Erin Maxwell is gone, but far from forgotten.
Several dozen people gathered Sunday night under the pavilion at Palermo Town Park to remember the girl who died a year ago. Her stepbrother, Alan Jones, is accused of killing her. He goes on trial next month. Her father and stepmother, Lindsey and Lynn Maxwell, were found guilty of endangering Erin’s welfare after a long trial. They will be sentenced in October and are appealing the verdict.
“Erin lived a life of darkness,” said Tammie Nipper, who is pastor of the Palermo United Methodist Church, as she led a prayer. Erin lived in a messy home with dozens of cats. Her bedroom doors had two locks on the outside of them.
Her case caused an investigation of the county Social Services department, for how it handled the complaints made on Erin’s behalf. A report prepared by Cornell University found no fault with the way Erin’s case was handled but said there were too few caseworkers and too many cases to investigate.
A group called Justice for Erin has called for the firing of Social Services Commissioner Frances Lanigan, but county legislators refused to do it.
As children played outside the pavilion, people at the service watched a video recapping the last year. They prayed. Then, they lit candles, stood in a circle and several offered a few words directly to Erin.
“I wish I could have helped you,” said Colleen Scott, one of the people behind Justice for Erin.
Said another, “Erin, I didn’t know you, but I sure wish I did. You’ll be in my heart forever, be forever my special angel.”
A young classmate of Erin’s said, “You were a good and loyal friend. You’ll always be in my heart.”
And teacher Jackie Siver, who had complained about Erin’s conditions to the Social Services department, fought back tears as she offered an apology. “How sorry I am that I waited till after you were gone to be more vocal about your situation,” she said. “I wish everyday that I could have and should have done more while you were still alive.
“I can only take comfort in knowing that you have the most beautiful set of wings, you’re a beautiful angel. I promise I will do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
She added, “Many of our legislators are up for reelection and there are many out there that have not supported our cause. Remember than when you go to the polls.”
“Our children are less protected the animals in the state, so keep fighting and keep working for justice,” said pastor Nipper during her prayer.
The participants blew out their candles, shared some ice cream donated by Palermo’s Quick Lique ice cream shop and signed their names to a poster marking Erin’s passing.