By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 9, 2008
A group of Lusby residents is launching a campaign to increase awareness about child abuse and raise money for their 7-year-old neighbor, whose escape from her mother's home Sept. 26 led investigators to discover two children's bodies in a basement freezer.
For almost seven months, the 7-year-old lived in the home on Buckskin Trail, unbeknownst to many in the neighborhood. After she escaped through a back window, prompting police to search the house, neighbors wondered whether there was anything they could have done sooner.
Now they're raising money for a certificate of deposit for the girl and are trying to raise awareness about the need for people to speak out when they notice signs of abuse.
"Get involved. Get your hands dirty," said Phillip Garrett, 21, who called police after he found the girl covered in bruises and wandering down a street. "That's the whole message."
Renee Bowman, 43, the girl's mother, is in jail in Calvert County on child abuse charges. She told investigators the two bodies in the freezer were those of her two adopted daughters, who would be 9 and 11. One of the girls died of starvation, and the other died after falling, she told police.
The medical examiner had not formally identified the bodies or determined the causes of death.
The fundraising and awareness effort, called Our Project, will culminate with an auction Jan. 15 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Solomons. Garrett, a fashion designer, is creating a dress -- a lavender-colored gown with Austrian crystals and opaque pearls -- to sell to raise money.
"This dress is miraculous," Garrett said. "It's brilliant."
Garrett's effort is among many by Calvert residents to support the girl, who was released from a hospital last week and placed with a foster family.
David Spigler, perhaps better known as Washington Redskins supporter Spiggy Hogette, helped raise $2,000 at a fundraiser last weekend for Children's Hospital, said Calvert Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large). He gave the money to the Calvert Department of Social Services, which has been collecting money, toys and clothes on the girl's behalf.
Nickie Clark, 34, another neighbor in Lusby, has also been collecting toys and clothes to give to the department. She and her children put three stuffed animals on the steps of the girl's house in Lusby, a tribute to her and the two children found in the freezer.
The case has raised questions about the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, which recommended Bowman as an adoptive parent although she had filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, the year she adopted one foster child, and had just emerged from it in 2004, when she adopted two others. Bowman received $800 a month for each child from a federal program.
Although the deaths have upset many Calvert residents, their focus has shifted to helping the girl who was found.
"We're trying to turn this negativity into a positive," Clark said. "We have to move on."
Staff writer Christy Goodman contributed to this report. For information on donating to Our Project, contact Phillip Garrett email@example.com.