April spotlight is on child abuse prevention

Shawn Hardy
Bob Spessard of Blue Ribbons 4 Justice placed ribbons on parking meters and lampposts in downtown Greencastle Tuesday morning to draw attention to National Child Abuse Prevention Month. He and his wife, Michelle, started the organization after their 4 1/2-month-old grandson, Justice, died as the victim of child abuse on Jan. 6, 2007. For a video message from Spessard, visit echo-pilot.com.

“I hope all this blue stuff makes people talk. A lot of kids are getting hurt,” said Bob Spessard, who tied blue ribbons on parking meters and lampposts in downtown Greencastle and placed blue pinwheels in front of the post office.

Greencastle Borough Council gave its blessing Monday night to the annual National Child Abuse Prevention Month effort of Blue Ribbons 4 Justice, the organization Spessard and his wife, Michelle, created following the child abuse death of their 4 1/2-month-old grandson, Justice, on Jan. 6, 2007.

Speaking to council, he recalled how the baby, their son’s child, was held by the ankles and swung like a baseball bat into a wall and described the horrific injuries to his face and head. Justice’s mother’s boyfriend was convicted in his death in Washington County, Maryland.

“We want to turn a negative into a positive,” the Greencastle resident said.

In Franklin County, there were 211 reports of child abuse in 2016 and 74 so far this year, according to the Over the Rainbow Children’s Advocacy Center, which teamed up with Summit Health to sponsor a ceremony Tuesday morning outside the Franklin County Courthouse as commissioners proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“Things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse,” Spessard told Greencastle council members. His phone number is public and he gets more calls for Blue Ribbons 4 Justice than his home improvement business.

He said he’s been to the funerals of 35 children in five years. He talked about one boy who was beaten because he ate a piece of cake and other children who drowned because their drugged mother put them in the bathtub then took a nap.

Spessard is advocating for an abuse registry for anyone who abuses a child, a woman or an older person, but has not yet gained any legislative traction. He said with a registry, people who get involved with an abuser would have some accountability.

“Bob and Michelle work tirelessly in this arena to raise awareness,” Councilman James Farley said.

“I appreciate what you let me do,” Spessard told council. “It’s gonna take the community to knock this stuff out.

“If you see it, know it or suspect it, report it,” Spessard said.

Blue Ribbons 4 Justice can be found at 301-992-6871, blueribbons4justice.com and on Facebook at blueribbons4justice

Spessard also is involved in Over the Rainbow Children’s Advocacy Center, where the board is chaired by Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal.

"This is a fight we are in together to win, we won't fail and we are going to do this together as a team," Fogal said at the courthouse ceremony. "The intent here was to create awareness and educate the community."

"We need to increase the awareness of child abuse,” said Commissioner Bob Thomas. “It is very real in this community and a lot of people don't really appreciate the seriousness of this issue or the frequency. All you have to do is look at the CAC's numbers to know that we have a serious problem here. When you see the innocence of the children ... it should not be violated."

Ann Spottswood is director of community services for Summit Health, which had blue pinwheels displayed outside many of its facilities this month. She stressed the importance of promoting healthy activities for parents and children.

"Summit Health is urging parents to read, play and sing with their children every day to strengthen families and help prevent child abuse. Reading, playing and singing can help create meaningful bonds and nurture intellectual development," Spottswood said.

She added, "The emotional health of our children and families is just as important as their physical health. We are invested in strengthening our local communities by providing parents with tools to strengthen their families.”