TOLEDO – Of the 101,000 people released from Ohio prisons in 2009, over 33,000 have since re-offended, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. It is because of the many statistics like this that Standing Courageous, Inc, an organization dedicated to providing awareness and education of interpersonal violence, violent crimes, and violent offenders, has pushed for an Ohio violent offender registry.
On Thursday, the organization hosted the first “Ce the Light” event at Wildwood Metropark in Toledo. Hundreds from across the state joined the organization throughout the evening to experience a self-defense tutorial, hear updates on the violent offender registry, and join in a candlelight vigil in memory of Sierah “Ce” Joughin.
Standing Courageous was founded on Oct. 1, 2015 by Paula Walters, a Henry County paramedic and domestic violence victim herself, as a resource for combating violence and a safe haven for victims and their families.
“I have seen things that people have done to others that only pure evil can comprehend. It was no longer acceptable for me to stay silent,” Walters said about the organization’s founding.
Walters first pitched the idea of a violent offender registry to State Senator Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) back in June, about a month before 20 year old Sierah Joughin was kidnapped while riding her bicycle near her home in rural Fulton County. Three days later, her remains were found in a shallow grave in a field near County Road 7. James Worley, now indicted on 19 counts for Joughin’s killing, was previously convicted of, and served three years in prison for, abducting a Whitehouse woman in 1990.
A major purpose of Thursday’s event served to introduce The Standing Courageous Community Engagement Coalition, the political sidearm of the main organization. The coalition will serve as the direct support and advocacy outlet for the proposed registry, letting Standing Courageous continue their main focus of training public employees and community members about violence, a service that has provided over $68,000 in free education to date.
Christine Smallman attented the same school as Worley. She is now chair of the coalition. She encouraged everyone to get involved with the group wherever they can through attending meetings and events, joining their research team, and voting wisely for elected officials.
“[Sierah] did more in her life than some people do at 80 years old. We have to do this for her,” she said.
Smallman went on to recall the abduction of Eileen Adams, a Central Catholic freshman who was abducted after getting off her school bus in 1967. After gaining national attention and being featured on America’s Most Wanted numerous times, her killer was brought to justice in 2011. Smallman reminded the audience that even after numerous abductions over the span of decades, there’s been little change over 49 years.
“If we as a community stand back and do nothing, 49 years from now, and it won’t be me, someone will be standing up here saying nothing ever got done…You know that the only way this is going to get done is if we do it,” she said.
Thus, to move forward with a violent offenders registry, Standing Courageous, along with Sheila Vaculik and Tara Ice, Joughin’s mother and aunt, announced the proposed plan will be called “Sierah’s Law”.
Joining the high profile support team rallying for the bill is not only State Senators Hite and Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green), but now State Representative Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), creating a multilateral, bipartisan coalition.
“It’s so important to really shine a light and let Sierah be the one who will guide us and give us a purpose,” Fedor said.
Senator Hite renewed his promise of including all necessary parties in making sure the registry takes effect by announcing a Dec. 20 meeting with the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association.
“There’s a lot of groundbreaking going on. We’ll get this done. We will get this done. I promise you that,” Hite said.
Just prior to moving outside to hold a candlelight vigil and sing “On Eagle’s Wings”, Howard Ice, the uncle of Joughin was the final speaker of the evening, describing the terror and anxiety that came over the family during the search for Sierah.
“The feeling of insurmountable dread and fear takes over you. I promise you this is a feeling, and I pray you won’t ever have to experience this,” he said.
It is the hope of the community of supporters of “Sierah’s Law,” that a violent offender registry will ensure much less people in Ohio will be paralyzed by the preventable yet agonizing pain associated with these violent crimes ever again, and in loving memory of Sierah Joughin.
Reach Cory Johnson at [email protected]