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Normally, it’s an investigation into an alleged crime against a child that brings different agencies and volunteers to the Kids First Child Advocacy Center in Loudon County.
This week, they gathered there for a different reason.
“This is a reminder of what we do and why we do it and a special reminder of Clifford Wallace Dotson,” Executive Director Chris Evans-Longmire said. “He will never be forgotten again.”
Clifford, 2, who lived in East Roane County, died in May of what authorities have said was starvation.
A tree was planted in his honor at the Kids First Memorial Garden at the advocacy center. The garden was dedicated Wednesday.
“That is not the only child death that we’ve experienced in our district,” Evans-Longmire said. “It is one of the most horrific cases we’ve experienced.”
Evans-Longmire said Clifford weighed 12 pounds at the time of his death. His parents, Matthew and Amanda Dotson, are accused of starving him to death. Both have been charged with first-degree murder.
“When they’re not parents, someone like Chris, the CAC, the volunteers, this community has to step forward and be parents for them,” District Attorney General Russell Johnson said. “Unfortunately in this case it’s too late for Clifford, but he did have a sibling, and, at least now, he’s removed from that environment and this can’t happen to him.”
Clifford’s death was investigated by the Roane County Sheriff’s Office.
Evans-Longmire said Detective Greg Scalf had a tough time dealing with it and spearheaded the effort to honor the toddler’s memory.
Scalf read a prepared statement at the dedication. He said since Clifford’s death he’s spent a lot of time trying to understand and trying to make sense of what happened.
“I then remind myself that what happened to Clifford is not to be understood, not to be rationalized and never to be accepted,” Scalf said. “It is simply a terrifying reminder that evil is a very real and present thing, and sometimes people do evil things.”
Scalf said when he would cry, he would remind himself that Clifford’s in a much better place.
“A place where he’ll never hunger, never thirst and never be bound by any restraint,” he said. “A place where God’s eternal light has replaced the darkness of abuse and neglect.”
The Ninth Judicial District is comprised of Roane, Loudon, Meigs and Morgan counties. The Kids First Child Advocacy Center provides services for children in the district who have been identified as victims of physical or sexual abuse.
The memorial garden also features a gas lantern that Evans-Longmire said will always stay lit.
“It serves to light up the darkness of child abuse,” she said.
Nathan Marsh, a Kingston resident and Roane County High School graduate, came up with the design for the memorial garden and did the landscaping.
“I just wanted something to help draw emphasis to what we’re trying to bring emphasis to, which was this very special boy that nobody seemed to love,” Marsh said. “He’ll get all the love and attention here that he deserved.”
Marsh, the garden manager at Home Depot in Lenoir City, said he will return in the spring with his team of volunteers to refurbish the garden.
“We’ll come back and make it look nice again,” he said. “Basically just keep it up for them.”