Remembering what happened to Mary Love

Thursday, July 9, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"Two things," the woman said gravely.

"One thing we know. And one we don't. The thing we know is that this dog bites. The thing we don't know is when." The woman, a psychiatrist, was not talking about a dog. She was telling me that a friend who'd just been cuffed around by her fiance could expect more of the same. Without a doubt. But without warning.

Maya Angelou has said -- more poetically -- that we should never let people tell us more than once what they are. Believe them the first time.

So why do we give people who prey on children a second chance? Jeanette Love, the grandmother who searched tirelessly for 6-year-old Mary Love, said just before the child's body was found that "it must have been someone Mary knows. She would not go with a stranger." Ralph L. Lynch, 48, has been charged in the death of the little girl. He was a neighbor, living in the same Springwood Village apartments, joining volunteers who searched for the little girl who failed to come home for dinner on June 24.

Last Friday, he led Hamilton County sheriff's officers to her body, three miles from her home in Colerain Township. Investigators say Ralph Lynch abducted, sexually molested, and strangled the child, then "threw her into the woods."

Ralph Lynch is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. Mary, who would have been a first-grader this fall at Taylor Elementary School, was 3 1/2 feet tall and weighed 48 pounds.

The man accused of Mary Love's murder was convicted in 1991 of exposing his genitals to a 9-year-old girl and sentenced to 13 months on probation. His neighbors knew nothing of his criminal record. They let their children play with him, and he gave them candy and toys.

This dog bites. We just don't know when.

The number of abused American children was estimated at 2.81 million in 1993 -- up 98 percent from 1986, when the last Health and Human Services Department study was published.

And the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect estimates as many as 1 million children are sexually abused each year.

Makes you wonder how quickly we could cut that number if we put these predators in jail and kept them there. Or if we just made sure we know where they are.

If you write a bad check or don't pay your Visa bill, there are dozens of credit bureaus to warn the companies that might have to do business with you. So why don't we use our famously intrusive and instantly available Information Age resources to warn of the presence of a sexual predator?

That's what Megan's Law is designed to do. Enacted in 1995, it requires authorities to tell communities the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. This is very inconvenient and uncomfortable for sex offenders.

So, a couple of them filed suit, claiming their rights are being violated. The Supreme Court rejected the challenge early this year, but a New Jersey public defender promised he's not going to give up.

"We are claiming that the kind of information that is disseminated is constitutionally protected," he said.

Let's laugh guys like this out of court. Let's scream bloody murder if authorities don't protect our children. Let's reserve the worst punishment we have for those who abuse them. Let's be relentless. And fierce.

Kids can't protect themselves against sickos who want to hurt them. They are too little. They are too innocent, too trusting -- no matter what they've been told. They need all the help they can get.

It's too late to do anything for Mary Love, except remember her. And pen up the dogs that bite.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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