Melisha Morgana Gibson was only 4 when she was made to march around the living room in the house where she lived, until she collapsed and died.
That was the morning of Oct. 13, 1976.
It was the bicentennial year for the nation.
It would also wake the nation to the realization of child abuse.
“It’s been four years now that we have held the Melisha Gibson ‘Light of Hope Moonlight Walk,’” said CASA Executive Director Suzanne Wisdom.
Hundreds of individuals, civic and church groups and others join the march to remember the little girl whose death changed laws regarding child abuse and reporting across the nation.
Melisha’s death spurred local doctors, lawmakers and the community to push for change.
CASA of Bradley County was established just months before the inaugural Moonlight Walk.
Since then, CASA of Polk County and Ocoee Regional Family Advocates have been born.
“We expanded services of ORFA which includes CASA of Polk County,” said Wisdom.
CASA gives a child in an abusive home, which has made it into the court systems, a voice.
Volunteer advocates are the voice for the children caught up in the courts.
In 1976, that wasn’t possible … in fact, Dr. John Appling, a local pediatrician was just one advocate for change. Committees were formed which looked into the problems.
Appling continues to take part in the Light of Hope Moonlight Walk, as does the prosecutor for the case against the Madduxes, Richard Fisher.
According to Appling in a special Child Abuse Edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner in 1977, “A multi-disciplinary child abuse team was formed in 1974, to staff abuse cases, meeting monthly at Bradley Memorial Hospital. The team consisted of representatives from the Department of Human Services, Public Health, Mental Health, Child and Family Resources, hospital personnel and physicians. The effectiveness of this team; however, was hampered by the lack of communication and cooperation of the local department of Human Services.”
That was two years prior to Melisha’s death.
She was already in the system, but had no representation.
“The investigation, the memorial foundation, the funeral, the arrest, the trial — we had all this to think about and at the same time, we had to do something in the community to find out why this child died, to find out why so many people were involved with this family and yet we could not save little Melisha,” said the late Sheriff Lamar Lawson, according to Banner archived articles.
Her stepfather Ronald Maddux, and her biological mother Wanda Maddux, both died in prison while serving their sentences in Melisha’s death.
“She never knew anything different but pain,” said District Attorney General Steve Bebb, who was a young prosecutor at the time. Bebb’s historical account was published in the Banner before the inaugural walk.
For three days, beginning on Oct. 10, 1976, Melisha was made to march around the room by her stepfather. Investigators called it a “death march.”
When she wanted a drink, Ronald Maddux taunted her with a glass of water and then drank the water himself. He then gave her hot sauce to drink.
“This was a tragic family story. There is no good ending to it. CASA works to prevent these type situations by representing the child and working with the court systems,” Wisdom explained.
CASA of Bradley County served more than 170 children during the past year, representing them in the court system.
Additional sponsorships are welcome, according to Wisdom.
CASA operates through grants and community, including private funding and fundraising activities.
The walk will begin at the Greenway near Cleveland High School at 7 p.m.
For additional information regarding the Moonlight Walk, contact CASA of Bradley County at 716-1844 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the CASA of Bradley County Facebook page and link to the Melisha Gibson “Light of Hope” page.