crossed the country, I`ve shared this -- this passage from a 12-year-old who had been very much victimized, and I`m going to repeat it one last time today. She entitled this journal entry "Every Night."

"I try not to cry, but I do it anyway. I keep it to myself, but it -- I never know what to do. I have things that I can do. One, I can tell my mother. Two, stay with my daddy or my aunt. Three, sleep with a knife. Four, try to kill him. And, five, keep letting it happen."

Her final comment in this entry was a call that each one of us must take home. We must do something. "P.S. If you are reading this, help me. I really, really need your help."

Whether they get them back or they don`t, the not knowing is worse than anything else out there. I remember when Elizabeth came home. It was -- it was so wonderful. For two months I didn`t talk to any of my friends, because I thought -- I mean, I really felt, you know, what can I say? I was lucky. I got mine back and you didn`t? And, you know, why was that? You know, it was hard.

GRAPHIC: Elizabeth Smart snatched from bedroom at knifepoint June 5, 2002.

SMART: I have no idea why he would take her, and I would just pray and ask him to please let her go.

We`re going to search every inch of this state and beyond if we need to until we bring her home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I see that Emmanuel they`re looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her eyes welled up with tears. I asked her one last time, "For your own peace of mind, for your family, for yourself, tell me that you`re Elizabeth Smart."

And then she said, "Thou sayeth."

GRAPHIC: Elizabeth is rescued, March 12, 2003.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight Elizabeth Smart is safe and sound.

SMART: I am so, so very glad that this has a happy ending. And I just want to thank everyone for their prayers, their love and support. All of the children out there deserve to come home to their parents the way -- the way Elizabeth has come back to us.

We have to attack it from all angles to try to stop the cycle of crime, the cycle of predatory crime, and to give these children a life. I mean, I remember growing up I had a wonderful family. I had a wonderful childhood, and I think most of us do. And we want to see the children out there have that wonderful, wonderful childhood, carefree time where there is joy, there is happiness, and there is hope.

VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): Coming up on this ISSUES special investigation.

LUNSFORD: There`s no reason for these to have these hands on these children. Why are you pleading down with them? Because you don`t want to put a child on the stand? Do you know how many child -- children I`ve met that said, "I wish they would have let me testify"?


VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): Jessica Lunsford was being held captive by a known sex offender right next door, just steps away from her father`s house, when she was murdered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The majority of the jury by a vote of 10-2 advise and recommend to the court that it impose the death penalty upon John Evander Couey for the murder of Jessica Marie Lunsford.

LUNSFORD: He was a known sex offender. It`s -- and I`m not trying to be -- these are the failures of the system that doesn`t work. They don`t fund it. They don`t do what needs to be done. It all trickles down from any Capitol Hill, whether you say Washington or state. If you don`t -- these people don`t put the money to the words that they said, then these people can`t do their job.

VELEZ-MITCHELL (on camera): Well, and, to me, we lock up more people in America than any other country on the planet, and yet so many people are locked up for nonviolent drug offenses, which are easy to prosecute, and yet rapists and pedophiles are roaming free. And they don`t even have one of these, which is a GPS device, half the time. I mean...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Did John Couey have one with of these?

LUNSFORD: John -- John Couey was on probation, and during his probation time he wore a tracking device and he played by the rules.

Here`s their game. You put that on them, they`ll play by the rules. Probation is going to come to an end, and they`re going to run. In November, they took that tracking device off of John Couey. And in November they didn`t know where he was at.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Why do you think cops couldn`t put the dots together, connect the dots?

LUNSFORD: It`s -- well, I could really say a lot. Denial. Not knowing what to do. Not being trained what to do. It`s not their fault. It`s their fault -- it`s the government`s fault that they don`t have the money to put these small town law-enforcement officers through the right training. You go to a big city, you compare what these big city cops` training to a small community cop`s training.

It`s budgeting. It`s money. The sheriff and the higher-ups got to make their money, and they got to get a raise, but they`re going to lay off 25 deputies to do it. Where`s the irony in all of this? How does this work?

No one in that house, no other person in that house, was ever convicted of anything. It`s a 14 x 16 mobile home. You can hear anything and everything from one end to the other. These people knew that he was a convicted sex offender. It was their uncle. He molested them. But yet, they let him live in that house with their children.

He may have buried Jessie alive, and he may be the only person to blame for her death, but there are far more evil people than John Couey.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You`re saying that there were relatives of John Couey in that trailer while your daughter was being tortured and held alive, and they did not tell the cops who came to the door that this child was in there? Why not?

LUNSFORD: They said they didn`t know. And I`ll tell you one better than that. While they were still investigating my daughter and trying to find her, they were with moving out of that house. They were physically moving their stuff out of that house after my daughter went missing. Are they moving because they can`t afford the rent? Or are they moving because they had something to hide?

My sheriff, he arrested everyone, charged everyone. And he truly believes and I do, too, that they knew; they knew she was there. But it was the prosecutors. It`s the cost.

If I can plea with you, it only costs the counties $15,000. These are just not even close to the right figures. But if I can plead with you, it costs the county $15,000, I`m going to plead with you. Because if I take you to trial, it`s going to cost me 100,000 bucks. So it`s cheaper to plea. It`s easier. It`s easier to get a conviction if you plea.

I`m not knocking all prosecutors. I`m just saying, don`t be so -- in such a big hurry to pat yourself on the back when you decide one day to run for office. You think about how many real-time sex offenders you made plea deals with and you think about that boy, that Romeo and Juliet or other things that can happen. And you convicted them like he was a heinous crime sexual predator deviant, because it was an easy prosecution. I`ve seen them do it. I`ve seen them do it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I think that`s one of the problems with the sex offender registry. Even though it has three tiers, people are saying that, oh, a 19-year-old teenager who had sex with an underaged girl is being put essentially in the same registry as a violent, dangerous pedophile, and it`s too confusing.

LUNSFORD: Here`s -- here`s a good one for you. The state of Georgia wants to take 17,000 people off the sex offender registry based upon what they were convicted for. How many plea deals were there? How many guys literally raped or molested a child and pleaded down to sexual misconduct?

There`s no reason for these people to have their hands on these children. Why are you pleading down with them? Because you don`t want to put a child on the stand? Do you know how many child -- children I`ve met that said, "I wish they would have let me testify"?

How many times does someone have to tell you they`re a bad person before you do something with them? They mock the system. They laugh at lawmakers. They laugh at legislators, and they laugh at us. Because they`re going to get away with it, and they know it.

And I am so sick of hearing about, "Well, we have to lobby for this or have to lobby" -- not sick of hearing it from these guys. But just sick of knowing that we have to go lobby for this. Why are we politicking our kids? And why are we debating their safety? Is this what you would do in your own home? What would you do, Mr. Legislator, if it was your child?

VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): Coming up on this ISSUES special investigation.

DIENA THOMPSON, MOTHER OF SOMER: It`s the most important thing to me aside from taking care of my family. I want to make sure that nobody else ever feels this way. You know, that may not be possible, but I`ll do everything I can that`s humanly possible to help the children.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What has this been like to relive -- to relive what your daughter went through?

THOMPSON: That`s the hardest part of all of this, is to, every time you talk, it`s like being back at that first day again and to see her picture and to be around other people who know what I`m going through. It`s hard, but I`m willing to carry that load if it`s going to save one or a million.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You`ve been quoted as saying that sometimes you don`t believe it, like it hasn`t happened, that you can`t even process or accept the reality of the horror that befell your daughter.

THOMPSON: I don`t believe it. I still can`t believe it. I can`t wake up. It`s just a bad dream. I just keep thinking, she`s just somewhere and she`s going to come home.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I covered your story from the very beginning, and it kept me up nights. It really did. And I`m so sorry. I`m really so sorry. Oh, my God. My God.

THOMPSON: Thank you, though, for keeping her out there in the media, because that`s what matters. As long as people think about it, they`ll be more vigilant.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We are not going to let it go. We are not going to just cover these stories like regular news stories. I refuse to be a part of that. If it`s not something that`s going to be part of the solution, it`s part of the problem. And so we`ve got to really keep all these cases out there and talk about violence in our society.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`ve got a big problem with violence.

THOMPSON: We do. We do. We do.

(MUSIC: "Ride for Their Lives" by Jannel Rap)

VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): Seven-year-old Somer Thompson vanished while walking home from school in North Florida in October of 2009.

(on camera) What does it mean to you right now to be able to take your horror and turn it into a force for good?

THOMPSON: It means everything to me. It`s obviously what I`ve been put here to do since I`ve ended up in this nightmare. It`s the most important thing to me aside from taking care of my family. I want to make sure that nobody else ever feels this way. I know that may not be possible, but I`ll do everything I can that`s humanly possible to help the children.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What has this been like to relive, to relive what your daughter went through?

THOMPSON: That`s the hardest part of all of this, is to -- every time we talk it`s like being back at that first day again. And to see her picture and to be around other people who know what I`m going through. It`s hard, but I`m willing to carry that load if it`s going to save one or a million.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You`ve been quoted as saying that sometimes you don`t believe it, like it hasn`t happened, that you can`t even process or accept the reality of the horror that befell your daughter.

THOMPSON: I don`t believe it. I still can`t believe it. I can`t wake up. It`s just a bad dream. I just keep thinking she`s just somewhere, and she`s going to come home.

VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): Coming up on this ISSUES special investigation.

LUNSFORD: How many people are here that would actually hurt someone for hurting a child? Who would do that? I can`t hear you. But then it`s too late. Why not educate the child on how to avoid these kinds of situations?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Start out with -- it`s called "The Ride for their Lives". Tell us all about it, sir.

AHMED RIVAZFAR, DAUGHTERS WERE RAPED: Well, I think when we were with all together we were thinking, how are we going to get the word out about crimes against children? Because I think all of us have been unfortunately the victims of it.

And crimes against children are a silent crime. Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to hear it because it is not easy to listen to what happens to a little child. It`s not easy at all.

And I have been part of many rides for missing kids, and I told everybody, I said, I think it`s a great idea. Not that Ed and I look great in spandex.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me ask you this question where did you go on your ride across America? Describe the ride. You stopped at how many cities?

RIVAZFAR: Well, we had 26 stops in 12 states. California was our last, and L.A. was number 26. Coming from Rochester, New York, to Buffalo, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, coming through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas; it was an amazing ride. The geography of it was fantastic, and the group of people that we came across, it was amazing.

I think us as a group coming together, pretty new group of -- new organization, put in such a large event across the United States was pretty fascinating also.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Who did you speak to? You spoke to schools. Tell us.

RIVAZFAR: We stopped by many schools actually. We talked to kids. We talked to parents and grandparents. Many -- we had people from the government. We had the local media. We had local schools, teachers. We had dignitaries from elected officials. And it was --

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And Erin, tell us about, you know, the message to kids.

I was struck by this one stat. If you tell kids that if somebody approaches them run in the other direction, you increase their chance of survival by 50 percent. Tell us all about that.

ERIN RUNNION, DAUGHTER SAMANTHA WAS KILLED AT AGE 5: Well, you`re absolutely right. If you teach a child to run if somebody makes them uncomfortable or a grown-up they don`t know approaches them and starts asking them questions, to immediately run, their chances of survival increase over 50 percent. If you add to that yelling and screaming, "You`re not my dad, get away from me," their chances of escaping an attempted abduction increased to over 80 percent. This is according to a recent study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

So what we do is we teach RAD Kids, a personal empowerment safety education to elementary school-aged children. It`s a ten-hour comprehensive safety education program that teaches them not just about how to avoid abduction but how to escape and stop violence in their lives.

And it`s all based on giving children the confidence to know that nobody has a right to hurt them and to train them physically to be able to stop an assault and escape.


MARK LUNSFORD, FOUNDER JESSICA MARIE LUNSFORD FOUNDATION: Jessie was my partner. And I didn`t spend my life raising kids so somebody could take one away from me and me not fight back for it, and neither did the rest of us.

How many people are here, that would actually hurt someone for hurting a child? Who would do that? I can`t hear you. But it is too late.

Why not educate the child on how to avoid these kinds of situations and how to get out of these situations, like a program called RAD Kids.

I know Steve. I know where his heart is. I`ve been through this program. And I say that`s the best way to teach our kids. The schools aren`t going to do it. The government`s not going to do it. So we`ll do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now an older boy on his way to school doesn`t even get to see the bad guy. So what we`re going to do is set him up, turn him around and show you what can happen even when scared.

No, no, no. No.

RUNNION: You know, when Samantha was taken I learned a lot about crimes against children. And I was stunned to learn that every year there are over 58,000 non-family related abductions. And I could hardly stand when I realized that 115 of those cases were in 2002 and only a handful of them made it onto the national news.

It`s happening every day whether we hear about it or not. So please be involved and help us stop it so that not one more child is taken. It is my sincere honor and it is with sad regret that I`m going to introduce one of our newest members to the Surviving Parents Coalition, Ms. Diena Thompson.

DIENA THOMPSON, SOMER THOMPSON`S MOTHER: My name is Diena Thompson and I`m from Orange Park, Florida. And my twin daughter got abducted walking home from school on Monday, October 19, 2009. Broad daylight, other children walking home, walking with her siblings and the monster just picked her up and took her away.

Sadly, but by the grace of God, I found her body two days later in the Georgia landfill; 158 days after she went missing we caught the monster. My monster is in jail right now, and what he gets is what he gets. And I want to tell every monster out there, you`ve got a whole lot of people looking for you.

I also want to thank the SPC for inviting me and having me and giving me a new family, a family full of people who know how bad it is to stand here. But we`re going to be strong and we`re going to do it and we`re going to do it together because we`re not going to be quiet. We`re going to shout and we`re going to shout it, "Not one more child". Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not one more child. Not one more child.


THOMPSON: They`re not sick. They just have issues. They have problems. They want -- this is what they want to do. They choose to do this.

This is not -- we all go through our own trials and tribulations growing up. And you have to make the decision to stop it yourself because if you don`t stop it yourself, no one else can stop it for you. No one can stop anyone from -- I couldn`t stop the monster from killing my daughter. Why couldn`t he just do whatever sick thing he wanted to do and let her come home? Let me be lucky like Ed.

But, no, instead he decided to kill her, seven years old. And throw her in the dumpster like she was nothing, like she was a piece of trash. He`s not sick. He`s just wrong.

RIVAZFAR: I think what they do, they make a conscious decision to bury their human spirit and become this inhumane monster that they can take a child`s life. That`s just beyond our imagination because we are human. We still have our spirit. We would not harm a child.

These folks, they have decided long ago that they are going to do what it takes to fulfill their desires. And it has nothing to do with humanity.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Coming up on this ISSUES special investigation --


LUNSFORD: I think the best person to hear from it is the survivors. When they have enough guts like this little girl does -- of course she`s not a little girl anymore -- then they need to be heard because they can tell you what`s best from where they`ve been.




LUNSFORD: I met Alicia when she was probably about 16 years old, and I`m having a real hard time grasping the fact that now she`s a senior in college?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: In 2002, Alicia Kozakievicz was 13 years old when an online sexual predator befriended her in an Internet chat room. He kidnapped her. He locked her in a cage in his basement where he beat, tortured, and raped her.

ALICIA KOZAKIEWICZ, KIDNAPPING AND RAPE VICTIM: I walked out the front door and found that the bogeyman is real and he lives on the Web. I know. I met him on the evening of January 1st, 2002. He came for a 13- year-old girl for a sex slave. He came for me.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Police eventually found Alicia tied to a bed in a Virginia townhouse.

KOZAKIEVICZ: Thank you all so much for being here. Some of you are here because you were moved by a tragedy to be here. And there should not have to be a tragedy in order for there to be a difference, in order to save a child.

I`ve been completely disillusioned by how politics have gotten in the way of child safety. I testified in front of Congress in I think 2007. It seemed to move them, but laws don`t matter unless they are funded. They can be passed very easily. Everybody can clap and cheer, woo hoo, we did something good.

But the importance is the funding behind it and the awareness of it. I don`t -- children can`t vote for themselves. These things affect them horribly and they can`t vote to protect themselves. So, parents and adults and loved ones have to be aware of the laws out there in order to protect them. So please make yourself aware and work to save children because they are the future.

The bogeyman is real and he`s on the net. He lived in my computer and he lives in yours. And while we are sitting here, he`s at home with your children.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know, one of the things that I thought was so extraordinary talking to these people is that nobody seems full of hate and -- and anger the way you`d think. Oh, I -- I would want just vengeance and hate, I`m filled with anger. Everybody seems so loving.

One -- I`d like to just get your comment on that, vis-a-vis your personal experience.

KOZAKIEVICZ: Hate isn`t going to do any good. Hate doesn`t empower change. Care and concern does. That is how there`s change to be focused and to not forget the past but let it fuel you to the future.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Nobody could say that better. Thank you so very much. I`m really, really so honored to meet you. Thank you. Thank you very much.



ED SMART, DAUGHTER ELIZABETH ABDUCTED AT AGE 14 2002: Every child that -- every victim has their own journey to recovery, and there is no box that you can put them in and say, this will fit each one because everyone has to find their own way.

But I -- Elizabeth, who`s been in my mind, is just truly amazing. It`s -- I mean, I`ve had more than one miracle and I`m grateful for that. And that is -- that is why I`m here with my -- my other friends here. And that is why Ahmad and I rode across the country because not one more child should have to go through this kind of hell.

Elizabeth was with a stranger, somebody she didn`t know. How much more horrible would it be to be at home with somebody that you do know that you`re never going to be able to get out of the situation? And the importance of the ride, "Riding for their Lives", was that, you know, abduction is on the extreme of the spectrum. But what is happening out in our communities, whether its abduction, bullying, abuse, you know, sexual assault, it happens and it affects our communities.

And I think that one of the -- the most outrageous things is -- is that we are unwilling to acknowledge how frequently it`s happening. We don`t acknowledge that these children that are out there being abused don`t feel like they can go tell someone because either they`re going to be looked on by their family as being the one that took daddy away, the breadwinner away. And instead they have to live with that or they have to live with the -- the horrific issue of the persecution because they put their -- their father away.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It seems to be a common pattern among these evil people that these men are very powerless in real life and they are trying to deify themselves in some way and act out their sick sexual fantasies -- their demented sexual fantasies. And it -- it just -- it seems that all of these predators have a common theme, that they -- they are very powerless in real life and then they go after children that they can manipulate and their -- their goal is to deify themselves.

SMART: The one thing that we can determine is that this type of person exists in our society. How he gets there, whether it`s from, you know, child pornography or from abuse itself or -- I don`t know what all of the other things are. But the fact that we do have this type existing in our society calls us to do something about it.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Five year-old Samantha Runnion was playing outside with a friend when a man lured her into his car telling her he had lost his Chihuahua puppy. In that moment he snatched Samantha.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: What was it like when he was found guilty? What ran through you?

RUNNION: Thank goodness. But at the same time by then I had learned so much about crimes against children and realized that it wasn`t just going to be my baby, you know. The day Samantha was taken I prayed and prayed that she would be the last one. It felt like the world stopped.

And when I woke up on her birthday 11 days later and heard about Casey Williams in Missouri being kidnapped and murdered that day, it was -- it was -- that was my -- my kind of catalyst to say, ok, for Samantha and for every child victim we never hear about, we have got to do something to stop this. Because it`s just going to keep happening if we don`t get involved and make people do something.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You`ve said that you only get a daily reprieve from your grief and you take action every day to get that daily reprieve. Tell us about that.

RUNNION: Well, for me, I can`t live in the past. I can`t -- I can`t stay with Samantha. I -- I wish I could. But by being active and being involved I bring her into my every day. So she is never, ever away from me and I -- I feel like what we do as a group collectively bring a great deal of -- of honor and -- and tribute to the strength of our little girls.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Ahmad, tell us about that, too. Because I am so struck by the fact that you are filled with love and optimism and hope, even though you experienced the unimaginable, do you also get a daily reprieve from your grief?

RIVAZFAR: I do. I think I share it every time and also I think every time you do that, you give love and compassion to someone who has felt the same pain that you have, it is your reprieve. That`s the moment with your child that`s gone and not coming back.

I -- I feel that when someone was missing I could -- every time I saw on TV, I was with her and I cried with her. Same with Erin and same with Mark and I think unfortunately it has come too often in TVs over and over. You know, the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result, and it`s just insane. We have to do something about it.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I am so inspired by all of you. I just want to say I feel like this is evolution taking place because all of you have gotten past this sort of, you know, it seems -- I shouldn`t speak for you about hate and into some place of love and finding the higher purpose.

And if we were all to as a society evolve beyond violence in all its forms, whether it`s war or crime, I think that`s what needs to happen. So you guys are doing what really needs to happen for us to evolve beyond violence as a species.

RUNNION: Absolutely. Our children must be our motivation not the perpetrators. And as long as we are driven by honoring our children, and not by the anger towards the perpetrators, I think we will continue to make progress towards real child protection because hate doesn`t get you far. You can spin your wheels for a long time there. But love, you can ride for their lives with that.


SAYEH RIVAZFAR, VICTIM OF CHILD RAPE: This is amazing for our family and everyone across the nation, for those children out there that we need to fight for.

RUNNION: I just feel a real responsibility to make sure that the Surviving Parents Coalition does everything it can to honor all of our children.

LUNSFORD: It makes no difference what walk of life you come from. These crimes can happen to anyone. And the answers are simple. All we have to do is talk about it. And we create awareness. And by creating awareness, we create education. And by education we have power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can overcome many things especially with love.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s never a day that goes by without me thinking about my daughter. It really matters to know that someone truly cares.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What do you say to your dad right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: These extraordinary human beings have so much to teach us. They have lost the most precious thing in the world to them, their children. Yet, they have the grace and dignity to rise above hate and anger, to hope.

Let us use these brave souls as an inspiration for all of us, to as a culture rise above violence, to go beyond simply crime and punishment, to dare to imagine a more peaceful world.

Thanks for watching this ISSUES special investigation.