TO FORGIVE, DIVINE : 22 YEARS LATER, VICTIM BEFRIENDS AILING ABDUCTOR WHO CONFESSED.
Nearly 22 years after a stranger abducted, stabbed, and shot 10-year-old Chris Carrier and abandoned him in the Everglades, the prime suspect has confessed.
Carrier is now 32 and blind in one eye from the shooting. He is a devout Christian and visits his abductor almost daily to read the Bible to him.
The suspect is David R. McAllister, an ex-con and prison fugitive, now 77, frail, blind, and living in a nursing home.
Maj. Charles Scherer, internal affairs commander in the Coral Gables (Fla.) Police Department, questioned McAllister three times recently, wanting to make certain he ``was not just senile and making it up.''
``I'm positive it was him,'' Scherer said. ``I know it's the right guy because he was the prime suspect all along. He fit the composite to a T. I am sure of it now, and I was sure of it then.''
To Gables police, its most high-profile unsolved mystery is officially closed. The confession has also opened the door to a bizarre friendship between a victim and the man who says he abducted him.
Both victim and suspect prefer a new title: friends.
``The case is closed,'' Carrier said Wednesday. ``But the friendship is just beginning. A life with hope for David is just beginning. When I look at him, I don't stare at my abductor and potential murderer. I stare at a man, very old, very alone and scared.''
It was Dec. 20, 1974. At 1:15 p.m. Christopher Carrier, a fifth-grader at Westminster Christian School, stepped off the school bus carrying a jacket and a puzzle. Then he simply vanished.
His anxious attorney-father, Hugh M. Carrier, offered $10,000 for his return.
Six days later, a hunter found little Chris dazed and bruised sitting on a rock in the Everglades. He was in Collier County, 75 miles from home.
``For me, it was as if I had taken a 30-minute or one-hour nap,'' Carrier said this week. ``Honestly, I have had many midterms, papers and finals that had more trauma for me than that day.''
Someone had punctured him lightly with an ice pick and apparently burned him with cigarettes, shot him and left him unconscious for six days.
Doctors at first didn't realize a bullet had entered his right temple and exited his left. Today, his left eye barely opens.
Chris gave police a vivid description of his abductor, down to the two rings he wore, motor home he drove, and a blue ice pick.
McAllister always was the main suspect. He was a nurse who had tended to Chris' elderly uncle before the boy's abduction. He had been fired for drinking.
McAllister has a record dating to 1936, when Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police arrested him for larceny. He was nabbed at least a dozen times after that, once escaping from prison to avoid a 20-year sentence.
When police went to question him in 1975, they discovered a man with an uncanny resemblance to the police composite an artist drafted using Chris' description. They found a man who owned a blue-striped motor home, just like Chris described. When they tapped on the door, he answered: ``What took you guys so long? I've been waiting.''
But McAllister denied committing the crime and police failed to find any physical evidence linking him to it - nothing from the mobile home, no ice pick, no unusual fibers, fingerprints or hair and no ballistics. Although police found a gun in his motor home, detectives did not have a bullet for comparison.
And Chris did not identify McAllister.
``Maybe I was tired of looking at pictures,'' Carrier now says.
The break came last month, when Scherer, assigned to the case as canine officer in 1975, received word that McAllister was at a North Miami Beach nursing home. He interviewed him Aug. 30 and twice the next week.
McAllister lay in a convalescent home that reeked of feces. No television. No books. No company.
``He's a sharp old character,'' Scherer said. ``When I told him, `Tell me the story,' he answered, `Once upon a time there were three little bears.' That told me he wasn't quite as sorry as you might think he was.''
Eventually, McAllister admitted on tape that he abducted Chris. He provided details, Scherer said, ``but did not admit shooting him.''
The tape is yet to be transcribed. Scherer said he will not charge McAllister with a crime because the statute of limitation has run out.
Besides confessing to police, McAllister has apologized to Carrier.
He has had plenty of chances. Carrier has visited McAllister nearly every day since last week's confession. He sits at his bedside and prays with him.
When Carrier first speaks, his abductor's glazed eyes light up.
``Hi!'' McAllister shouts. ``I am so glad you came!''
Carrier says he is happy that he has been able to show McAllister that six days in the Everglades did damage to his left eye.
``I assured him that my life hasn't been put on hold, cursed by tragedy,'' Carrier said.
``I am not dissatisfied at all that he never spent a day in jail. He's never been able to live without memories and pain. In that perspective, he has paid his price, served his time. Nobody would imagine that I would shake the hand that tried to kill me.''
Photo: Chris Carrier and his daughter, Amanda, visit David R. McAlli ster at a Miami area nursing home. Carrier reads the Bible to his one-time abductor.
Knight-Ridder Tribune Photo Service