In 1994, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl named Megan Kanka was raped and murdered by a convicted child molester who had moved across the street from her family without their knowledge. After the crime, community members banded together to get a law passed that would force sex offenders to register in their communities.
Three years later, President Clinton signed Megan's Law. Now, convicted sex offenders in all 50 states are legally required to enter a registry available for public viewing.
Unfortunately, not enough people know the registries exist, said Routt County Sheriff's Office records custodian Elise Bennett.
Bennett said that she has seen a steady increase in people interested in looking at the registry, especially after last month's stabbing and sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl in Idaho. The girl's father, a registered sex offender who had been living in Hayden, is the only suspect in the crime.
John Rollins Tuggle, 37, is being held on a $10 million bond in Wallace, Idaho, after he was arrested July 27 on suspicion of the attempted murder of his daughter. Tuggle had not seen the girl since she was 2 because he was serving a nine-year prison sentence for raping a 14-year-old.
Bennett said nine sex offenders are registered with Routt County, including Tuggle.When people come in to view the registry, they can see each offender's name, photo, date of birth, physical address, physical descriptors, date and type of conviction.
Bennett said people must have a "need to know" reason for seeing the registry, but she also said she has never turned anyone away.
According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation statistics, 8,344 sex offenders are registered in Colorado.
The nine offenders registered with the Routt County Sheriff's Office are among 25 known sex offenders living in Routt County. Six sex offenders are registered in Steamboat Springs, three in Hayden, three in Oak Creek, three in Phippsburg and one in Yampa.
Bennett said offenders can register either with the county, the city they live in or both after they are released from prison. Along with providing their criminal histories and physical descriptions, offenders must let authorities know where they work and what cars they drive.
Along with the Sheriff's Office, the Steamboat Springs Police Department, Oak Creek Police Department and Hayden Police Department have reported an increased number of requests to view the registries the past few weeks.
"I've been getting a couple calls a week and there's even a note on my door right now from someone in Stagecoach requesting information," said Linda Koile of the Oak Creek Police Department.
Bennett said sex registries are a tool the community can use to be aware of who might be living or working around them. Such information allows parents to better protect their children. But some question how well the method works.
Once people look at the registries, the most common question is, "what do I do with this information," Bennett said.
What they cannot do is try to retaliate in some way against the offender. Before viewing the registries, people must sign a sheet promising they won't use the information to try to do harm to the listed offenders.
"I always tell people to do their own research and decide where to go from there. The sex registries are just a starting point," she said.
Bennett said people have several options. They can be direct with the sex offender and try to discuss the offense in a non-confrontational way or they can just live with the heightened awareness of that person.
Bennett also said parents should talk to their children about awareness and safety if they find out a sexual offender is living nearby.
Registries sometimes can create a community-wide paranoia, Bennett said, but that type of reaction is not the objective of the registry. And while the community deserves to know where the offenders live, the offenders themselves deserve to not be retaliated against.
"They finished their parole, they finished their probation. They have a right to try and be productive members of society," Bennett said.
Congress recently passed a bill that will allow law enforcement agencies to put sex offender registration online to make it more available to the public. The bill also eliminates the "need to know" statute that has been in place.
Police Capt. Joel Rae said the Steamboat Springs Police Department would have the city's registry online by the end of the day Friday. The site is www.ci.steamboat.co.us. Rae said people can access the registry from the police link.
"People have a right to know this kind of information, and having it online is the least we can do," he said.
Rae said that officers last week visited offenders registered with the city to confirm the addresses are current.
Five of the six offenders are still living at the listed addresses, and one was away visiting family with plans to register a new address upon his return.
The other agencies in Routt County update their registries often and especially anytime anything changes with an offender.
Bennett thinks that having the information on the Internet will be a better way of giving access to people who can't get to the agencies where the registries are or for people who didn't know they could get them in the first place.
The Sheriff's Office plans to have its registry online in a few months, once some logistical aspects are worked out.
"I don't see any problems with having this information online, especially since it will be easier to update," Bennett said.
Bennett and Rae said they have not had any problems with sex offenders failing to comply with the regular guidelines they follow.
Bennett said that most offenders are good at coming in every year to register and update their photos and address information.
Bennett said most registered sex offenders are just trying to work and lead normal lives.
"People have to suffer the consequences of their actions," she said, "but I do think they deserve the right to reconstruct their lives."