For the last three days, I, like probably everyone else in the Jacksonville metro area, have been overcome with the story of Somer Thompson. The story made the national news, but for those of you out of the area who’ve not heard about it, seven-year-old Somer disappeared on her way home from school Monday afternoon. She was walking home with her twin brother and 10-year-old sister when the trio got in a little squabble and Somer ran ahead of her siblings, disappearing into the cool fall afternoon. It was about 3pm. Her body was found in a dump in Folkston, Georgia, late yesterday afternoon.
Sadly, we hear more and more stories like these every day. I just learned this morning that another little girl, nine-year-old Elizabeth Olton, has been missing in Missouri since yesterday afternoon. All these cases are tragic, yet Somer’s story hit me incredibly close to home. I grew up in Orange Park, a suburb of Jacksonville, and lived less than two miles from where Somer’s family now lives. All my friends lived in that neighborhood, and we went to those neighborhood schools. One of my best friends lived on the same street as Somer’s family, and I rode my bike there several times a week. It’s unfathomable to think that a child was taken on a street that I played on many days of my young life.
The past couple of days I’ve been talking with my girls more about stranger danger, a very important yet very difficult conversation to have with two six-year-old little girls. It’s finding that thin balance between wanting them to remain safe and make good choices while not scaring them so much that they want to turn inward and never experience the joys of childhood that all children deserve. It’s amazing how much the world has changed in the 30-35 years since I was a kid in that neighborhood. So many of us who rode the streets for hours on our bikes, staying out until dark or until Mom yelled for us to come eat dinner, now are faced with a world in which we are often afraid to let our own children do the same.
I can only imagine the devastation Somer’s family is feeling right now, particularly her mother. I’ve been on the verge of tears for her for three days, many times letting them just spill over. To bring the story even closer to home, yesterday I learned that Somer’s mother is a student right here on my campus. My students and I are working on a memorial for Somer that will take place on Monday, and I’m working with our Foundation to establish a scholarship in Somer’s name. My hope would be that the first scholarship would be awarded to Somer’s mother, and then in subsequent years, to other single mothers struggling to make ends meet while trying to make a better life for their families. If you’d like to make a donation to this scholarship once it’s established, just email me and I’ll send you the information as soon as it’s available.
So today, no, not my usual upbeat post. Today, I’m asking you to hug your babies, no matter how old they are. And think about our world, think about your neighborhood, think about little Somer and all the other kids out there who are missing or lost. And think about their families. Pray for them. Hope for them. And think about what little things you can do to maybe make this world a better place.
"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."~Mahatma Ghandi