Colton Turner honored at the Williamson County Advocacy Center
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas - When the Colton Turner's remains were found in September, it sent shockwaves across Texas, but nowhere more so, than in Williamson County where he was from. The toddler, reports show, was a victim of child abuse.
And as "Child Abuse Prevention Awareness" month gets underway, the Williamson County Advocacy Center is dedicating a hallway in honor of the two-year-old. The renovation, the center says, was made possible by "the outpouring of community support."
Turner's family was joined on Friday by officials, law enforcement, and dozens of members from the Williamson County community for the Open House.
Colton's father Brandon Pelfrey is still mourning the loss of his son, but he is grateful that the child is saving the lives of others.
"It just makes me feel much better about the whole situation," he said.
During the ceremony, Colton's family was presented with a Proclamation from Governor and Mrs. Abbott. State Senator Charles Schwertner also delivered one, in person, from the Senate.
Colton's cousin Alexa Harris addressed the crowd on behalf of her family.
"We hope with this celebration of his life that we can ask our community to pay attention when you see abuse and report it," she said.
Last year more than 40,000 cases of child abuse were confirmed in Texas. Many of them seen at one of the 68 child advocacy centers in the state. They work with everyone involved in child abuse cases from law enforcement to therapists, and prosecutors, offering the critical services children need. In 2014, nearly seven hundred children who were suspected victims of sexual or child abuse or witnessed a violent crime came through the Williamson County Child Advocacy Center.
In a release announcing the event, the center's Executive Director Monica Benoit-Beatty said, " When the well-being of children and families becomes the priority of everyone in a community, the number of child abuse and neglect incidents will decrease."
"This is a building who are wounded and hurt and children who have great needs come as a place of refuge or comfort," said Williamson County Justice of the Peace.
Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner John Specia also attended Friday's dedication. Specia addressed Colton's family publicly for the first time.
"I have publicly admitted that Child Protective Services have made serious mistakes in this case, mistakes that I am addressing and making changes in the Department of Regulatory Services so that other families do not have to endure this type of anguish," he said.
Specia also commended legislators for their work in changing the laws to better protect Texas' most vulnerable children including Georgetown State Representative Marsha Farney. She is sponsoring "Colton's Law" and spoke to the crowd too.
"This bill is going to streamline and expedite the process for CPS to locate a child who is considered "un-locatable," Farney says of HB2053.
Of the family's fight to get it on the books, she says, "they have been so active in participating, I have been a partner with them they started this rolling."
She added, "along with Elizabeth Saab of Fox News who has propelled this forward." Farney was referring to this investigative report that exposed the gaping hole in CPS that children like Colton fall through everyday. The story also uncovered possible missed opportunities to save Colton, as his mother crossed path with law enforcement on multiple occasions. HB2053 would allow CPS to flag "un-locatable" children and their parents seven days after falling off their radar.
HB2053 is making its way through the Legislature, having been greenlit by the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues. It could have a full House vote on February 27, which is sixty days after it was filed, a requirement by the Texas Legislature.
Eighteen other State Representatives have signed on to the bill and State Representative Farney also took the opportunity to ask more of her fellow legislators to join her fight to pass it.
"Someone else had mentioned to me in the House they weren't sure if they would support this bill and I told them this is just about Colton, it's about children in your district who are missing, children who need you to stand for," she said.
Children who may now have a chance because of Colton Turner's sacrifice, a sacrifice that will be remembered not only in the halls of the Williamson County Child Advocacy Center, but across Texas for many years to come.
"I know that when they ask about it, they'll know what happened and know that he helped change a lot of kids lives," says his father.
The family also took the time at the ceremony to publicly say they do not support a plea deal for the couple charged in connection with the child's death, his mother and her boyfriend. Fox 7 reached out to the Travis County DA's office as they are handling the case. They did not return our request for comment.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call the Statewide Abuse hotline to report it at 800-252-5400 or report it online here.