By Julie Brown Patton
Families and guardians can take measures to safeguard children through the CASEY (Caring About Safety For Every Youth) Safety Fair at Valley Park School July 22 from 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The ninth annual event is free and held in honor of 6-year-old murder victim Cassandra “Casey” Williamson from Valley Park.
Participating youth will receive identification cards through MoCHIP, the Missouri Child Identification Program. A personal safety presentation will be delivered by Ray Amanti, entitled “Bully, Victim or Hero: How to Assert Yourself Without Being a Target for Bullying or Violence.” Games, prizes and food will be available. All of the fair’s activities will be held at the Valley Park School at 1 Main St.
Williamson would have started first grade, but was murdered on July 26, 2002, after being abducted from her father’s home. Her body was found in an abandoned glass factory in St. Louis County. During August of that same year, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tore down the factory building, which had been the St. Louis Plate Glass Co. founded in 1902. The factory was abandoned in 1915 after the Meramec River flooded, but wasn’t demolished until this tragedy prompted action.
“It has been a long road, and one that we still struggle to navigate every day. For me, the only thing that gets me through is trying to make a difference, such as through this safety fair,” said Della Steele, Williamson’s great aunt, also of Valley Park. “It’s hard to believe that Casey will have been gone 15 years this summer. She missed out on so much in life. With the safety fair coming, let’s empower our children through knowledge, and try to make sure that none of us ever live through a nightmare like that again.”
For the first six years after Williamson’s death, an annual memorial walk was held. Steele said the whole of Valley Park residents were devastated when this happened to a sweet, innocent girl of their own community. She said they ultimately decided it was time to try to move past the grief and do something proactive to help protect kids, which is how the safety fair began.
“My belief is that if kids have knowledge before dangerous situations, they will make better decisions and not panic if they have some information to draw on. We have to find ways to educate our kids without frightening them, and that’s why at the fair, we do something serious, followed by something fun, and then repeat that order,” Steele said.
Williamson’s family launched a scholarship fund in her name a year after her death. Steele said they were inspired by Valley Park teachers who renamed their annual high school scholarship in the child’s name. The 64 graduating seniors, who were kindergarten classmates with Williamson, counted her in spirit as the 65th senior. They held a picnic in her honor, and devoted space in the yearbook to the inspirations her young life prompted. In 2014, the Casey Williamson Memorial Scholarship Fund awarded $500 to each of the graduating seniors of Casey’s class in the Valley Park School District.
“The scholarships were a positive way for Casey to still be involved in her class’s graduation. We wanted to encourage her classmates to go out and make the world a better place,” said Steele. “Many of Casey’s kindergarten classmates told me they didn’t realize what actually had happened to her until they were older, closer to 15 years old. They were friends in kindergarten, and all they knew is that she didn’t return to school after that first summer.”
Williamson would have turned 21 years old on Nov. 23, 2016.