HANCOCK — He was controlling.
Jealous, after the baby was born.
But he had not been physically violent.
Jordan Appel, 24, of Hancock, said her baby's father, Nicholas Ray McKee, displayed no blatant pattern of abuse.
Yet 5-week-old Bella Appel of Hancock died in January 2010, and in December, McKee was convicted of first-degree child abuse resulting in death and other charges. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
In retrospect, Appel said, there were "little things" she'd overlooked for fear of overreacting.
"There were red flags," she said. "But when I'd bring them up, (McKee) would tell me I was tired or hormonal."
Appel hoped to raise public awareness of those "red flags" Saturday at the Hancock Police Department's inaugural Walk to End Child Abuse along the Western Maryland Rail Trail in Hancock. About 400 people gathered in Joseph Hancock Park for the event.
"We live in an area where we like to think we are safe from most violent crimes," Appel said. "But it's a false sense of security. People get caught in that and forget to look out for different warning signs."
Appel joined forces to organize the walk with Ashley Brown, 25, of Hagerstown, another mother whose baby died as a result of child abuse.
In January 2007, 4-month-old Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon died. Floyd Edward Bingaman lll was convicted of first-degree child abuse resulting in death and related charges. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence.
Brown said she had followed the court case of McKee and contacted Appel online. She attended McKee's sentencing and introduced herself to Appel.
"Our cases were so similar," Brown said. "It was nice to have someone to talk to who understood completely, who had experienced what I had."
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Appel and Brown said they hoped to honor the memories of their babies through the walk.
Maryland Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. and state Sen. George C. Edwards presented proclamations at the kickoff. Participants paid $10 registration fees to walk the two-mile trail. Vendors sold food and gave away ice cream, agencies distributed literature and bands played throughout the event.
Proceeds from the walk — about $12,000 — will go to Safe Place Child Advocacy Center of Washington County. Safe Place Director Mooch Mutchler said the agency plans to dedicate a room to the memory of Justice and Bella.
Lisa Teeter, 38, of Hancock, participated in the walk with friends.
"Child abuse is one of those things. You never think it's going to be you," Teeter said. "Maybe when people hear these stories, they'll take a better look at their own situation or one close to them and see the signs. And maybe a place like Safe Place can help them."