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TCU pinwheel display represents 5,689 confirmed child abuse cases last year

04/07/2014 7:09 PM

04/08/2014 11:06 PM

One night nearly a year ago, Marcus Figueroa called 911, covered in blood and desperate for help after he was repeatedly stabbed.

Marcus, then 12, survived. His mother, Roxann Sanchez, and his 8-year-old brother, Anthony Figueroa, didn’t.

Marcus identified his mother’s estranged boyfriend as the assailant, and the man was arrested within hours.

Each year, local media report heart-wrenching stories involving Tarrant County children who are hurt, neglected, even killed by those who are supposed to love them. But police and child advocates say they handle many other abuse cases that don’t make the headlines but are no less painful for the children and families involved.

As part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, volunteers set up pinwheels at TCU on Monday to represent the 5,689 children in Tarrant County who were confirmed victims of physical or sexual abuse last year.

“At first glance, these pinwheels catch your eye. They are beautiful as they spin in the wind,” said David Wheelwright, board president of the nonprofit Alliance for Children.

“Yet as we realize each of these pinwheels represent a child who needed protection from someone in their lives who was supposed to love and care for them, the picture is not quite as striking. These are just the kids we know about.”

Alliance for Children works with Child Protective Services, the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, Cook Children’s Medical Center and area police agencies to coordinate investigations and provide families with healing services and support as their cases go through the legal system. One of the nonprofit’s many services includes counseling, Executive Director Julie Evans said.

In 21 years, Alliance for Children has served more than 40,000 children at its centers in Fort Worth, Arlington and Hurst.

Statistics indicate that only 1 in 10 children will report abuse, Wheelwright said. That’s why the Alliance for Children continues offering classes and volunteer opportunities to help train educators, families, caregivers and community leaders to recognize and report suspected signs of abuse.

Warning signs in abused children may include unexplained injuries, changes in eating or sleeping habits, fear of going home, and inappropriate sexual behavior or use of explicit sexual language.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley joined area police leaders Monday to praise the nonprofit agency for its efforts to raise awareness and prevent child abuse.

“Our continued prayer will be one day we will be able to come here and there won’t be any pinwheels and we will be talking about the success we have had in Tarrant County,” Whitley said.

In the case of Marcus Figueroa and slayings of his mother and brother on May 1, Tarrant County prosecutors have charged Cedric Allen Ricks with capital murder and injury to a child. He remains in the Tarrant County Jail where he has been since his arrest on May 3 with bail totaling $8.5 million, according to jail records. Ricks’ trial is set to begin May 5. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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