MIAMI (CBS4) – Nearly two decades after the murder of 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce, the South Florida boy’s legacy lives on thanks to a partnership between law enforcement and the Jimmy Ryce Foundation.
The foundation, which Jimmy’s parents started one year after his death, has provided an estimated 400 Bloodhounds for police departments around the country.
Jimmy disappeared in the Redland section of South Miami-Dade shortly after stepping off a school bus in 1995. His body was found three months later after police questioned handyman Juan Carlos Chavez, who later confessed to killing Jimmy after sexually assaulting him.
At the time, Jimmy’s parents believed Bloodhounds, which were not available in the search for Jimmy, might have found their son before he was killed.
“Bloodhounds are the one thing that might have saved Jimmy when nothing else could have and we want to make that a tool that’s available for other missing kids,” Don Ryce said as he prepared for the Chavez execution on Feb. 12.
“I’ve been fortunate to know the Ryce family well and can say they are a powerhouse when it comes to children’s rights,” said Luis Ledbetter of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. He said the Bloodhound program is one of the best partnerships around between the private sector and local police agencies.
Ledbetter was one of several officers who took part in a training academy for Bloodhounds in Lake Worth. Big and affectionate, the floppy eared dogs are tenacious when it comes to following a scent and never giving up.
“Their natural ability and their natural drive to want to find what they’re looking for is amazing,” said Deputy Kelli Covet, of the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
At the training academy, police handlers gave the dogs items such as towels to pick up a person’s scent. Once the dog locks in on the scent, it’s able to track the exact path of the person who’s scent its following.
“They’ll follow their nose until they pass out,” said Deputy Kevin Bolling, also of BSO. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of success stories with the Bloodhounds so I can’t say enough good things about them.”
At the training center, the dogs found an officer hiding behind a tree. The Bloodhounds are immediately rewarded, but officers say the biggest reward for them is when the dogs are put to work in real life scenarios and to one day prevent what happened to Jimmy Ryce from happening again.
“These kids are worth saving,” Don Ryce said. “We want to protect them and we will do whatever we can if any child goes missing,” said Ryce, who considers the Bloodhound program his pet project.
In recent years the Bloodhound program has been strapped for private donations which pay for the dogs and part of their training. The foundation accepts donations for the program at www.jimmyryce.org.