MIAMI — In the 18 years since 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce's rape and murder, his father and his mother, before her death, tried to alleviate the pain of their family's tragedy by working for society's good. They pushed for new laws regarding confinement of sexual predators and worked to improve police procedures in missing child cases.
But with the killer's scheduled execution set for Wednesday, Don Ryce said the death of Juan Carlos Chavez will finally bring some measure of justice. Barring a successful last-minute appeal, Chavez is scheduled to die by lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke.
"People sometimes say that will bring you closure. There is no such thing as closure, hate that word. It doesn't resolve everything for you. My child will not suddenly come back if Chavez is executed," said Ryce, a 70-year-old retired labor lawyer. "But it's important to close that chapter out in my life and to feel like justice has finally been done for my son."
Ryce said in a recent interview that in the years since Chavez was arrested for Jimmy's slaying he felt "the universe is a little bit twisted" because he has also lost his wife, Claudine, and daughter Martha while Chavez remained alive.
Chavez abducted Jimmy at gunpoint after the boy got off a school bus on Sept. 11, 1995, in rural southwestern Miami-Dade County. Trial testimony showed Chavez, who worked on a local ranch, raped the boy and then shot him when he tried to escape, dismembering his body and putting the parts in planters that were then covered in concrete.
Despite an intensive search 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.
Ryce said he and his wife became 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, provides counseling for parents of victims and helps train law enforcement agencies in ways to respond to missing children cases.
"One of the problems we saw was, the police didn't know how to handle this kind of a case," Ryce said. "You don't want to start from scratch. You lose kids that way. They practice together so they know how to respond."
The organization has also provided, free of charge, more than 400 bloodhounds to police departments across the country and abroad. Ryce said if police searching for Jimmy had bloodhounds they might have found him in time.
"The bloodhounds are the one thing that might have made a difference to Jimmy," Ryce said.