First, he raped her.
Then he set her on fire.
The girl, age 10 then, was badly burned over most of her body. Her stepfather had sprayed lighter fluid all over her before clicking the cigarette lighter.
And after that, to bring Chris Newberry to justice and try to heal her emotional wounds, she dealt for months with the scattered patchwork of social workers, counselors, prosecutors, police and medical personnel who handle child abuse cases in Sedgwick County.
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In a brief phone interview the other day, the girl said that was no fun either, though everyone was nice. But it was "frustrating."
Had investigators gotten the money they had hoped for this year to pay for an expanded Child Advocacy Center, abused kids would have had a lot more help in dealing with all those agencies. The center, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, has operated for two years from cramped space in the state office building downtown. It coordinates child abuse investigations.
Not only will it now likely not expand; it will likely close.
Unless the group finds funding, the board of directors will likely vote to close the center within a few months, said Ron Paschal, a deputy district attorney.
The group, he said, has done a world of good for thousands of bewildered and traumatized child abuse victims in Sedgwick County. Investigators dealt with 2,676 investigations in 2009, 445 involving sex crimes, 239 involving child exploitation. He's disappointed that the center may soon die.
Some of the grants that got the center going two years ago dried up. Diana Schunn, the center director, has on several days since the first of the year worked without pay. She's been asking for operating money from the Sedgwick County Commission, the Wichita mayor, and the state. It would cost $171,000 to keep it running in the small office it uses now; it would take much more to expand it.
But so far it's a no-go.
Although the center was in existence during the girl's case, it was not able to help her directly, according to Schunn.
The hope was that the center would eventually house about 50 people, including detectives and investigators from the Exploited and Missing Child Unit, social-service and health care providers, counselors and victims' advocates — all working together to avoid duplication and reduce the number of times the young victims would have to repeat their stories. But the group never had the money to bring all the workers into one building, Schunn said.
Paschal, who prosecutes many of these cases and who serves as president of the center's board, says the center's end will make things tougher for abused children in Sedgwick County.
What's saddest about it, he said, is that nearly everybody in the investigating agencies has seen the need for the center for years. He remembers his boss, District Attorney Nola Foulston, talking about bringing all the agencies under one roof as early as 1997 to make things easier for child victims.
Because child abuse cases are more insidious and troublesome to investigate in some ways than other crimes against persons, children are made to deal with multiple agencies, scattered across the city, in cases that go on for months. They often don't have the emotional strength to deal with all that plus the abuse, which requires them to accuse and sometimes testify against family or friends. Most abusers are family or at least known to the victims. Sometimes they threaten the victims.
Sometimes the victims deal with adults who seem clueless about the fact that they are children.
"I once had a child abuse case in which the defense attorney was questioning a 9-year-old girl on the stand, and asked her 'Do you recall in a subsequent investigation giving a supplemental report?' " said Marc Bennett, a veteran Sedgwick County prosecutor. "She said, 'Mister, you're going to have to use smaller words, please.' "
In the investigative stage, the center made all this easier to navigate, ensuring that investigators in their separate offices around town were talking to each other.
'Frustrating at times'
The center almost made it, not only to survival but to expansion.
Sedgwick County's staff proposed giving the center $835,000 this year to expand its services and move out of cramped quarters in the basement of the Finney State Office Building downtown.
Of that, $500,000 would have come from grant reserves at Comcare, the county's mental health agency, and been used for operating expenses.
The remaining $335,000 would have come from county general fund reserves and been used to move the center and equip a building in the Twin Lakes area near 21st and Amidon.
But commissioners earlier this month said they'd help upgrade the center only if the city and state pitched in too. Commissioner Gwen Welshimer said the safety and welfare of children should be a priority, but that other governments should step up. She proposed giving the center $300,000 — if the city gave the same, and the state gave $167,000.
Schunn on Monday met with Mayor Carl Brewer, whom she said has been supportive of the center since its beginning. But he told her finding money would not be easy. The state, she said, has not yet returned her calls.
If the center ends, prosecutors said, child abuse victims are going to endure experiences much like what Linda Johnson and her granddaughter went through when investigations dragged on.
"It was really frustrating at times," said Johnson, the grandmother of the girl who was set on fire.
"Everyone meant well. Once the district attorney's office got involved in the case, they did a great job of talking to us and keeping us informed about what was going on.
"But before that, when we were dealing with everyone else, it was confusing at times. Such as, when you think you want to report something, who do you call? The police, yes, but if you're trying to call SRS (Social and Rehabilitation Services), where do you find that number? I couldn't find that number."
'It wears them out'
Families "are already dealing with the emotional stress of the abuse," Paschal said.
"But then we make them go see all these other people, including the police, counselors, and we send them to the hospital to get a medical checkup. The police who investigate are in that state office building, and you know what parking is like around there; it's hard to find, and then you drive around for 20 minutes trying to find a parking space, and then when you come out, you find a $20 parking ticket on your car."
"All the work we put people through, going to these various agencies, it wears them out," he said. "It would wear out somebody who's sophisticated and has an education, but many of the people in these cases are single moms who are trying to hold together everything else in their lives, their jobs. They sometimes don't even have a car. And we make them drive around town."
And after all of that, the kids sometimes have to confront their abuser in the courts.
"I was mad at him," the girl said of her stepfather the other day. "And I was scared of him. And I was embarrassed."
Newberry pleaded guilty to seven counts: attempted first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated arson, one count of rape. He will face a judge after a pre-sentence investigation ends in a few weeks.
Paschal thinks the center will likely be gone by then.