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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As the nation marks the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the date is one of special remembrance for one South Florida family for personal reasons.
Twenty years ago on September 11th, nine year old Jimmy Ryce was kidnapped at gunpoint by Juan Carlos Chavez after he got off a school bus in southwestern Miami-Dade County.
“The pain of that date started for my family in 1995, when my young son, Jimmy, was abducted, raped, and murdered by a sexual predator. My late wife, Claudine, used to say, “God sleeps on September 11,” said Jimmy’s father Don Ryce in a statement. “My biggest regret is that his mother and I never got to see him grow up to become the special soul he was destined to be. We never attended graduations, never taught him to drive, or showed him the world.”
The days following Jimmy’s disappearance, search helicopters filled the skies above South Florida as strangers offered up prayers for the little boy. Police went through thousands of leads from all across the country. Jimmy’s photo was all over the news and a missing person flier was being put up everywhere across the area.
Three months would pass from that warm September day when Jimmy vanished before police would catch a break in the case. Ranch owner Susan Scheinhaus thought her ranch hand was stealing from her and went into his trailer on the property.
Once inside, she discovered a gun that belonged to her and found little Jimmy’s backpack filled with his school books and homework.
The ranch hand, Chavez, told detectives a series of stories before revealing what happened to Jimmy. He took the terrified boy to a remote trailer where he raped the child. When Jimmy heard helicopters overhead Chavez shot him to death as Jimmy tried to run from the mobile home trailer.
While Jimmy was dead, the crime got worse. Chavez told police he took Jimmy’s body to the Scheinhaus Ranch, dismembered the body and put the pieces in planters before filling them with concrete. Police found the planters exactly where Chavez said they would be.
Chavez was found guilty of murder, sexual battery, and kidnapping. He was executed in February 2014.
After their son’s death, the Ryce’s established the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abduction, a non-profit organization that works to increase public awareness and education about sexual predators. It provides counseling services for parents and helps train law enforcement in respone to missing child cases.
The organization has also proved hundreds of bloodhounds to police department around the world.
“It is my family’s hope that in some way my son’s death helps to keep other children safe. We must continue to fight against predators who prey on our innocent children. That is a fight we cannot afford to lose,” said Don Ryce.
Another accomplishment in Jimmy’s name was the 1998 passage in Florida of the Jimmy Ryce Act, versions of which have also been adopted in other states.
Under the law, sexual predators found to be still highly dangerous can be detained through civil commitment even after they have served their prison sentences. Such people must prove they have been rehabilitated before they can be released.