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Event to aid girls, lobby for change

Shasta Groene and a 12-year-old girl allegedly assaulted by her father, as well as other potential child sex abuse victims could benefit from a daylong event slated for Saturday at the Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park.

The event, called Protect the Innocence, is both a fund-raiser for two of Kootenai County’s high profile sex-abuse victims and also a lobbying effort designed to strengthen state laws to protect children.

It was originally inspired by Shasta Groene – the sole survivor of the triple homicide at her home, and who was abducted with her brother, taken to Montana and sexually molested multiple times. But event organizers also have decided to raise funds for the 12-year-old Athol, Idaho, girl as well. Shoshone County Sheriff Chuck Reynalds has been trying to raise money for a trust fund for the 12-year-old girl, but as of Thursday, had raised only $525.

“They have no money in the family,” Reynalds said. “Their father is going away for life. They’ve got absolutely nothing.”

John R. Tuggle, 37, of Hayden, Colo., is in the Shoshone County Jail on charges of aggravated assault, kidnapping, rape, and lewd and lascivious conduct. He’s accused of taking his 12-year-old daughter from her home to the Lost Creek area of Shoshone County where he allegedly raped her, stabbed her multiple times and left her for dead.

Both Shasta and the 12-year-old girl are expected to need years of counseling to help them cope with the traumas they endured – the kind of help that many families of modest means can’t afford.

Money will be raised at the gate – entry is $10 per car – but also through a silent auction, raffle, food and other vendors, and direct donation to the girls’ trust funds.

Organizers, the Coeur d’Alene Men in Business organization and the Windermere Foundation, even got National Beverage Corp. to donate 20 pallets, or 13,888 cans of Shasta soda and water, to the event.

“We’re going to sell those for 25 cents each,” said Midge Smock, with the Windermere Foundation, which set up a trust fund for Shasta and is helping Reynalds do the same for the 12-year-old girl.

Shasta’s trust fund is intended for medical and educational costs and is managed by the Windermere Foundation, a nonprofit organization that normally supports homeless and low-income families. The Tuggle girl’s trust fund will be similarly set up and managed by a citizen’s committee, Reynalds said.

“I’m committed to this young girl,” he said. “I just think she’s had a bad turn in life.”

While the gate proceeds will be shared by the two trust funds, most of the proceeds at the event will still benefit Shasta, but several sites at the event will provide opportunities to donate to the 12-year-old, Smock said.

Smock also said organizers are “still looking for one cool raffle item we can do separately for Nya.”

“Nya” is a pseudonym organizers chose for the 12-year-old to help protect her identity.

Smock said she called the Shasta cola company to see if they’d be interested in sponsoring the event, and got an immediate response. In addition to the sodas, the company sent T-shirts and hats for volunteers to wear.

“They of course heard about (Shasta Groene’s abduction),” Smock said. “They wanted to do something and didn’t want to look tacky.”

In addition to fund-raising activities, the event will feature live music, carnival activities, face-painting and other activities for kids.

For adults, organizers also are planning speakers and information on child safety and sex offender legislation.

Tuggle is a registered sex offender who had spent 10 years in Idaho prison for the rape of his ex-wife’s sister.

Shasta’s alleged abductor, Joseph E. Duncan III, is a registered sex offender from Fargo, N.D., who spent most of his adult life in prison for the rape of a 14-year-old boy in Tacoma. He is a level 3 offender, which indicates he is at high risk to reoffend.

He was recently charged in a 2004 sexual assault of a child in Detroit Lakes, Minn., but was released on a $15,000 bail in April and soon after disappeared from police oversight. The Minnesota judge who set the bail has been the target of intense criticism since Duncan was arrested July 2, when he turned up at a Coeur d’Alene Denny’s restaurant with Shasta.

Now Duncan is being held without bail and awaiting arraignment in District Court on three counts of murder and three counts of kidnapping. He’s also expected to be charged with murder for the death of Shasta’s 9-year-old brother, Dylan, whose remains were found at a remote Montana campsite.

Shasta’s father, Steve Groene, has begun to speak out in support of strengthening sex offender laws and said he plans to attend Saturday’s event. “It shouldn’t take something like this” to strengthen the laws, he said.

“No child should ever experience anything close to what Shasta has been forced to endure,” said Matt Lambert, a local Windermere Real Estate agent and member of the Men in Business group.

While the group’s first goal is to help Shasta, he said, secondly it’s to “ensure that this never happens to another child – in Coeur d’Alene or anywhere else.”


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