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In October of 1985 Donna Chapel was inspired to write a song, "Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore" in tribute to Johnny Gosch. The song serves as a memorial for all parents who have lost a child and suffered that pain.

Johnny's Song in MP3

Visit Donna Chapel's Web Site


Left to Right: Donna Chapel, Noreen Gosch, Iowa Governor
Terry Branstad. April 29, 1986, Release date of the song.



November 12, 1985, it is my son Johnny's sixteenth birthday. My thoughts of him are stronger on special days. Where is he? What is happening to him? He always loved the excitement of birthdays in the family, especially his own. He would have requested his favorite "German Chocolate Cake? triple layer of course". And always those "relighting candles", that produce so much smoke, it would set off the smoke detector in the hallway.

Just like any young boy today, he would want his drivers license and begin to use the family car just as his friends were doing. Each passing birthday is another reminder of how much of his family's life is missing. What kind of pain and suffering is he going through at the hands of his kidnappers? Would he even know it is his birthday today? I would buy a little gift and card, putting it in his room; in hopes that one-day he would be home with us again.

We kept his room just as he left it with all of his electronic game sat on the night stand, his bulletin board had all of the perfect service awards from each month he had the paper route. He had thirteen awards in all. On the other side of the room sat all of the models of rockets that he so carefully built. Each time he would earn a little extra money, he would ask to be driven to the hobby shop at the mall, where he would purchase more "rocket supplies". He was very interested in the space program and would buy anything connected to it. With the change he would receive at the store, he would run upstairs to the floral shop and buy a single rose for me. They would wrap it for him and he would have it all tucked behind his back, out of sight, when I would meet him to drive home. Then he would whip it out with a big smile on his face and say, " this is for you, Mom".

From the time Johnny was five years old he would tell everyone that he wanted to be an "architect". People would smile because he was barely able to pronounce it properly and most little children that age didn't know what an architect was or did. He continued with that dream, asking for a drafting table and supplies for Christmas this coming year.

Passing by Johnny's room had both a comforting and painful effect upon me. At times it would be so painful I would have to keep the door closed. Yet at other times, I would go in there and sit quietly praying for inspiration to keeping the story alive, knowing what to do next to try and save his life. I never for one moment believed that Johnny was dead. I felt his presence.

At first we didn't allow anyone in Johnny's room, thinking the police department would want to dust for fingerprints. However, the police chief, Orville Cooney said that they would not be taking prints because it "makes a hell of a mess in the house"! Later, when reporters would ask if they could photograph his room, we then allowed them in for a short time. Many of them would walk out saying they felt something in that room, almost as if they were connected to him in some way. I was not the only one to feel his presence in his room.

I will never forget the reporter who came out of Johnny's room. His face was as white as a sheet; he asked me " Have you noticed anything unusual in that room?" I replied "Like what "? He stammered then said " Electrical shocks were hitting my face and body as I stood in the middle of the room, I have never experienced anything like this before"! That was the first time I knew I was not the only one that felt something in that room.

I had talked to other parents of missing children who were reunited with them. They shared how important it was to buy the gifts and cards so the child would see they were never forgotten on birthdays and holidays. In 1985, the Ankeny Press Citizen newspaper asked me to write a letter to Johnny for his birthday and they would print it. So their readers would be able to understand what it is like to not know where your child is, whether he is alive or dead and face another birthday without him.

I was about to leave the house for an appointment in the afternoon, when the phone rang; it was a woman by the name of Donna Chapel. She is a long time Country Western and Gospel singer. Donna at that time had recorded three albums in Nashville and was planning the release of her fourth album. From her life on the road as a singer, to the dark side of Nashville, to life on the farm, to love of a mother for her child, Donna explained that she expresses her emotions in music just as her family had done for generations. In 1936 Donna's three aunts, the Amburgey Sisters, were pioneers in the country and gospel field with the first all female string bands in history. From the coalfields of Kentucky they rivaled the famed Carter family.

In October of 1985, Donna had made an appearance in Washington DC at the Farm Aid program. As she was walking through the airport, she saw a huge picture of Johnny hanging on the wall. It really began to bother her, wondering how she would feel if someone would take her son, almost Johnny's age. After she boarded the plane, she was inspired to write another song, "Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore" in tribute to my son Johnny. The song serves as a memorial for all parents who have lost a child and suffered this pain in their lives. She then decided it was time to call and talk to me about the song.

We hit it off immediately on the phone, as she explained how her thoughts and prayers had been with me and how seeing my son's picture in the Washington DC airport affected her. She asked, "Could I meet her at one of her performances to hear the song". I made arrangements to meet Donna on November 23, 1985 in Sioux City, Iowa (ironically I was to learn five years later that this is where Johnny was taken within hours of the kidnapping). She wanted me to hear it before she sang it at the show; this was to be the first time the song was sung publicly. We took a few private moments for her to sing it for me. As I sat listening to the words, I felt heartbreak and comfort. It is difficult to describe how both emotions can be felt at the same time. Donna had captured the feeling of emptiness in our home. He was no longer coming home after school, saying "Mom what's for supper. No longer bringing me a rose and all the normal things we take for granted on a day-to-day basis.

I knew that in a short time the song would be sung again. This time before hundreds of people and it would be difficult to keep my composure. I was touched by the words in the song and also by the love and kindness of Donna. Who was moved to write a tribute to my son. To have people you do not know remember him and do something extraordinary such as this made me feel so very thankful. That night was the beginning of a loving friendship, which has lasted for many years between Donna Chapel and myself.

Since that night, when we met for the first time, Donna has continued to sing Johnny's song at each and every performance throughout the United States. Donna requested a picture of Johnny; I furnished her with a very large framed picture of him. On stage with her at all times is the picture of Johnny on the first day of his paper route. When people see this picture and hear the words to the song there is not a dry eye in the audiences. The song brings a great deal of heartfelt emotion from everyone. Many people can identify with the words and how they might feel if their son or daughter would be taken from them.

The first day of his paper route, we took a picture of Johnny. He of course like most children, did not want his picture taken. Little did we know that this photo would become the "publicity picture" used by all forms of media for years and years following the kidnapping?

As I look at this photo today, I realize that more than half his life has been away from his family and friends. If I had it to do over again, I would have never allowed him to carry the Des Moines Register.

We discussed recording this song in Nashville, how soon the song could be released, as well as the remaining details. This was an area so new to me. Donna made all the arrangements for the recording and traveled to Nashville early in 1986. We kept in touch by phone and letter as to the progress of the recording. We made a decision to present the song in a meeting with our Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, on April 29th, 1986, the release date for the song nationally. Country radio stations all over the country were sent copies; it was received well by the public.

As I travel around the country for speaking engagements, TV and radio interviews I would play this song before each event. It always gave me an uplifting feeling and strength of my resolve to let every man; woman and child know what was happening to the millions of Johnny Gosch's around the world.



He'd get up before sun-up, throw the news by the door,
and that day was no different-like many times before,
and his pillow still showed the print of where he laid his head,
but now Johnny won't be sleeping in his bed.

His life had just begun, he had everything to live for,
he was slowly turning into a man, his smile would brighten up my day,
now that's all taken away, and I know Johnny doesn't live here anymore.

CHORUS: He doesn't live here anymore. He won't walk right Through that door,
and say "Mom, what's for supper", and throw His books down on the floor.
And the hardest part of all, I don't know Where, I don't know why.
We didn't even have the chance to say good-bye.

As time goes by, I miss him more.
Things aren't like they were before. We send our love up to the stars,
for they must know just where you are. We'll always wait and love you more,
and keep the light on by the door, but now, Johnny doesn't live here anymore.
I know my Johnny doesn't live here anymore.