Memorial honors young abuse victim

RUSSELLVILLE - Sheriff Larry Plott stood outside the Franklin County Jail looking at a memorial that immediately sent his mind back to Nov. 20, 1993, the day he was told Andrea Gonzalez had wandered from her home and was lost.

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Bobby Brown listens as Sheriff Larry Plott talks about the case of Andrea Gonzalez during the dedication of a memorial in her honor in front of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department.
Daniel Giles/TimesDaily

She hadn't wandered off, but in fact had died at home and had her death covered up by her parents. But it would take more than a year for authorities to learn that was the case.

"This brings us all back to an event that affected a lot of lives," Plott said. "This missing child affected everyone, not only here and this state, but the U.S."

The 5-year-old with the angelic face and big brown eyes was remembered Thursday evening during an unveiling of a memorial honoring her and bringing awareness to domestic violence.

The monument rests in a grass median in the sheriff's department parking lot. A dark black granite monument with the dates of Andrea's birth and death is in the center of gray stone pavers. Two small, dark park benches rest among flowers surrounded by a freshly landscaped outline of dark mulch.

"I don't think a case in Franklin County has touched the lives of people like this one did," said Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing. "We hope this memorial will serve as a reminder of all the children who have been victims of abuse."

Plott said Andrea's missing person's report set in motion a search like none ever before in the area.

"Thousands of hours were put in to try and find this little girl," Plott said to the more than 50 people gathered for the ceremony.

"She touched everyone's life, and every resource we had was utilized."

The lengthy search was finally called off when investigators suspected foul play. More than a year later, the child's stepmother, Kim Gonzalez, told authorities that the little girl had not wandered off and disappeared. She said Andrea died after being accidentally scalded while taking a bath.

She went on to tell authorities that she and her husband, Paul Gonzalez, Andrea's father, panicked and threw the child's body off the bridge at Mon Dye Bottoms Recreation Area near Phil Campbell.

Divers and cadaver dogs searched the lake for 13 days without finding Andrea's body.

Paul and Kim Gonzalez were both indicted for capital murder.

In April 1997, Paul Gonzalez pleaded guilty to manslaughter as a part of a plea agreement that included testimony against his wife. He received a 10-year sentence but was required to serve two years in jail and was placed on two years' probation. He was released in September 1997 and moved to Texas.

Kim Gonzalez, after a four-day trial in May 1997, was found guilty of child abuse. A series of appeals followed and she started serving a 10-year sentence June 30, 1999. She was released from prison Nov. 26, 2001, after being given credit for time served in the county jail.

Rushing said 90 percent of child abuse cases involve the victims' parents or caregivers.

He said in 2008 in Franklin County alone there were 25 cases of child abuse and the abusers were either parents or caregivers.

Thursday's event was sponsored by the sheriff's department, the Franklin County Domestic Violence Coalition and the Franklin County Extension System.

The coalition placed a fountain memorial at Red Bay Police Department in memory of 3-week-old Chance Waldrop, who died in September 2005. Waldrop's father, Jodey Wayne Waldrop, was sentenced to death for killing the infant.

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