His sweet little face haunts me.
Granted, the first image I saw of him was from a computer-generated graphic, not a photo, but still, he looks like he could be part of my family, with his blond hair and blue eyes.
He is a little boy whose body was found on a roadside in rural Maine a week ago. He was wrapped in a blanket and hadn't been there for too long. He probably hadn't been dead for long either and his death was characterized as "suspicious" by police.
Authorities were searching for his identity all this week. Wednesday, the mystery was solved. He was Camden Pierce Hughes, age 6, from Texas. His mother is in custody for his death.
The child first came to my attention when my sister, Chris, told me about him Monday. Chris and I speak on the phone every day. She lives in New Hampshire, just a few miles across the border from Maine and not far from where the body was discovered.
We talk about what's going in our family, in our communities and in the world in general. When she told me about this lost little boy, she could barely get the words out, especially when she told me one particular detail: He was wearing Lightning McQueen sneakers, fashioned with the likeness of a character in the popular children's animated film, "Cars."
"Those are the sneakers Jacob wears," she said.
Jacob is her almost 5-year-old grandson and that drove home the sadness, the horror, of this case even more so for my tenderhearted sister. Me, too. Jacob is a child of joy and to think of something bad happening to him is unimaginable.
We were both pretty broken up as we talked about the case, trying to imagine how this little boy ended up left like trash on the side of a road. As we spoke, I brought up the story of three young brothers from lower Michigan who are still missing. Tanner Skelton, 5, Alexander Skelton, 7, and Andrew Skelton, 9, were last seen at their father's home in Morenci on Thanksgiving Day, 2010.
Their father sits in jail, claiming first he gave them to an underground organization and then that he gave them to a woman. Many searches have been conducted but the boys haven't been located.
My sister and I then talked about how many - too, too many - cases on this order are in the news nowadays. And about how many more cases of child neglect, abuse and abandonment there are we don't know about.
It's nearly unbearable to think of the agony some children experience at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them from pain. Those who survive such horror often grow up to be inflictors themselves and the cycle continues... and continues.
This week's column was going to be about the raucous comedy "Bridesmaids" and what a fun afternoon it was seeing that movie with dear friends. But the little boy's face haunts me and spurred me to write about him and all the other sweet youngsters who don't have a chance to grow up in the way so many of us take for granted.
Too many kids don't know about the simple joys, like popsicles and "Thomas The Train." They don't get treats and they don't get to go fishing.
They don't get tucked in at night and told "sweet dreams." They don't have someone cheering them on as they score a goal or ace a math test.
They have no one who cares for them or watches out for them or looks forward to what they will become when they grow up.
Too many of them don't even get the chance to grow up.
These children need each of us to worry about what happens to them, to advocate for them, to report any monster, blood-related or not, who hurts them.
Do yourself a favor and hug your daughter or your grandson or niece/nephew a little tighter next time you see them. Thank God for the blessing of having this child in your life.
Then pray for those kids who we don't know about until their cases are in the news. Pray we all learn to treasure children, until there are no longer cases like this little boy in Maine, whose sweet face will always haunt me.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.