HILLSDALE, N.J. -- A new state law mandating life imprisonment without parole for anyone convicted of murdering a minor under 18 during a sex crime will be engraved Thursday on a sculpture dedicated to the memory of a 7-year-old Hillsdale girl slain by a neighbor more than four decades ago.
The engraving on the White Butterfly Sculpture and Garden dedicated to Joan D’Alessandro at the Hillsdale train station will be revealed publicly at the third annual Joan's Joy Child Safety Fest on Sept. 23.The safety fest will run from noon to 5 p.m. at the 5,670-pound monument and garden (Rain date: Sept. 24).
"A new activity this year will include a professional face painter and balloon twister," said Joan's mother, Rosemarie D'Alessandro, who campaigned hard for the new law.
"There will be presentations and entertainment taking place throughout the fest that will include professional dancing, child ID finger printing, self-defense demo, crafts, flower arrangements and much more," D'Alessandro said.
"Everyone attending will join hands in a circle and 'Stand up for Child Safety' at 1:30 p.m.," she said. "Raffle prizes will include a TV, and there will be a silent auction and a great tricky tray."
Admission is free and food will be available.
“No one can replace your hands in the circle of doing good,” said D'Alessandro, who made helping other parents and abused children her life’s mission after her daughter's April 1973 murder.
Joseph McGowan, a former high school science teacher, was convicted of raping and murdering Joan on April 19, 1973 (Holy Thursday), before dumping her body in Harriman State Park, where it was found on Easter.
The 7-year-old Brownie Scout had come to McGowan’s home, three doors down, looking to sell her last two boxes of cookies.
Her murder prompted the passage of Joan’s Law, signed by Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997 and by President Clinton in 1998. It mandated life in prison for the killing of children under 14 during a sex crime.
D'Alessandro got New Jersey lawmakers to agree to expand the law to deny parole to anyone convicted of killing a child under 18 during a sexual assault. Gov. Christie signed the measure into law in July.
"The law named after Joan will stop suffering and bring justice for families," she said. "They will never have to go through parole hearings and appeals like our family had to for through for years.”
D’Alessandro established Joan's Joy to help youngsters and raise awareness of child safety issues.
The foundation has been particularly active:
It has brought or given tickets to dozens of children from the Holley Center in Hackensack for movies and shows at Radio City Music Hall, brought families from Family Promise of Bergen County to Van Saun Park for rides and a barbeque and given the YAP program of Tails of Hope a donation for children to learn about careers working with dogs among other charitable acts.
The monument has a carving of a white butterfly and a plaque with Joan’s photo. The white butterfly was chosen because it symbolizes Joan’s “joyful and free spirit, giving hope to many,” D’Alessandro said.
The side that faces the street says: “Remember Joan today so tomorrow’s children will be safe.”
Besides referring to the “heinous crime” responsible for Joan’s death, the side facing the train station lists the previous laws -- with space left for what has become the new one.
Joan's life and death "inspired a movement to keep her killer in prison and spurred law changes,” D’Alessandro said. "Her legacy is more alive today than it ever was. It is a force for good in today’s society.”
The Joan's Joy Foundation seeks sponsors, donations and volunteers.
TO CONTRIBUTE: The Joan Angela D’Alessandro Foundation, 45 Florence St., Hillsdale, (201) 664-9140 OR: Rosebd@email.com
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