Thursday, April 14, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

Teach our children safety

The death of Jessica Marie Lunsford was back in the news Monday morning before I left for work. In recent weeks, the body of the 9-year-old Florida girl was found not far from her home. A convicted sex offender, John Couey, who lived across the street from Lunsford, reportedly has confessed to kidnapping, sexual battery and killing the child.

The latest disturbing news Monday morning, according to the TV report, was that Jessica may have been buried alive.

As a father of three precious children, I’ve watched this story for weeks and can’t get it out of my heart or mind.

I used to think it couldn’t happen here.

But no longer do I believe that. It occurred in that small Florida town. It could happen right here in Holly Springs or Marshall County.

And that’s frightening to us all.

It also means we must all be more knowledgeable, aware and cautious about what is going on in our own little world.

I recently talked with Lani Pepper, an assistant district attorney who works out of the Marshall County courthouse, and asked her for advice to give the community as a whole.

First and foremost, know the whereabouts of your children.

“Safety-wise, parents certainly must be aware of where their children are and who they are with at all times,” Pepper said, “and that’s so much different from when I was growing up.

“Teach children, in general, to be wary of strangers.

“Unfortunately, in this day and time, parents need to be more vigilant.”

Pepper also said the public can check the state’s sex offender registry Web site at www.sor.mpds.state.ms.us). The site includes a list for each county, including Marshall and its 41 registered sex offenders.

As mandated by federal legislation, the Mississippi Sex Offenders Registration Law was enacted requiring the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (MDPS) to maintain a registry of persons residing in the state who have been convicted of certain sexual offenses or attempted offenses.

The Department of Public Safety updates this information regularly, to try to assure it is complete and accurate. However, this information can change quickly. People are cautioned that information provided on the site may not reflect the current residence, status, or other information regarding a registered sex offender. Some don’t register with authorities and/or they move a lot, according to Pepper.

The Department of Public Safety warns that the information may be more than six months old and no longer valid.

“Not all convicted sex offenders are going to commit another crime,” Pepper said, “But the information (on the registry Web site) is helpful. The registry is for awareness.”

She said the majority of sex crimes on the court docket in her seven-county district do involve children and the majority involve children ages 15 and under.

She said public awareness is at an all-time high because of the recent case in Florida.

“Most of the child sexual assault cases don’t involve strangers,” Pepper said. “Most are family related - family or family acquaintance.”

She said the district attorney’s office does indict offenders who fail to register as sex offenders.

But bottom line – we must teach our children safety issues. Parents and our small community as a whole must be more and more aware of our surroundings.

We must all be vigilant in protecting our children.

If you need other information or have concerns, call the district attorney’s office at 252-6020.


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