John Arnos was incredibly moved when he met John and Reve´ Walsh and heard how they'd turned the devastating abduction and murder of their 6-year-old son, Adam, into a life dedicated to helping other families and children. In that moment, John decided to use his platform as a top sales executive for Canon in Las Vegas to raise money for the organization they co-founded, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and is now one of NCMEC’s greatest ambassadors.
John was honored last night with a Lifetime Achievement Award at NCMEC's 2023 Hope Gala held at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Over the last 25 years, he became a fundraising dynamo for NCMEC, often sharing stories of children and families helped by the non-profit. Through celebrity golf tournaments, charity poker parties, sheer will and charm, John helped raise millions. And on his 90th birthday, John decided to take his fundraising to new heights: He'd jump out of a plane.
GoPro captures John’s leap from plane on 90th birthday.
"There is no other company or organization that does what the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children does," John, an Army vet who last jumped from a plane 40 years ago, said during his campaign for NCMEC. "They are the beacon of light during a family's darkest hours when looking for their missing child. I have met many wonderful and caring people who have helped me raise money for the center. I hope you will take this leap with me and donate to show you care just like me."
Cal Walsh, son of John and Reve′ Walsh, announces Hope Award to John.
John, who made that leap, was one of five inspiring honorees receiving Hope Awards last night: national video network GSTV, a Miami mom, a North Carolina neighbor and a 13-year-old Michigan boy with a slingshot.
"It requires all of us working together to make the world safer for our children," said Michelle DeLaune, CEO and president of NCMEC. "That's why the Hope Gala is such a special night for us. It's an opportunity for us to show the world what dedication to child protection can achieve; whether it be one case, one campaign or an entire lifetime of service."
Michelle DeLaune, CEO and president of NCMEC.
Presenting a Hope Award to GSTV, DeLaune explained the powerful role photos play in finding missing children. GSTV came to NCMEC several years ago, she said, and offered to put photos of missing children in front of a captive audience: people pumping gas. So far, 350 children featured on gas pumps have come home. Accepting the award were GSTV's Executive Vice President of Industry, Dan Trotzer, and Senior Vice President of Business Operations, Violeta Ivezaj.
GSTV's Executive Vice President of Industry, Dan Trotzer, and Senior Vice President of Business Operations, Violeta Ivezaj Photos by Sarah Baker and Claire Edkins.
Elizabeth Smart was once a missing child herself, a story that shocked the nation. At 14, Elizabeth was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah and held captive for nine months. She said she grew up watching John Walsh on his show, America’s Most Wanted, with her parents.
“I was taught to kick and scream from a stranger – who would have thought I would be taken at knifepoint from my bed?” Elizabeth said. “I am so grateful for NCMEC for the work they do and am happy to be here. I will always fight for missing kids.”
Left: Yanet Leal Concepcion and her son JoJo. Right: Elizabeth Smart presents Hope Award.
Now a mother of three, a child safety activist, author and commentator, Elizabeth presented a Hope Award to an “amazing mom” who fought back when her 6-year-old son, JoJo, was abducted by his father and paternal grandmother.
Yanet Leal Concepcion was determined to do everything she could to bring JoJo home, battling common misunderstandings about the dangers of family-abduction cases. She knew it was important to keep her son's case in the media. No matter how much it hurt, she shared home videos, his drawings and personal stories to help people connect with her son.
Despite all her efforts, media coverage was limited to South Florida, so at NCMEC we worked to expand the coverage and reached out to our partner, the television show, "On Patrol: Live," and elevated JoJo's case to a national audience. Before long, in New Brunswick, Canada, JoJo and his dad were spotted at a Walmart. There wasn't a dry eye at Miami International Airport, when JoJo ran full speed into his mother's joyous arms.
Ava dedicates her Hope Award to child she helped identify.
Ava, from Charlotte, North Carolina, was honored with a Hope Award for helping identify missing child William Dashawn. She'd met the 3-year-old boy and his mom years ago when they lived in her neighborhood. She’d taught William to read and tie his shoelaces and became very fond of the little boy.
William and his mother took off for a few months, but then his mother returned home without him. Ava was suspicious and called police, who believed William's mom, not her. But that didn’t stop Ava, who conducted her own extensive search. Twenty years later, when NCMEC created a facial reconstruction of what William might look like today, Ava saw the image and started to cry.
“I looked hard for 20 years for William,” Ava said. “I dedicate this award to him for all he would have become.”
John congratulates Owen Burns.
John Walsh presented the final Hope Award of the evening to a young “hero.” The Courage Award went to Owen Burns, 13, who was playing video games when he heard his 8-year-old sister scream. Someone was trying to abduct her in their backyard in Michigan. He grabbed his slingshot, a rock and a marble, and sprang into action.
From 200 yards, with perfect aim, he hit the person trying to drag his sister into the woods in the head and chest. Startled, the abductor, a 17-year-old boy, dropped her and ran off. The suspect, with visible wounds from the slingshot, was charged as an adult.
“Thank you so much,” Owen said. “If I hadn’t saved my sister and had a slingshot, I wouldn’t be here tonight.”
The Hope Awards showed how anyone can get involved in our mission. To learn more visit https://www.missingkids.org/supportus.