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May God give solace to all the concrete angels


Terry Briggs Guest Columnist

  We had an argument that morning, our oldest daughter, Katie, and I did. I told her she had to wear a jacket to school as it was chilly. She didn’t want to because she didn’t think it would be cool. I still made her wear one, knowing it was probably shucked off and stuffed in her backpack before she reached the bus stop.

  It was Dec. 1, 2003. I can’t forget that day, that first day of school after the weeklong Thanksgiving break. Katie called me that afternoon when she got in from school to let me know she was home safe.

  “Mom, thank you for loving me enough to want to make sure I am OK,” she said.

  My first thought was, “Good, she realized that Mama knew best by making her wear that jacket.”

  “One of my friends died over the break,” she said. I thought how tragic, thinking she would tell me about a horrible accident or some unpreventable malady. She continued, saying that the girl had been found dead in her garage, beaten to death, presumably by her father and stepmother. She had been starved as well. Reports after the discovery said she had also been hog-tied and had bruises all over her body - from the very people who had been entrusted to take care of her.

  Her body was found in the garage on the hard, cold, concrete floor. I could imagine the sensation of the coldness and the hardness, and it just broke my heart.

  Katie had classes with Joella Reaves at Eagles Landing Middle School. They were sixth-graders. After she died, Katie said Joella had come to school with bruises but told people she had fallen off a skateboard or missed a stair and fell. She came in with a swollen eye one time and said she had squirted lemon juice in it.

  Joella was always hungry but didn’t bring a lunch. Instead she would look at classmates’ lunches and say, “Are you going to eat that?” Scavenging to survive. One teacher kept candy as rewards for doing a good job or helping out. Joella always wanted to be the one to get the rewards.

  Katie said Joella was always smiling at school. Always.

  “That’s because she felt safe there, Mom,” she said.

  Joella Reaves has lived in my head for years. The first few days after we heard this news were hard. Katie worked through her grief by talking. I couldn’t sleep at night and often cried for this child I didn’t know and would never know. I felt guilty that this had happened almost in our backyard.

  Memorials and candlelight vigils were held by several groups. Katie attended a couple. I hesitated on letting her go, but thought if that would help her, then she should take part.

  Katie entered the school talent competition shortly after Joella’s death. She wanted to sing a song called “Concrete Angel,” by Martina McBride. It’s about a little girl who dies from child abuse. I wouldn’t let her sing it because I thought it might be perceived as playing for a sympathy vote from the judges. And more so, it was time to let that poor little girl rest.

  I hated the dad and stepmom so much for not only taking that child’s life, but for taking a part of my child’s life, too. They took her innocence and her faith in humanity. They had robbed so much from so many people.

  The recent rash of reports of children dying in Georgia at the hands of their parents has dredged up those sad memories of Joella again. I get angry at a system that let them down, failed them to death. I grieve for those poor children who were abandoned and abused. And I pray that God will grant them peace and solace, all the concrete angels.


   Terry Briggs is a wife and mom to two daughters and three dogs. She has lived in Henry County since 1999.




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