Child Advocacy Center dedicates garden to toddler starved to death
Stephanie Myers | News-Herald
Lenoir City Home Depot employees Debbie Waddell and Nathan Marsh pause at 28-month-old Clifford Dotson's memorial garden at the Child Advocacy Center of the Ninth Judicial District in Lenoir City. The Roane County toddler died of severe malnutrition in early May.
Local law enforcement officers and child advocates don't want the tragic death of Clifford Dotson to be forgotten.
Fighting back tears, Roane County Sheriff's Office Det. Greg Scalf joined fellow officers, members of the Child Advocacy Center of the Ninth Judicial District and others Wednesday to dedicate a memorial garden built by the local community in honor of the child.
The Roane County toddler weighed only 12 pounds when his mother took him to Fort Loudoun Medical Center in early May. Clifford later died of complications from severe malnutrition.
Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton said the child had been kept mostly in a child safety seat and may have been fed only once a day.
A father of a 3-year-old, Scalf said "without a doubt" working Clifford's case was by far the hardest for him.
"You can't leave work when you go home. You take it with you, so you will never forget it. It sobers you and renews whatever drive internally you have toward these kinds of cases," he said.
Scalf asked coworkers to join him in donating a tree for Clifford's memory.
"We didn't find him. We didn't hear him, but we hear him now," Scalf said. "In my opinion, with destruction you should try to create something out of that."
Scalf and others at RCSO collected $100, but the detective turned to CAC Executive Director Chris Evans-Longmire in hopes of giving Clifford's memorial bigger impact. The idea of a remembrance tree blossomed into a memory garden.
Evans-Longmire solicited Loudon and Roane businesses and individuals to join in the effort. A memorial marker, gas lantern and park bench now grace the garden on the CAC lawn in Lenoir City.
"If we as adults will be willing to change the acceptance of child abuse and to expect people to be held accountable then that light kind of serves as that reminder that one small light breaks up the darkness," Evans-Longmire said about the lantern project.
Nathan Marsh, garden center manager at Lenoir City's Home Depot, took on the landscaping portion of the garden.
"I've got a cousin who him and his wife have been trying so hard for the past four or five years and put $10,000 for In vitro," Marsh said. "They just cannot have a child, and it kind of angered me in the sense that you have people out there who want children so bad, and then you have somebody who has a child and doesn't even love or neglects the child.
"He needed to be remembered," Marsh said. "Somebody else didn't love him, but there are plenty of others who do."
The idea went beyond just remembering Clifford, Evans-Longmire said.
"No one could believe in this day in time that you would let a child starve to death daily until his body gave up. When people heard that story they were outraged," she said. "They wanted to help us memorialize his memory and wanted to say, 'this is not all right. We need to work together to change this.' And I think all of these people so believed in what we do to protect children, but they also want to be a part of remembering Clifford Dotson."
Loudon County District Attorney General Russell Johnson agreed.
"I have a daughter who has turned 4 years old. Being a parent of a young child, an only child, it's just how can someone do this to a child? Anytime you have something like that you step back and look at your own child and think of how thankful you are that they are healthy and feel like hopefully you're a good parent to them," Johnson said.
"People have been touched. Either they are parents or they're grandparents or they're aunts and uncles, but none of them want to see a child suffer every day like that child suffered until he died. It's unacceptable. It shouldn't have happened," Evans-Longmire added. "This is a reminder of what we do and why we do it and a special reminder of Clifford Wallace Dotson that maybe didn't matter at some point, but he will never be forgotten again."
Though the garden is now complete, Scalf believes it's the first of many steps.
"Being involved with this kind of thing, it's a blessed burden," he said. "It's a burden to have to be the one that responds to these types of situations, but what I said up there I mean. It's a blessing to be there, to be able to impact lives.
"This just reminds us, 'hey, you need to find these people out, find these situations before they get this far if you can'," Scalf said. "It just reminds us that we're not there yet. We can't rest on our past successes. We have to search out new victims and impact those lives if we can."