Four-hundred balloons flew over the skies of Hinesville on Monday afternoon, but they did not symbolize a joyous occasion.
The balloons were released just after 4 p.m. during an a capella rendition of “Amazing Grace” to bring attention to Child Abuse Awareness Month, which is recognized in April.
Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Leah Poole coordinated the event in conjunction with the city of Hinesville after the story of toddler Andraia Boles tugged at her heart strings.
Andraia, only 3 years old, died Feb. 27 in her Hinesville home. Child abuse is suspected to be the cause of her death.
The girl’s father, Torres Boles, faces charges of murder and cruelty to children. Her mother, Candice Boles, was due to appear in court Monday for a bond hearing, but the hearing was delayed due to an attorney conflict. She is charged with being party to the crime of felony murder and first-degree cruelty to children.
The toddler’s story is a tragic one, but it also shines light on other instances of abuse.
In fiscal-year 2012, there were 110 substantiated cases of abuse or neglect in Liberty County, while there were 13 Long County cases in the same time, according to Liberty/Long County Division of Family and Children Services director Shawn Brown.
Brown, two DFCS board members and two staff members attended the event.
“We want to focus our message this year on bringing attention to the role that everybody plays in the community, so an event like this plays to getting the community’s attention,” Brown said. “We all have a role in promoting the awareness of things that we can do to prevent abuse.”
The Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) receives a report every 15 minutes about a child being abused, he added.
“A child is a precious gift to be loved, nurtured and treasured. It is our community’s responsibility to work together to ensure that today’s children are growing up to be tomorrow’s healthy, productive adults,” he said.
DFCS Board member John Henderson was among the representatives.
“It’s terrible that it takes a tragedy to get people really thinking,” Henderson said. “Living in this little community, it’s hard to think something like this could happen.”
That’s why Poole said the event is an important one. She spoke in a brief ceremony before the Enviro-Tech biodegradable balloons were released.
See more in the April 3 edition of the News.