A story in Thursday's editions about a protest over the death of a 4-year-old in Garrett County, Md., incorrectly reported the number of child-abuse cases there. The average number of reported cases is 20. Additionally, the story incorrectly quoted a Maryland Human Resources spokeswoman as saying that Donna Lynn White's three children had once been removed from her custody. Only one child was removed.
In a small resort town better known for its lakefront vistas than for community activism, an angry crusade has begun.
Last week, Brandy Lynn White, a 4-year-old Garrett County girl, died after being removed from the respirator that had been keeping her alive. She had been brought to the Cumberland Memorial Hospital after being severely beaten on May 18, and later lapsed into a coma.
Her mother, Donna Lynn White, 26, has been charged with child abuse, and White's live-in boyfriend, Bruce Sarvers, 29, has been charged with child abuse, assault with intent to maim and assault in the girl's death.
After Brandy was hospitalized, the trailer where the Whites lived was razed by an unidentified arsonist, and a cross was burned on their front lawn. Most residents here openly support the burnings, which they said symbolized their rage over Brandy's death.
Residents, who are also angered by what they believe was negligence on the part of county authorities, took to the streets today. About 100 people from this rural county of 26,000 walked two miles in a "March for Justice" to draw attention to Brandy's death.
Some claimed that they had notified the Garrett County Social Services Department on numerous occasions that Brandy was being abused, but that their warnings were ignored.
Jo-An Duckworth, who lived across the street from the White family, said she called the police and social service agency at least 15 times to report her suspicions that Brandy was being abused.
"I called and I called and I called," Duckworth said, "but they just didn't do nothing."
Robert Shaffer, the director of the agency, said, however, that reports of abuse against Brandy were checked out within 24 hours, as is required by law.
The marchers, who started in the parking lot of the social services agency and ended at the courthouse where Donna White and Sarvers are being held in lieu of $100,000 bond each, said the protest was staged to bring attention to the plight of abused children in the county, and to make a plea to legislators to increase the authority of local agencies to intervene on the behalf of child abuse victims.
"We're frustrated with the system and we don't feel enough was done for Brandy," said march organizer Ronnie Smith. "If the laws of Maryland allow for something like this to happen, then we don't live in a good state."
Marchers carried handmade cardboard and Styrofoam signs that read, "God made children to be loved, not abused," and "I lived my life, why couldn't Brandy live hers?" and walked slowly along the gravel of one of the main roads into the center of town.
Along the way, passing motorists, many of whom had pictures of Brandy affixed to their cars and pickups, honked their horns in support of the marchers. Many of the marchers were housewives who pushed their children along in strollers two and three abreast. Others had taken time off from their jobs to participate.
Under overcast skies, they walked, sometimes breaking into low mournful choruses of "Amazing Grace." At the simple roadside shops and filling stations along the way, merchants and customers paused to watch the procession.
Local officials, stung by the intense criticism in the episode, were quick to acknowledge the tragedy in Brandy's death, but insisted there had been no negligence on their parts.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources, which has oversight responsibility for county social service agencies and which conducted an investigation of Brandy's death, said that proper procedures were followed, according to spokeswoman Wanda Dobson.
"From our preliminary investigation it appears that the local agency performed as they should have," Dobson said. "There is no way that they could have predicted that the child was going to be beaten to death."
She said child abuse is a rare problem in Garrett County, where only 20 cases were reported last year.
Sgt. H.W. Graham of the Maryland State Police said a trooper and an officer from the Garrett County Sheriff's Department went to the trailer on May 6 to investigate a complaint that Brandy had not been seen for several weeks. When they arrived, Graham said, they found no outward evidence that Brandy was being abused.
"We went in and looked at the child and we spoke to her," he said. "She looked okay."
Although she would not discuss details of the incident, Dobson said that Brandy, her 7-year-old brother and her 14-month-old sister had been removed from White's custody briefly last year. The other children are now under the care of the social services department.
Brandy's father, Richard White, is serving a two-year sentence for breaking and entering at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, according to police.
Garrett County prosecutor James Sherbin said that he expects the police investigation of the incident to be completed soon and that he will present the case to the grand jury next week.
In the meantime, many Oakland residents said they have grown impatient with the system they believe has failed children in their community like Brandy White.
As the peaceful march ended today, some residents said they were prepared to mete out justice themselves.
Protest organizer Smith said, however, that he is more concerned with rallying the community and bringing pressure to bear on county authorities who are responsible for child abuse victims.
"Most of the people in this town have never been involved in a march," Smith said. "But we felt that somebody neglected to do what they were supposed to do and we can't let that happen again. Ever."