Just a few miles from Washington, D.C., but far away from the problems and crime of big city life, we raised our three children. We felt safe in that not only did we know our children's friends, but also their parents. They were our neighbors and our friends. Coaches were also a part of our lives because they too cared about our kids. They volunteered their time, and we cheered on our kids from the sidelines. As the seasons changed so did the sports, but the constant was the coaches that came back year after year. Life was good; crime didn't touch the parents and children in this part of Fairfax County. Nothing bad ever happened here -- so we thought.
Because of my affiliation with America's Most Wanted, my kids thought I was the most paranoid mother in the world: Just because they were five minutes late coming home didn't mean they were kidnapped. We relied on other parents and coaches to drive our kids from time to time -- we all helped each other out. Despite being paranoid about children's safety I knew in my heart that nothing bad could really happen to any of the kids we knew; bad things happened in other places to other people.
One of the coaches, one of the people always at the local field or gym to help, was John Hamilton. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He was larger than life not only because he stood 6 feet 3 inches tall, but because of his personality. Parents felt good about this young man taking such an interest and being such a big help. Who else wanted to mow the fields and clean up after games? John's positive attitude and engaging smile made everyone that knew him feel good and safe.
My kids played travel sports as they got older, and we didn’t see John Hamilton that often, but he was still a presence: his picture in a team photo at the local gas station, in the aisles of a local grocery store or behind the counter at Wick’s Sports Lettering. My kids were huge fans of European soccer, and at Wick’s they would add the name of the player and his number to a jersey, just like the professionals. John was always helpful and friendly. I didn't think twice when he would ask, "Mrs. Nolan, how are your boys?"
Thinking back, I was one of the thousands that thought they knew John but never gave thought to what he did on his own time. It didn’t matter -- we trusted him.
In May 2009, I was shocked when I heard on the news that John Hamilton had been arrested, accused of sexually abusing young boys. John had put on a lot of weight since last time I saw him, but there he was in a mug shot. The news rocked all of us in the Mt. Vernon area to its core. Could it be true? Could it be the same John Hamilton that was so familiar to everyone who had children that grew up in local youth sports? How could this happen in our small, close-knit community?
As the summer months passed, daily lives moved on as everyone waited for the criminal justice system to work and bring him to trial that would prove his innocence or guilt. The story disappeared in the headlines until October when the Mt. Vernon area was rocked again when the news reported that John Hamilton had failed to appear in court to enter his plea of guilty. How could this be?
I knew immediately I had to help bring him to justice. Why would an innocent man run? This will be a riveting story for AMW viewers, but one that is deeply personal for me, an AMW producer.
Tune in Saturday night at 9 to see the story unfold.
-- By Cheri Nolan, AMW Staff