The death from abuse and neglect of Samantha Rose Gutierrez, 13, had a lasting effect on Richard Chavez, a veteran firefighter and paramedic. Chavez, now an Anaheim councilman, was haunted by the failure of local agencies to notice her suffering and declining condition, reports the Los Angeles Times. In October, Anaheim will open the Family Justice Center, a help center for victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. The center will also offer educational programs on how to recognize signs of domestic abuse. Child-care advocates and law enforcement officials say such a facility might have saved Samantha’s life.
“If her suffering eventually saves some other children from suffering, then that was her purpose on this earth,” Chavez said as he fought back tears. “She was a soldier.” For Chavez, the justice center represents a meaningful end to a tragedy. Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said, “I wanted to see a collaborative approach to dealing with family crimes. They are complex and tend to lead to further street crime as people live in these conditions.” The justice center concept is catching on. A 2003 initiative by President Bush helped create 15 centers throughout the country and similar centers were recently opened in Britain, Canada and Mexico.