Cassy Warner eagerly awaited for her 7-year-old daughter, Marie, to get home from school one afternoon. She couldn’t wait to tell the little girl that the man who had harmed her is gone.
The girl is actually Cassy’s step-daughter, but Cassy doesn’t make that distinction. “I call her my daughter,” the 24-year-old woman said by phone from her Brown County home.
Cassy is married to Marie’s biological father, Larry Warner. Marie’s biological mother is married to Marie’s stepfather.
These are real people and real events, but all of the names are made up. You’ll soon see why.
In September 2009, Marie was living with Cassy and Larry, even though Marie’s stepfather and biological mother had legal custody of her. Cassy and Larry had some suspicions that something wasn’t quite right involving Marie. Their suspicions were confirmed when Larry saw Marie fondling a younger girl.
Marie was lying on top of the girl, kissing her and touching her private area. Larry and Cassy remained calm and separated the children. “We told her this is not something children do,” Cassy said. They asked her where she had learned that behavior.
From her stepfather, Marie explained. She went on to say her stepfather had touched her “butterfly.”
Marie told about a single incident that had happened several months earlier, when she was 5. Cassy and Larry don’t know if it happened more than once.
“I was completely astounded and felt really alarmed, because I didn’t know how far he had taken it,” Cassy said of the revelation.
The Warners went to the authorities. The sheriff’s office and CPS began an investigation, and she gives high marks to those agencies, as well as the district attorney’s office.
Deputy Scott Bird investigated the case for the sheriff’s office. “I telt like (the sheriff’s office) was very thorough,” Cassy said. “Scott was always completely honest. He stuck with it and he did his job.”
Cassy also complimented the Hill Country Child Advocacy Center in Burnet, where Marie was taken for an interview. “They were wonderful,” she said.
Last year, Marie’s stepfather was indicted for the aggravated sexual assault of a child. According to the indictment, the man “intentionally or knowingly (caused) the penetration” of Marie’s private area by his finger on a single occasion in 2008.
In a plea bargain, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
Other cases of child sexual assault have been far nastier, right here in Brown County. But to Cassy and Larry, it’s not an “only” one time or an “only” with his finger. On a scale of one-to-10, “it’s a two thousand” in terms of traumatic events, Cassy said.
“When you do that to a child, it’s like murder of the soul,” she said. “He killed her, but she’s still alive.”
Marie has had behavioral problems as a result of the sexual assault, Cassy said. She is in counseling, and she recently spent a few days in a psychiatric hospital.
Cassy said she knows people can change, and she hopes Marie’s stepfather will “get help.” She hopes he’ll gain some insight into the harm he’s caused. And she certainly hopes he’ll never harm another child.
“I can’t forgive him all the way because my daughter will never have her innocence back. She’s forever scarred,” Cassy said.
“(Marie) understands that someone she should have trusted betrayed her. Bad decisions hurt people. She is unable to cope, at this point in time, with her angry feelings. ... We have our good days, and we have our bad days. We do have our really, really bad times.”
Cassy had considered allowing her real name to be used, but decided against it because of the sensitivity of the story. Her message: keep your eyes open, because what happened in her family could happen to anyone, anywhere.
And, she pointed out, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, which dovetails into her family’s story.
“To children, adults are like the government,” Cassy continued. “We are the ones who are supposed to protect them and have their best interests at heart. They expect that when we tell them what to do, it’s going to have a positive outcome.”
Although Marie is having some problems now, Cassy said, her daughter is still young and has a future. She wants Marie to “recover her self esteem and sense of worth.
“This is not our shame,” Cassy said. “This is our perpetrator’s shame.”
In another phone conversation a little later in the day, Cassy said her daughter had come home from school. She told Marie her stepfather was going to prison.
“I said, ‘Guess what?’” Cassy recounted.
“She said ‘What?’ I said, ‘He went to a bigger jail even further away.’ She said that made her happy.”
As Cassy talked, a little girl’s voice could be heard in the background. “You’re my best mama,” the little girl said.
That was Marie, Cassy explained. “She’s very sweet ... just a kid.”
Steve Nash writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at steve.nash@