Safety first was more than a familiar saying at the Warren YMCA on Friday; it was the focus of an entire afternoon.
The Warren County YMCA held its first Family Safety Fair and Missing Persons Awareness Event, bringing together organizations dedicated to safety and advocacy from around the area.
The event was scheduled to coincide with Missing Persons Awareness Day, designated due to the disappearance of Etan Patz in 1979. It is also the tenth anniversary of Damien Sharp's disappearance.
Times Observer photo by Jacob Perryman
Friday’s YMCA Family Safety Fair featured information on a wide-range of topics. Attendees browsed booths manned by representatives of many of the area’s emergency and safety focused organizations.
Pedro Hernandez, a 51-year-old New Jersey man, confessed to killing Patz this week.
The family of Damien Sharp attended the event, including his mother, aunts and grandmother.
Monica Caison, executive director of the CUE Center for Missing Persons in Wilmington, N.C., also attended.
Also attending were families of missing persons from across northwestern Pennsylvania and southern New York. All were in attendance to advocate and raise awareness for missing-persons issues.
"It's been an interesting mix of people and agencies connecting and helping each other out,' said Sharp's aunt, Anzietta DiPierro.
"The family really worked hard to put this together," said Sharp's grandmother, Shirley Allred. "A lot of people in the community said yes right away."
"It's about advocacy, not just Damien. It's not just missing children but missing adults. It's very tough to get a 20-something adult proclaimed missing," said Sharp's mother, Janeane Shanahan. "It's important. It's missing children's day. It's important to get the information out there. It's important for people to get DNA tested. It's important that police realize we know our loved ones. They need to listen."
"You can't make a determination on an unknown situation. The determination shouldn't be made before you walk in," Caison agreed. "You can bring the experience from your past as an investigator, but you can't bring your past cases with you."
Chuck Fetzeck of the Warren County Sheriff's Office and Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jen Bovee were available to do child safety seat checks. They also had seats parents without one could put into their cars thanks to a donation from Whirley Drinkworks.
"We urge parents and caregivers to ensure their safety seats are properly installed to promote child safety," Bovee said.
Representatives of Warren County fire departments presented information on fire prevention and the Warren City Fire Department brought a ladder truck for display.
The Warren Police Department provided pamphlets on identity theft, credit fraud, home improvement law and consumer protection.
Kira Lemmons of Warren County Crime Stoppers handed out informational brochures and promoted the organization's tip number.
Aaron Spencer and Josh Elliot of Allegheny Cyclery presented bicycle safety tips.
Director of the Jefferson Defrees Family Center Cindy Paulmier conducted fingerprinting and took identification photos for Project Kidsafe. The identifying information can be placed in a booklet for parents to keep with them for emergencies.
"We tell parents to always carry it with them," said Paulmier. "Its a viable thing to have. Especially in this day and age. We hope no one ever has to use it."
Pam Heinold was available to explain "Operation Take Me Home". The program is sponsored by the Don Mills Achievement Center and provides transmitter bracelets to special needs individuals in case they wander off. Emergency workers can then use receiving equipment to track the bracelets if someone goes missing.
Victim Witness Coordinator Laurie Davis presented information on what services are available to victims and families through the county court system. Davis stressed available services are free and confidential.
Forensic anthropology graduate students Diana Messer, Ellen Powell and Ani Hatza of Mercyhurst College in Erie presented information on bone identification and forensic anthropology in general.
"The message that we really want to get across is if you find remains don't touch them," Powell said. "There's a lot of information we can get from them as long as none has touched them."
Sharp's grandmother and aunts were using t-shirts and ribbons to raise donations. They offered a dollar-for-dollar match on all donations to raise money for wilderness safety kits with ribbon sales. T-shirt sales went to fund awareness for Damien's case and to raise money to fund a scholarship through the YMCA.
"It's our way to give back," Shanahan said. "Damien came here every day."