Rosie's Patrol
by Alex Chadwick
NPR's Morning Edition®
broadcast: 27 July 1989

Some researchers report that, on average, one child per week is abducted and murdered by a stranger. The U.S. Department of Justice says that figure-one a week- is the most conservative estimate; others put the frequency at three times that rate. But what seems lost in the figures and charts, is the blow such crimes strike against a community that suffers them.

[neighborhood ambience under / cars on a quiet street]

ALEX CHADWICK, Correspondent: I live in a neighborhood across the river from the City of Washington, a place in the suburbs. Smart types in print are always sneering at the suburbs. But, in fact, for anyone with a family, with children, the suburbs are usually decent places. Maybe better than decent sometimes. They are places where a child can grow in peace. That's what we all suppose.

[lone child in background says: "Daddy, I just want to play catch with you." Slowly under next graf, ambience of more voices in heard: children, adults, a brass band.]

Over the weekend, I went to another neighborhood, not far away, to go see a picnic. They had a volleyball game: a chaotic, eleven-kids-on-a-side, no-rules kind of pandemonium. And there were card tables and outdoor chairs set up along the edge of the field where the tall trees gave off a little shade. It was very hot. A local brass band showed up and started playing. Pretty soon, I guess there were a hundred people or so, with food and footballs and frisbees, all out for the kind of gathering neighbors should share more often. And everyone there because, somehow, this community-Lake Braddock in Fairfax, Virginia-failed in some way. Failed to keep safe a little girl.

[picnic ambience fades to black]

The little girl was Rosie Gordon. She was ten. The youngest of two children in her family. She was a school patrol, a swimmer, a singer. Then a few weeks ago, she was biking back to her house after an afternoon playing with a friend nearby-and then she was gone. That evening, her father found her bicycle, abandoned. A couple of days later, a passerby found her body several miles away: sexually assaulted and then smothered.

This is a too-familiar occurrence: the assault, the kidnapping, even the murder, of a child. But however often you read about it in the paper, probably you're never prepared for it to happen in your neighborhood. Police said they thought this was the work of a man who'd raped several children in the area. Rosie was the first of the victims to be killed. Lake Braddock was stunned. The community shattered into isolated households. Frightened parents kept their children at home.

[neighborhood ambience returns under / children playing / brass band]

Then Rosie's mother and father, David and Lynn Gordon, began talking about what they could do. And they decided to have a picnic. And that's why everyone came to the soccer field across the street from the Lake Braddock Community Association.

DAVID GORDON, father: Rosie was not an angry person. Rosie was a very happy person. We're not going to abuse her memory by sitting around in anger and pain. This is what Rosie would want done, so we're doing it.

ALEX CHADWICK: David Gordon, the father. He got there early, carrying a huge thermal cooler of lemonade, saying hello, thanking people for coming.

DAVID GORDON: She was a very sweet, helpful kid. She helped people all the time. She'd go around and let people know if they'd left their lights on in their car. She'd help people carry groceries back and forth. Rosie was everywhere, helping everybody. She was always happy, always jumping up and down. You know, in a room full of kids, your attention would drift to Rosie. We're not going to go hide in a corner.

[bagpipes added to ambience in background]

ALEX CHADWICK: Two local TV news crews came by; bagpiper who played at Rosie's funeral called and asked to come to the picnic, too, and so he was there. The children began playing softball. Their parents sat on blankets with hampers of chicken and paper cups with ice and soft drinks, and they watched.

In the death of Rosie Gordon, something new is born in this community: a new vigilance, a new understanding that peace in these places is fragile and vulnerable. The neighbors are planning a system to protect their children now, to have parents always nearby, someone at the playground. They even want to figure out a commuter system to get kids safely to school. They're calling all this, "Rosie's Patrol."

DAVID GORDON: We're not community activists by nature-we never have been until now. We've always been stay-at-home people. We always figured we could take care of our own. Well, we've learned very painfully that we couldn't take care of our own.

[bagpipes & brass band playing together / kids playing volleyball]

ALEX CHADWICK: David Gordon was in the Army for ten years and then he got out and found a job writing computer programs. And he's made a life with his family. He taught his daughter never to talk to strangers. He took her to the police station to get fingerprinted. He warned her of the things children need to be warned of. He did those things someone does to protect himself and those he loves from monstrosity. And in the end, it didn't matter. "I have to tell others," he says, "that it's not enough to try to make your child safe, you must make your neighborhood safe." And somehow, red-eyed, sweating, heavy physically, heavy in every way, he braces himself internally against the terrible loss, the terrible despair. What a sad, brave thing to do: to suffer like this, and to think to organize a picnic because your daughter would want to go.

[picnic ambience continues / man on bullhorn: "Eight year olds and younger, eight year olds and younger, we have different kinds of relay races and ring-toss games, that-a-way."]

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