Victim's mom hopeful after new sex predator laws

Grieving mother leads campaign, finally watched Gov. sign legislation into law

By Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Diena Thompson, mother of 8-year-old murder victim Somer Thompson, was in Tallahassee Tuesday, witnessing the Governor sign four landmark bills, designed to better protect children in Florida from sexual predator.
Thompson led the campaign for the bills and promised she would be there when they were signed into law, and she was. Members of Jacksonville's Justice Coalition and sexual abuse survivors were also in attendance.

"It was so many emotions, maybe too many emotions to put one word onto. Empowering, somber, happy, hopeful. So many emotions to put one word on it," said Thompson.

The new legislation is near and dear to Thompson's heart. Her family was affected by sexual predators. Her daughter, Somer Thompson was abducted and killed by 26-year-old Jarred Harrell while walking home from school in Orange Park in 2009.

The bill signing happened on April 1st, the first day of both National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

"I hope these laws save children's lives," said Thompson.

She turned her pain into progress, and has lobbied for stricter laws in Florida since she lost her daughter. On Tuesday she got to watch some of her hard work pay off as Scott signs new sexually violent predator legislation.

"I absolutely think it is going to work. I do not believe that we can just stop here and not do anything else," Thompson said. "We need to keep looking at our laws and going over things and seeing what loopholes there are available to people to get through. We also need to partner with people for prevention and educating the adults and our children."

State lawmakers were also prompted into action by another Jacksonville case: the abduction and murder of Cherish Perrywinkle. Investigators said she died at the hands of Donald Smith, who has a long history of sexual crimes.

"I believe had these laws been in effect last year, Cherish Perrywinkle would still be here with us. Her monster should have never been let back out on the street," said Thompson.

Just days after the Governor signed the new legislation, Thompson will celebrate, what would have been Somer's birthday Saturday, April 5th. Thompson said she believes her daughter would have been so proud of what she accomplished.

"She would probably say, 'That's my mommy.' Just be proud that was her mom who decided not to fall down and be a weeping willow. That decided to stand and make tragedy turn into triumph," said Thompson.

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