Warning: some parts of this story are very disturbing and may be triggering to abuse survivors.
Lauren Furneaux is like a lot of moms, sharing baby bump updates on her Instagram account as she looks forward to meeting her son this summer.
But this isn’t Furneaux’s first baby — and she’s not like any other mother.
Five years ago, a few days before Thanksgiving, Lauren answered a phone call directing her to get to the hospital right away, as there had been an accident with her daughter, Lily.
When she arrived, however, it was too late. Her daughter, two-and-a-half-year-old Lily Lynette Furneaux-Wolfenbarger, was dead.
What unfolded after Lily’s death is unbearable. The sweet, beautiful little girl who loved Glee and singing with her uncle and was the light of her mother’s world, was found to have been sexually abused and murdered by her stepmother. Medical examiners stated that the trauma to Lily’s genitals was equivalent to a woman giving birth, and the trauma to her head, after being repeatedly slammed over 20 times, was equivalent to the injuries sustained in a car crash.
Even more sickening is that the trials revealed that Lily’s stepmother had tortured and killed the little girl because she had wet her pants. Convicted with murder, child abuse, and criminal sexual conduct, Lily’s stepmother, Renee Marie King, will spend the rest of her life in prison with no appeals.
On November 20, 2010, a piece of Lauren died forever alongside her daughter.
And it’s at this point in my story that I want to hold your hands, dear reader, and look you straight in your eyes, which I’m sure, are filled with tears.
It’s now that I want to tell you how this child was not just another horrific statistic in the overwhelming number of children (between 4 and 6 child deaths daily) who are subject to abuse every day. I want to tell you how she was the smartest little girl I’ve ever met, and how she laughed every time I saw her, and how she scampered up the slide at gymnastics while my own daughter was barely walking, and how she seemed to possess a soul wise beyond her two years.
I want you to know how devoted Lauren was as a mother. How when we were both unexpectedly expecting daughters due only days apart, she was the one who never doubted the gift of motherhood, the one who stayed strong through the contractions that ripped through her body during her home birth, the one who displayed the kind of unwavering, steadfast love to that little girl that most of us can only hope to find once in a lifetime.
I want you to understand what it was like to look down at Lily’s little head at her viewing, clad in a Santa hat to hide the swelling and bruises from her stepmother’s beatings. I want you to know that the sight of a grief-stricken mother clutching her daughter’s worn teddy bear, trailing behind a tiny pink coffin is something that will haunt me forever. I want you to know that I never think of cold, rainy November days without remembering what it felt like that day to walk away from the cemetery and know a mother had to leave her baby girl in the ground and wonder why.
I want you to know that Lily and her mother were both ordinary and extraordinary, how Lauren was one of those rare people who really did understand how to cherish every moment, and for that, she lived a lifetime of love in only two and a half years.
But I also want you to know that it wasn’t enough. And that Lily lives on — and will live on forever — through the tireless, fearless work that Lauren now does as an advocate against child abuse.
Now pregnant with her second child, a boy, with her fiancé Josh, Lauren spends every free minute of her time raising funds and sharing Lily’s story through the non-profit organization, Justice for Lily, that she founded shortly after Lily’s death. Lauren shares her story openly and has appeared on media outlets such as Dr. Phil.
And while the sadness of losing her daughter never leaves her eyes, she has never given up. “I want people to know Lily’s face,” Lauren explains. “I want them to associate her with the change we need to see in the world. Looking at her you see [that child abuse] is real. It’s not something that we can sweep under the rug and it will go away.”
As Lauren prepares to become a mother for the second time, she describes herself as being on “emotional overload.”
“I am terrified, excited, scared, and grateful,” Lauren explains. “I see maternity photos of older siblings and know she isn’t here to take those. I am constantly wondering if she would be excited or jealous or scared or whatever else comes into being a big sister, and I hate that that was robbed from all three of us. I buy everything that says ‘little brother’ because I will teach him about his sister every day.”
While many second-time moms may go into pregnancy feeling more confident and carefree about motherhood, Lauren tries to balance her excitement for her son with the fear that her loss has caused. “I am extremely nervous,” she relates. “I think when you go through a loss so traumatic, at least for me, I can’t help but think that my happiness is somehow going to be taken away again.”
And yet, Lauren knows that she will parent her son in the same way that she parented Lily — and cherish each and every moment. “I blame myself every day for what happened to her, but I know I cherished every second I had with her,” she confides.
“We all have to let go of our kids one day whether it is to school, marriage, a job, or whatever the circumstance is. These moments that we take for granted will be gone one day. So I hope that people look at Lily and realize how important it is to cherish every moment with your loved ones, no matter how young or old they are.”
Lauren is adamant that despite how hard it can be for us to face the reality of child abuse, raising awareness is the only way to work for its demise. “I didn’t realize how prevalent child abuse was until it happened to my family,” she explains. “We all look at these statistics and they shock us. We brush them off by saying, ‘it won’t happen to me.’ But I am here to tell you it can happen to anyone. When people start realizing that it isn’t just something you see on Law & Order: SVU or movies or in the news, they will start to speak up and that’s what everyone needs to do.”
She urges parents not to “hold back” if they have a gut feeling about child abuse. “What if you are the only one that speaks up and you save that child’s life?” she challenges. What if you were the one person who spoke up for Lily and saved her? We must all be the change we want to see in the world and make a choice to be their voice.”
There are steps Lauren says you can take if you suspect child abuse, resources that she says she and her family learned about “too late”:
- Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (the national child abuse hotline) or the state police if you suspect abuse.
- Reassure children who speak out they did the right thing by telling you, because most of the time they are going against a loved one and many feel they are betraying their family.
- If you are a parent going through this, fight and keep fighting.
- Go to local child advocacy centers or a Child Help branch.
- Take them to a doctor to get them examined with medical documentation for bruises, cuts, burns, etc.
- Watch for warning signs that include bruises in abnormal places, places that if a child falls wouldn’t normally be bruised, changes in behavior or sleep patterns, frequent accidents in a potty-trained child, sexually explicit behavior, or aggression.
As a parent and as a child advocate, Lauren’s wish for her daughter’s memory is simple — for all children to be as cherished as her daughter was under her care.
“Once we start realizing that our kids are our future and the way we raise them is the way that the world will be one day, maybe we can start to make this world a better place where one day there is no longer child abuse,” Lauren pleads. “So please — make a choice to be their voice because there is no excuse for child abuse.”
To support Lauren and Lily, you can “like” Justice for Lily on Facebook, visit Lily’s website, or donate to the next fundraiser, a Princess Ball, taking place on what would have been Lily’s 7th birthday through PayPal at Lauren@justiceforlily.com.More On