DES MOINES, Iowa – The mother of a boy abducted 24 years ago said she's bewildered by two photographs left at her front door, apparently showing her son and two other children bound and gagged.
The old photos appear to show 12-year-old Johnny Gosch with his mouth gagged and his hands and feet tied. The boy is wearing the same sweat pants Johnny was wearing when he disappeared while delivering newspapers on the morning of Sept. 5, 1982, his mother said.
"It's like reliving it," Noreen Gosch told The Associated Press on Thursday night. "But the bigger picture is, 'Why are they doing this?'
"Whoever had these photos had them for 24 years. I don't understand why they would do this now. It must be some kind of message."
Gosch said investigators confirmed the photos were authentic and likely taken within "hours or days" of the abduction. She said they were checking for fingerprints that could lead them to the source and possibly a breakthrough in a case that has long baffled authorities. The other boys in the photo were unidentified.
The photos were given to the state Division of Criminal Investigation's computer crime task force, West Des Moines police Lt. Jeff Miller said. He said police have not positively identified the boy in the photos as Johnny Gosch.
Johnny's disappearance triggered nationwide fears of child abductions. He was one of the first faces of missing or abducted children to appear on milk cartons across the country.
Several theories have developed since he vanished before dawn while delivering Sunday newspapers. His newspaper wagon was discovered near his West Des Moines home, but few substantial clues have surfaced since then.
Gosch believes her son was taken by child pornographers. She told authorities he briefly contacted her in 1997 but feared for his life and declined to give details about where he was. She believes his abductors got him involved in crimes, which is why he is hiding his identity.
The National Center for Missing Children is examining the other boys in the photograph and trying to match it with its database of missing children.
"These kids have parents someplace," Gosch said. "I'm sure they feel the same way I did. ... Hopefully we can do some good and give these parents some peace."
Johnny was Gosch's youngest of three children, and she has devoted her life to finding him, from raising money for private detectives to following her own leads and prodding police to try harder. She also wrote a book called "Why Johnny Can't Come Home."