MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Martha Ryce, a Redland native who dedicated her life to advocate for missing children after the murder of her brother Jimmy Ryce, has died at the age of 35.
Ryce committed suicide on December 30th in Atlanta, according to CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald.
Her death is just another addition to the family’s heartache.
In early September of 1995 Martha’s 9-year-old brother, Jimmy Ryce, went missing near his school bus stop.
Ryce and her family searched throughout Miami-Dade for Jimmy and three months later his remains were found chopped up nearby avocado grove.
Juan Carlos Chavez, 28, was convicted of raping and shooting the boy.
The 1998 Jimmy Ryce Act arose from Jimmy’s murder, which allows the state to indefinitely keep violent sexual predators in custody, who have finished their sentences under civil law, until they can prove they are rehabilitated.
Martha Ryce, just 18 at the time of the murder, was considered the voice of her family.
“She was a tremendous source of strength during the difficult time,” Don Ryce said to the paper Monday. “She was a special woman.”
Martha appeared on her family’s behalf for Florida Missing Children’s Day as well as helped the U.S. Department of Justice make an informational booklet and video to help the siblings of abducted children.
The project, titled “Why Me?” was made to assist children and their families with everything from the media that these tragedies bring to coping on holidays.
“Our family went through a dizzying rollercoaster ride of emotions with the media, law enforcement, family, friends and the community all helping us to search for him,” Martha Ryce wrote in the booklet. “Helping write this guide and connecting with other siblings who have gone through the same thing helped me tremendously. I felt normal and as if an enormous weight had been lifted off me.”
Later, Martha and her father Don Ryce created a foundation that helped push for anti-predator legislation, donated tracking bloodhounds to police departments and supported the parents of abducted kids. Her foundation also developed “stranger-danger” programs to place in schools.
Ryce went to study in Chile and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. She worked at a spa in Miami before heading to Georgia, friends told the paper.
Like her stepmother and Jimmy’s biological mother, Claudine Ryce, Martha wanted to see Chavez brought to justice for Jimmy’s murder.
Chavez is still on Death Row awaiting appeals.
“It weighed heavily on her recently,” Don Ryce told the Herald.
“She was very sweet, very nice and kind,” Genevieve Etkin of Atlanta told the paper. “She genuinely cared about what was going in your life and that always came across.”
The Miami Herald contributed to this report.