Tree, plaque memorialize slain, abducted youngsters |

Tree, plaque memorialize slain, abducted youngsters

by Trent Carruthers
Belinda Grant/Nevada Appeal News Service Douglas County Commissioners Kelly Kite and Bernie Curtis unveil a memorial at Stodick Park dedicated to abducted and murdered children in Nevada. Pictured from left to right are Parks and Recreation Director Scott Morgan, Kite, Curtis, Washoe County Deputy Michele Youngs and Kristie Bell, age 3.

Gardnerville Elementary School fifth-graders Teddi Jacobson and Taylor Gray stood solemnly with their heads bowed in silence, looking at the bronze plaque – an image of an empty swing hanging from a maple branch with a teddy bear below it.

The plaque is dedicated to the memory of slain children across Nevada. On top were two stuffed white-and-purple teddies with angel wings. The toys were placed on the memorial by 3-year-old twins Kristie and Mikayla Bell during a Living Tree Memorial dedication ceremony at the park Monday.

“The toys look like guardian angels,” said Taylor, 11, who attended the dedication along with nearly 20 other students in Robbi Jacobsen’s class. “I’m touched because (Kristie and Mikayla) gave their favorite toys to watch over this memorial like guardian angels.”

Nearly 30 dignitaries and residents also took part in the tribute.

The plaque, a red maple tree and three benches, arranged in an oval, sand-covered landscape, will be part of the memorial.

A similar memorial was recently dedicated on the Capitol Complex in Carson City.

Tonja Brown, president of Nevada Children’s’ Memorial Fund, is spearheading an effort to establish Living Tree Memorials in all 17 state counties.

“These children will never be forgotten, and this memorial is a tool that serves to raise awareness and as an avenue of strength and our unwavering concern for protecting our children,” she said.

The legal removal of a cross marking the spot where 9-year-old Krystal Steadman’s body was recovered at the bottom of an embankment along Highway 50 West angered Brown. It inspired her to begin her crusade to honor children who have suffered similar fates.

Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini told the crowd about his memories of Steadman, who was killed March 19, 2000.

“Bad things can still happen in a small community,” said Pierini, who helped institute the local Krystal Alert Commission to unite the community, media and law enforcement to get the word out. “This memorial serves to reinforce public awareness so Krystal and all the other children will never be forgotten.”

Pierini said 72 percent of abducted children are murdered within two hours.

A child abduction and murder in Texas prompted the Amber Alert, a national child abduction alert system to immediately track down abductors before they can hurt children.

Teddi Jacobson, 10, had some advice for her classmates.

“Play together and always walk with a buddy and never alone,” she said. “Stick with a buddy no matter where you go because you never know what might happen.”

Brown’s organization donated $1,200 for the maple and plaque, along with $2,000 from Soroptimist International and several other donors.