Kansas City park to honor memory of 'Precious Doe'

Friday, April 3, 2009 | 10:42 a.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — A wooded area where a 3-year-old girl's remains were found eight years ago is being transformed into a park in honor of her and other slain or abused children.

Plans for the Precious Doe Memorial Park were announced Thursday. A dedication ceremony and unity march will be April 25 to officially launch the project, which is expected to cost about $250,000.

The 6 acres of land — half which is owned by the city and half owned by a church — will eventually be the site of the park in Erica Green's memory. Erica's dismembered body was found in April 2001 and she went unidentified until 2005, when her mother and the mother's husband were arrested in the slaying. The couple were convicted last year in the killing.

"If we cannot bring Erica back, then we must pay tribute to her life and use that tribute to bring attention to the sad existence of child abuse and child homicide in our city," assistant Jackson County prosecutor Tim Dollar said.

Dollar said he and others working on the project are determined to make sure Erica — known only as "Precious Doe" until a tip helped identify her — and other young victims like her are not forgotten.

Community activist Alvin Brooks said he hopes the area where Erica's body was found can move past its "dumping ground" image and become a more hopeful place.

"This is going to be a park where young people and older people can come and remember what has occurred in this community and, as importantly, look to the future."

The Precious Doe Memorial Committee has commissioned a suburban Kansas City artist to create a sculpture in honor of Erica. The life-size bronze sculpture will show three children playing — a girl Erica's age holding hands with a boy and running, and another boy kneeling with a dove about to fly from his palm.

"The dove represents Erica's spirit," said the artist, Mary Lynn Swafford, of Overland Park, Kan.

She plans to start sculpting after the April 25 dedication. She said it could be a year before the piece is ready for display.

As for the park, organizers didn't release a timeline for completion. But Mark Bowland, community services manager with the city parks department, said he envisions it being up and running in 18 to 24 months. He said it could happen sooner if community members continue to work as hard as they have.

"Obviously, all of the funding is not in place, so we look to phase as much of this project in place as we possibly can," Bowland said. "We've cleared off a little of the most southern portion of that property. As funding and the plan unfolds, we will continue to do more work."

Erica's mother, Michelle Johnson, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and her husband, Harrell Johnson, was given life in prison without parole.

Harrell Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder for kicking Erica in the head while he was high on drugs, then leaving the child to die on a bedroom floor. He decapitated the girl's body and dumped her in a wooded area. Michelle Johnson helped get rid of the body.

Community activist Alonzo Washington got a tip in 2005 that led police to arrest the couple in Muskogee, Okla., where they moved after the killing.

On Thursday, as prosecutors, homicide detectives, activists and others gathered at a community center to discuss the park for Erica, a photograph of the girl sat on an easel nearby. It was a poster-size reminder of their mission.

"The community adopted Precious Doe from the very beginning," police Sgt. David Bernard said. "I'm just glad to see it still continue.

"We're going to take this land that's got this history of a dark and tragic past and turn it into an area where not only is it going to be remembrance for Erica and for the citizens for all they did, but a place where kids can play. It will be a true transformation."

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