When young girls are murdered in Spokane, the city bleeds.
Then the sorrow and anger fuse into action. Sometimes laws are changed.
Rachel Carver is the latest victim to galvanize the city into better protecting its children.
The 9-year-old was bludgeoned to death on her final day of the third grade last June.
Soon after children stopped weaving mourning ribbons into the fence at Ridgeview Elementary, adults started pushing new policies, laws and ideas to make Spokane safer for kids.
The results are not in yet - but it seems likely there will be changes. There almost always are.
Thirty-six years ago, it was the sweet face of another slain 9-year-old that prompted Spokane to act.
Candice Rogers was selling Camp Fire Girls’ mints door-to-door in West Central when she vanished on March 6, 1959.
After a 16-day search, she was found raped and strangled in a pine grove off Old Trails Road.
Two years later, Washington Gov. Albert Rosellini signed the so-called “Candy Rogers Bill,” making it a more serious crime to accost or communicate with children for immoral purposes.
Candy’s murder remains unsolved.
More recently, Spokane was shocked into action by the disappearance of two West Central girls, Nicki Wood, 11, and Becky West, 12.
They were last seen alive strolling, midday, to a corner store on Oct. 21, 1991. Nicki’s body turned up beneath a pile of pine needles. Becky West has not been found.
From that trauma sprouted Spokane COPS neighborhood police substations staffed with volunteers and local cops to better police neighborhoods.
COPS West is credited with increasing safety in West Central, as are other new programs designed to help the poor and to oust the crooks.
Don Higgins, director of the West Central Community Center, said the double-kidnapping both horrified and unified the community.
“That event created a kind of critical mass. I don’t think they really saw themselves as much of a community up until then. There was little sense of neighborhood. There just wasn’t any type of cohesive spirit,” he said.
“When it comes that close to you, the horror strikes home like nothing else will. That’s what propelled people to action.”
Two years later, the city took a painful look at another young murder victim. This time it was a 13-year-old homeless prostitute with the street name Misty.
Rebecca Hedman was found rolled in a wool blanket near the Spokane River after a disgruntled customer clubbed her to death with a baseball bat.
Concerns about children living on the streets created Breakthrough, a Spokane family preservation group including more than 40 social workers and other community leaders.
And earlier this year, the “Becca Bill” was signed by Gov. Mike Lowry, giving parents and authorities more control over runaways.
Posters of Hedman, looking like a typical awkward young teen, are still plastered on many Spokane office walls. The message beneath the picture: “We can’t lose one more child.”
Today, the city’s new resolve flows from the slaying of Rachel Carver, a freckled girl who could seemingly never elude abusive men.
She was born into a chaotic north Spokane home run by a father who molested Rachel’s sister. While living in California, Rachel was allegedly molested by her mother’s fiance.
Rachel was sent back to Spokane last year to live with her uncle, Jason Wickenhagen, who had tried to rape a 16-year-old girl at gunpoint just months earlier.
Wickenhagen is charged with murdering Rachel. Police found her folded into a box near the Spokane River.
In a jailhouse interview, Wickenhagen said Rachel’s last words were: “Why are you doing this to me?”
Since Rachel’s death, Spokane residents, social workers and politicians have gathered to ask similar questions, and to vent.
Why do people prey on children? Why was Wickenhagen free on bail between conviction and sentencing? What new warning systems do we need for children in danger?
It’s all on the table.
Better neighborhood watch programs. Increased distribution of sex offender information. Danger detection systems at schools.
After years of minimal communications, state Child Protective Services and state Corrections Department officials in Spokane are now talking to each other at regular meetings.
Drawn together by Rachel’s death, the two agencies are crafting an agreement that requires better communication regarding released convicts who may be a threat to children.
Dee Wilson, who oversees Spokane’s CPS workers, said Rachel’s murder, like past child murders, created an awareness that helps his agency do its work.
But he warns that too often people use a single tragedy as an emotional sledgehammer to ram a new law through the Legislature that does little to help protect children.
“It’s a very difficult thing to make law based on a single case,” he said. “If they take Rachel Carver to be a typical case … it’s just not. It’s unique in every way.”
A Rachel Carver bill actually already has emerged from a July gathering in Spokane of about 60 people.
The proposed bill demands sex offenders get jailed immediately after conviction, and remain captive until after they serve time.
State Rep. Mark Sterk, R-Spokane Valley, plans on introducing and championing that bill as his top priority when the lawmakers convene next January.
“The community is 100 percent behind this,” said Sterk, a Spokane police officer.
Sterk said Spokane residents, perhaps many of the same search volunteers who tried to find Rachel last June, are now calling their legislators urging a quick passage of the bill.
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Preventive action Laws and policies have changed when Spokane girls were murdered. The “Candy Rogers Bill” in 1961 made it a more serious crime to accost or communicate with children for immoral purposes. The law stemmed from the abduction and murder of Candy Rogers, a 9-year-old Camp Fire Girl. COPS West and other police substations were formed after the 1992 kidnapping of Nicki Wood, 11, and Becky West, 12, from the West Central neighborhood. State lawmakers passed the “Becca Bill” this year, giving parents and authorities more control over teen runaways. The murder of Rebecca Hedman, a 13-year-old runaway living on Spokane’s streets, triggered the law. The Legislature is to consider a bill keeping sex offenders in jail while awaiting sentencing. The bill was prompted by Rachel Carver, 9, allegedly slain by her uncle while he was awaiting sentencing for a sex crime.