People appeared to be cheery as they unwrapped packets of blue ribbon Sunday at University Park in downtown Hagerstown.
Youngster Lucky Brown pulled on a string, with Lacey Sellers holding the other end, turning the string of ribbon into a beautiful blue bow.
Dozens of people helped make piles of bows that they then tied around parking meter poles, trees, and other poles along West and East Washington Street as a reminder that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“It’s to bring awareness for, for child abuse. You know, a lot of people, if it doesn’t happen to them, they just, you know they don’t understand and I just think it’s time that we start to make a difference and start helping the innocent children,” said Dee Myers, who organized the ribbon event and ceremony.
The event was supported by the City of Hagerstown; Safe Place, a child advocacy center; and several local residents, including the families of two babies, Justice and Bella, who died as a result of child abuse.
Myers is the grandmother of Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, a 4-month-old boy who was shaken to death in Washington County in January 2007. Floyd Edward Bingaman III, of Hagerstown, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for Justice’s death.
Family members of Bella Appel also attended the event. Bella was 5 weeks old when she died in January 2010, also as a result of child abuse. Bella’s father, Nicholas Ray McKee, is serving 30 years for first-degree child abuse resulting in death, plus five more consecutive years for manslaughter.
The approximately 50 people attending Sunday’s ceremony received an update from state Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, concerning an effort to pass state legislation, known as Justice’s Law, that would increase Maryland’s maximum penalty for first-degree child abuse resulting in death from 30 years to 40 years.
Justice’s Law appears to have a much better chance of passing this year, after Shank, who first proposed Justice’s Law legislation in 2008, changed the proposed maximum penalty from life in prison to 40 years.
On Sunday, family members remembered Justice and Bella, but also hoped that when people saw the blue ribbons downtown, they would be reminded to report suspected child abuse.
Many people probably read stories about child abuse and think, “Oh, that poor family,” before putting the story aside and forgetting about it, said Lorie Faith, Bella’s great-aunt.
“It’s never forgotten in our minds and it never will be,” said Faith, of Hancock.
“After Bella’s death, I think we were all in a very dark place and on an emotional roller coaster,” Faith said.
The family decided it wanted to do something to help other families going through similar situations and, Faith said, she proposed a walk.
The first walk, held in April 2011, raised $14,000 for Safe Place, Faith said.
This year’s walk-a-thon event has been expanded to include a 5-kilometer run and a bike-a-thon for children, starting at Hancock’s Widmeyer Park on April 28. The event’s proceeds will benefit Safe Place, at 24 N. Walnut St. in Hagerstown, and Safe Haven, a child advocacy center in Morgan County, W.Va.
Monday, about 20 students from Hancock Middle-Senior High School will help put up blue ribbons along Hancock’s Main Street to raise awareness about child abuse, said Dianne McCusker, Bella’s great-grandmother.
For Safe Place Program Director J. Mooch Mutchler, Sunday’s event also was about letting adults know they need to be advocates for children.
“Adults have to be an advocate for a child because sometimes a child won’t speak for themselves,” Mutchler said.
Children become threatened, get scared or become embarrassed from the abuse, he said.
Signs of child abuse include a change in behavior, becoming withdrawn or unusual bruises, said Tammy Puffenberger, a child protective services supervisor at Safe Place, which is part of the Department of Social Services.
While children often get bruises on their knees or elbows from falling and playing, bruising around the face or in unusual places is a concern, Puffenberger said.
Anyone who suspects a child is being abused can call the Department of Social Services, anonymously if they wish, at 240-420-2222, Mutchler said.