By Gary Hines KTBS 3 Contributing Reporter
Children’s advocate Sandra Samuel was checking the annual list of foster children in Webster Parish who would be getting Christmas presents from people who wanted to help. A pair of names who didn’t yet have sponsors caught her eye: Two sisters who had been molested for years and whose testimony at trial had helped send their abuser to prison for life.
She knew who to turn to: A detective, an administrative assistant and a lawyer who had prosecuted the girls’ case.
Through their generosity, and that of strangers recruited to help, two teenage girls will get back a little piece of their childhood that circumstances had taken from them.
The girls, now ages 14 and 16, had lived a hellish life, in the words of the lead prosecutor. Virtually abandoned by a drug-addicted mother and an absent biological father; molested individually and together; often denied food and adequate clothing if they didn’t submit. The abuse, which started around first grade and lasted nearly a decade, ended after one of the sisters told someone.
One of the abusers is serving a sentence of life-plus-38 years after being convicted at trial. The other pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years. Both victims were placed in foster care.
Samuel is Webster Parish supervisor of the Child Appointed Special Advocate office, whose volunteers act on behalf of children when their cases go through the court system. She’s involved in a program where, each Christmas, children in foster care submit wish lists for gifts. There are ordinary things like clothes and shoes, but also things their friends get that they normally wouldn’t. People sign on and grant the wishes.
“Foster care payments from the state don’t cover the costs of raising a child, much less give them a decent Christmas,” said Hugo Holland, lead prosecutor in the girls’ case.
Samuel was going over the list of 58 names in Webster Parish earlier this year when she saw there were not enough volunteers and the two sisters had no sponsor. She was familiar with their case, and called the Webster district attorney’s office.
Heather Boucher is a sheriff’s detective who had been assigned to the case. Tommie Clanton and Jimbo Yocom work for the D.A. Yocom said Clanton “hit the ground running,” and with the help of friends and colleagues had 90 percent of the wish lists filled in a day and a half.
One girl’s dream gift was $100. Volunteers provided that, plus another $600 for the sisters to split. Her sister wanted a McDonald’s gift card and some heydude shoes.
Boucher, Clanton and Yocom said both teens taught them the resiliency of the human spirit.
“They are an inspiration for those that have to keep powering on,” Boucher said.
Clanton said both have made the honor roll at school and are active in extracurricular activities.
“To look at a 14-year-old and see more strength in her than I can ever imagine at 46, and the hell they went through for years, my heart feels privileged to get to know them,” Clanton said.
“These girls have to carry it with them the rest of their lives. It was important to us that they realize – especially this time of year — that not all of life is tragic. The hope and understanding of better experiences in life is what gets you through the hard times.”
Boucher, Clanton and Yocom on Tuesday delivered two sacks containing the gifts. Both girls got lagniappe gifts from the prosecution team but will have to wait until Christmas to open the Santa sacks.
Holland, who has a reputation as a hard-nosed prosecutor, said that in a nation after George Floyd the story of the “three Santas” in law enforcement needed to be told.
“Their relationship didn’t end with the guilty verdict,” Holland said. “These two women and Yocom picked up the torch for these girls. They are truly dedicated to what they do, and bring all the emotions and passions of their humanity with them when they come to work.”
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