Field Of American Flags Focuses Attention On Child Abuse Deaths

Thursday, September 20th 2007, 3:56 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Bagpipes wailed from a field of American flags Thursday as child abuse prevention advocates focused attention on child deaths and urged Oklahomans to help stop the kind of abuse that led to the deaths of 41 children in the state in 2005.

A total of 1,400 American flags unfurled to a gentle breeze on the state Capitol's south lawn _ one for every child abuse death in the U.S. in 2005. Forty-one Oklahoma flags stretched across another part of the lawn, one for each of the Oklahoma child abuse deaths.

``In every one of these child deaths there has been an adult who could have saved that child,'' Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said. ``Be that person.''

Prater became emotional as he looked out upon the Healing Field of red, white and blue flags and thought of his own daughter.

``I'm so blessed by having a child,'' he said. ``What I see are not flags _ I see dead childrens' bodies.''

During the ceremony, bagpipes played “Amazing Grace” as a memorial to the 1,400 child abuse victims in the U.S.

Oklahoma led the nation in per capita child abuse deaths in 2005 with 4.8 child abuse fatalities per 100,000 children, according to the National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research. The national average that year was 1.96 fatalities per 100,000 children.

Last year, child abuse specialists with the state Department of Human Resources investigated more than 63,000 suspected child abuse and neglect cases and confirmed 13,827, about 21% of those investigated. About 85% of the cases involved neglect, 11% physical abuse and the balance, 4%, sexual abuse, officials said.

The problem of child abuse has been in the public eye in recent months following high-profile criminal trials over the abuse-related death of Kelsey Smith-Briggs, a 2-year-old girl who suffered months of physical abuse while in the custody of her mother and stepfather before dying due to a blunt force injury to her abdomen.

Rob Davidson of Tucson, Arizona, national president of the National Exchange Club, characterized child abuse as a ``brutal and despicable crime.''

``You better get involved because the government is not going to fix our problem,'' Davidson told an audience of adults and dozens of children from a northwest Oklahoma City school choir that performed during the ceremony.

Prater encouraged Oklahomans to intervene in suspected cases of child abuse they see in stores, parking lots and other public places.

``Don't turn away _ that child is depending on you. You have a responsibility to act,'' he said. ``These 1,400 children were depending on someone who did not act.''

The district attorney said community involvement can have an impact in stopping abuse.

``We must be engaged. There's no telling what these precious children will become,'' Prater said.