Christopher arrived in this world a whopping 10 1/2 pounds. He was a happy baby and even happier toddler. As he grew, he developed a compassion and understanding of others and an even deeper caring for animals. He could often be found climbing a tree to put a baby bird back in a nest. He would make me stop if he saw an injured animal on the side of the road. He could make friends with anyone or anything. Many people would say that he was an old soul. That he had been around before.
In 1995, Christopher was 10 1/2 years old. We lived in the small village of Aroma Park, Illinois, just outside of the town of Kankakee. Like any young boy with adventuresome blood, he loved the riverfront. There were intriguing things along the river that could set a young boy’s heart pounding and his mind soaring. Around noon on August 7, 1995, Christopher asked me if he could ride his bicycle two blocks down to the river with the other neighborhood children. I told him that he could go, but to be back by 5:00 p.m. Christopher said he would be home on time and rode off.
About 4:00 p.m. I contemplated taking the stroller with my 2 year old for a walk to the river where Christopher was playing. It was a beautiful day and I thought it might be nice to walk back home with Chris. However, I chose not to, knowing that Christopher had his bike and wouldn’t want to push it while I walked. I also decided to begin preparing dinner so that we would not have to eat so late.
By 5:05 p.m. I began to get frustrated. Christopher knew that I was adamant about being home on time or before. I voiced my annoyance and my daughter chimed in with “Quit worrying Mom, he will be home any minute.” At 5:22 p.m. I felt an overwhelming fear and panic come over my body. It was as if someone had punched me in the stomach, knocking all of the air out of me. I remember this as I looked at the clock on the stove at that very moment. I had this incredible need to rush out of the house and find him.
I went to the park by the river and searched for him. I rushed back home, thinking perhaps we had crossed paths. Again, he was still not there. The panic continued to mount. I was frantic. My motherly instinct was in full gear. I contacted the county sheriff to report him missing. Two officers came to our house and took a report. They proceeded to tell me, as they walked toward my front door, “We will put the information in the computer, but make sure to call us when he gets home. He is probably playing at a friend’s house and lost track of time.” I was dumbfounded. How could they not feel the fear inside of me? How could they not understand that something was tragically wrong?
I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. By now it was nearing 8:00 p.m. I raced back down to the river and started walking into the woods next to the parking lot. I knew that Chris and the other community children would play in the trees. I was telling myself that he had climbed a tree and couldn’t get down, he fell asleep next to a tree, he was playing with someone and lost track of time and was afraid to come home so late. My mind was racing.
Our one local village police officer was in the parking lot talking to some teens in a car. He called after me, wondering why I was going into the woods at dusk. I explained the situation and he immediately got on his radio and began calling in support. Soon the search and rescue teams and dogs arrived. The Fire department set up a truck and large flood light in the parking lot, shining on the woods. Neighbors and others in the community began to gather, onlookers and friends, kids and adults.
After speaking with other adults and children that were in the area when Christopher was there, it was discovered that they had seen Chris and the other kids talking to an unknown man. Christopher asked a friend what time it was and his friend told him 4:15. He said he was going to ride home, got on his bike and the man then got in his car and followed Christopher out of the parking lot as he rode off.
The search began to grow. County Law Enforcement arrived, more fire departments, more searchers. I remember standing in the parking lot with a wonderful County officer watching as each searcher came out of the woods, knowing they would be carrying or walking out with Chris. The moments ticked by, night turning into morning.
Many of our friends began to gather at our house. We started piecing together a flyer. Friends made copies and began to distribute it around town, placing it on windshields, store fronts, handing it out to shoppers and going door to door. I called the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. They said they would send me a packet to fill out and mail back. This was in 1995, and the internet availability was next to zero.
Hour by hour the searching continued. Some searchers thought he might have fallen into the river and had been swept downstream. However, as each day passed, the searchers found different items in different locations.
Two days after his disappearance I was called down to the fire department. There was a glimmer of hope that raced through my body as I imagined his toothy grin and pale blonde towhead sitting there waiting to see me and then my nightmare would be over.
However, my need to be summoned to the fire department was because a bike was found, hidden among some trees and brush across the river. They asked me to identify it as Christopher’s. I sank to my knees, realizing that the bike was his…with its muddy tires and broken speedometer.
Then, moments later a diver brought in one of his shoes. It was found floating in the river about a mile downstream. The following day his other shoe was found 4 miles away. A few days later pieces of his shirt and his underwear were found in a wooded area about 20 miles away.
The police had constructed a composite sketch of information gathered from the other children and witnesses that saw Chris talking to the man at the riverfront. They also had a description of the car that they had seen this man drive out of the parking area after Christopher left on his bike.
Within two days of Christopher’s disappearance, the county sheriff received information that a recently released murderer was living in a nearby city and that he had been in our community to attend his sister’s wedding. His name is Timothy Buss. He had grown up in the area. He had been in prison for murdering five-year old Tara Sue Huffman in our community in 1981. Buss was 13 years old at the time but was tried as an adult. He had been found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was paroled after serving 12 years of the 25-year sentence. He was living in Florida but had moved back to our area in May of 1995. He had been back for three months.
Late on August 9th the Police staked out a motel after a clerk called in a tip, when she realized that a man that just checked into her motel looked like the composite sketch and his car was as described in the composite. The following day they watched as Buss placed his boots in a dumpster and followed him as he drove to another area of the river and began talking to yet another boy. The police asked to talk to him at the station and he agreed, following the police car back into town. He allowed a search of his car and the police found that the carpet in the trunk was soaked with blood. He was arraigned the following day. By now Chris had been missing for 4 days.
As each second ticked by it seemed like an eternity. I vaguely remember staring out my windows, watching the neighborhood children on their bikes.. Knowing that Christopher would appear at any moment. And why were they happy? How could anybody laugh or joke or smile? My entire being was consumed by making the pain go away. I kept thinking, “When am I going to wake up?”
On August 15, 1995, eight days after riding his bike away from home, my doorbell rang at 3:00 a.m. The lead investigator on the case, Jo Mulcahy, stood at my door. Alone. She stepped into my house, we sat down on the couch and I looked into her beautiful eyes. She reached to hold my hand and informed me that a child’s body had been found. As her eyes began to glisten with tears, she said that they couldn’t confirmed that it was Christopher. However, I knew that there were no other children missing.
Through forensics and autopsy, it was determined to be Christopher. His body was badly decomposed and buried in a shallow grave. He had been stabbed over 50 times and his genitals brutally cut from his small body. His hands had defensive wounds on them, and showed that he had fought hard for his life.
Buss was found guilty of killing my son and this time sentenced to death. However, in 2002, former Illinois governor George Ryan placed a moratorium on the death penalty and commuted all sentences to life including Buss.
Once the terror and all consuming grief had begun to subside, I knew that I couldn’t just sit and wallow in self pity. I was angry that my son had been taken in such a violent manner. I was angry that the justice system had let a monster like that out of prison. I was angry that I didn’t at least get to say good-bye. I realized though, that anger is a powerful energy. I decided to re-direct that energy into something positive. I knew that I couldn’t even think about anybody else having to suffer the tremendous grief and pain that I had suffered. I wanted to make a difference and find a way to turn these tragic events into a constructive outcome.
I realized that I had told my children “Don’t talk to strangers.” However I had never taught them what to do if someone grabbed them. I never imagined I could become one of the parents I had heard about on the news. I don’t suppose they ever thought they would either.
I created a program and worked with the local sheriff department in Illinois to teach child safety. One year after Christopher was abducted we opened the Christopher Meyer Safety Center, complete with paved streets and sidewalks, stop lights and street lights. A child sized community where children learn hands on how to be safe.
Upon moving to California I realized that there were no safety education programs to properly train kids in my community. This is why I developed Christopher’s Clubhouse. A comprehensive community safety and education organization that provides programs to children and families.
I am also a member of Team Hope, providing peer support to other families of missing children, an outspoken activist and lobbyist for children’s rights, a member of the Surviving Parents Coalition and a frequent speaker and presenter for crimes against children. I have appeared on national and local television and radio shows all with the desire that Christopher’s death will serve as a catalyst to prevent further crime against children and ensure child predators are punished accordingly. I dedicate my time to the community service of lobbying for change and in hope of bringing the community together to provide a safe and secure environment for all children.