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BY COLUMNISTS

| Joe Charlebois | Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Norman M. Covert | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Tom McLaughlin | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. |

DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


September 26, 2005

Suffer the Little Children

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

A registered child sexual offender, who was fully compliant with Maryland state law regarding registration, recently walked into an Anne Arundel County elementary school.

This offender lived in a nearby apartment complex, and had obtained personal information about a young student at the school.

The child, whose family lived in the same complex as the offender, had no idea of the impending danger.

The offender went to the main office, and using the child's name, the mother 's name, and other detailed family information, attempted to obtain the child's release.

This is where recent national news takes a tragic turn. Every heart breaks and every spirit darkens with the news of the exploitation of an innocent child.

Thankfully, this story takes a very different turn. In the last few years, the State of Maryland has brought a renewed focus and energy to this problem. Data mining and data sharing have resulted in technology being available statewide, including technology to keep kids safe in school.

The administrators at this particular school seized the opportunity to apply these tools. The principal had the offender engaged in a lengthy but friendly conversation while the state sexual offender database was consulted.

As soon as the school officials recognized the offender's photo, the local police were called to the school. During the delay, the offender got uncomfortable, and left the school.

Police found the offender walking several blocks away from the school. He is back behind bars, and a family and community are whole because of school administrators and the availability of current technology.

There are 4,300 registered child sexual offenders in the State of Maryland. Frederick County is home to 139 registered offenders, while Washington County holds 138 offenders.

As sophisticated as we've become at registering and tracking child sexual offenders, some still slip through the net.

We recall with horror the story of little Christopher Ausherman. Elmer Spencer was released from prison, having served his sentence for a prior child sexual offense.

Spencer was far from cured of his deviant, predatory behavior. Where the system failed young Christopher was the inability to track a monster like Spencer without a fixed address.

Spencer was using the Frederick Emergency Shelter as his temporary residence, but without a permanent address, these offenders can "fly below the radar."

Spencer lured Christopher to McCurdy Field, assaulted and murdered him, and returned to the shelter. It was there that he was eventually apprehended.

States are using photo identification, DNA samples, global positioning systems, and database management to identify and maintain the whereabouts of these sexual offenders.

The best tool for proactively monitoring the movements and behavior of child sexual offenders is for citizens to be aware that these people live in our midst.

The civil liberties crowd will bellow with gusto about abridging personal freedoms and violating the rights of privacy of these people after they've served their sentence.

Our legitimate collective response should be that the interests of children and protecting them from harm always trump the rights of a convicted child sexual predator.

You can locate and identify child sexual offenders who live near you. Internet resources are significant and readily available.

Two recent episodes prove the value of an informed citizenry. A registered child sex offender recently tried to lure a child onto his front porch to view a bird feeder. A neighbor, aware of the offender's status and location, altered local police.

Police noted the fact that this offender had been ordered by the court to maintain a specific distance from children. He is now behind bars.

Finally, right here in Frederick County, an elementary school bus stop was shifted by about two blocks in order to accommodate riders.

This would not normally cause alarm; but this new bus stop was located adjacent to the home of a registered child sex offender.

Alert parents immediately notified Frederick County Public Schools, and after a little work, Superintendent Linda Burgee and her transportation staff shifted the stop back to its previous location, well out of harm's way.

Kudos to Dr. Burgee, a caring and compassionate chief executive, who is deeply committed to protecting and nurturing our children.

Even bigger kudos to those mothers and fathers who were concerned enough to keep track of a convicted child sex offender and for using the tools available to them to keep their kids safe.

You need to accept the responsibility for your own community's safety and security, and we owe it to future generation to protect Maryland's children. We won't be given a second chance!



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