This is a story that is both sad and hopeful. It portrays both the worst and best in human nature. In this story, a special group of women will step forward and provide both the part about hope and also the best in human nature.
It took eight days for this courageous 2-year-old to give up her last breath, but she died on Dec. 3, 2008, victim of a despicable act. Katelynn Stinnett had been raped and beaten by her baby-sitter.
Besides the unspeakable grief visited on Katelynn’s family, there would be funeral expenses to pay, and the Stinnetts didn’t have the money. Would a decent and proper burial for the innocent child even be possible? Would a candle be lit for the memory and lessons learned regarding Katelynn’s death, and would the light continue to shine?
A small group of women motorcycle riders became aware of the tragedy and immediately took actions to comfort the Lexington family. They stood “final guard” for Katelynn at the funeral as well as acting as pallbearers for the tiny child in her small, white coffin. The women were instrumental in helping raise the needed funds to pay the funeral and burial expenses for the Stinnets. And, standing with dignity today is a stirring gravestone with the words to a powerful and fitting poem written for Katelynn, along with an added notation, “Our borrowed angel.” Besides being available to give emotional support to the Stinnetts, an annual fund-raiser is held by compassionate bikers nationwide to raise funds to help stop such inhumanity as demonstrated in Katelynn’s murder.
But there is more to the story, and this part also portrays the worst and best in human nature. The bikers, led by a small but powerful woman called “Crickett”, again provide hope and the best in human spirit.
In February, 2011, the Kentucky chapter of the Borrowed Angels Charity Riders (BACR) were invited to the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort to receive recognition for their acts of kindness regarding the Stinnett family and in raising awareness of the scourge of child abuse. The moments were bittersweet. There was the lingering pain of the brutal death of a 2-year-old, but the opportunity to educate citizens of the ongoing struggle against abuse of our young, at least, provided a measure of hopefulness. Small steps, forward steps.
A week after the Frankfort event, the beloved leader of the bikers, Crickett Lanham-Lee, was found stabbed to death in her home in Greenup County. Her husband has been charged and arrested for the crime. Incredibly, the women bikers had been given another sickening punch to the gut. Two ghastly, inhumane acts toward loved ones within three years may have taken the steam out of weaker individuals, but these were a handful of compassionate crusaders who would not be denied.
Crickett’s death served to strengthen the bonding among the BACR group members, today having three active chapters. They are small in number but are effective advocates, fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. They have a chemistry working that is undeniable, much like an Army fighting force that sticks together and has one another’s back.
Shelia Shain, Shepherdsville, had been part of a riding group which had disbanded earlier. The BACR would be dramatically different, as it formed out of the rubble of the Stinnett tragedy.
“Crickett, Germaine Hobbs, and I along with two other friends started the group and we brought in others we met along the way,” said Shain. “There’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears…a labor of love.” She talked about the challenge of keeping the group together and accomplishing much—even considering the fact they are spread out geographically across the state. “Organizing bikers is a lot like herding grasshoppers. Being at Katelynn’s funeral and carrying her casket was an experience we couldn’t get out of our heads,” she said.
Evonne Blackburn joined the BACR “when Crickett reached out to me after she saw a post of mine I’d written regarding child abuse,” said Blackburn. “That’s the way she was. If she saw you out there (hurting) she would reach out to you.” Blackburn notes that the “sisters,” as they like to refer to themselves, “feel very committed” to the BACR. “We don’t recruit, we just hope to attract by what we do,” she said.
The spirit of Crickett Lanham-Lee seems to abide with Blackburn and the others in supporting organizations like Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky or Bikers Against Child Abuse, of which a huge, signature event is staged every year to raise funds. The Katelynn Stinnett National Memorial Ride originated in 2009 with events taking place in 43 states and three foreign countries and now takes place on the third Saturday of June in several states around the country. Besides educating thousands of the need to support efforts against child abuse, the Ride event has raised nearly half of a million dollars to help—a fitting tribute to a work that started with just a few women bikers in Kentucky.
Shain explained that the members do 10 to 15 hours per week of volunteer time along with holding down full-time jobs. National President Germaine Hobbs, Richmond, said her direct time with group activities is closer to forty. She accounted for items such as “emails, social pages, research, texts, soliciting fundraiser sponsors, member issues…” Blackburn noted that “time spent varies according to what events we have coming up. We start planning months ahead of time for most of our events.”
Shain believes the dedication has paid off with results across the state. “Since 2009, we (Kentucky) have dropped from the highest incidence of death in child abuse incidences, to number sixteen. Lots of work to do, but still progress,” she said.
Another important date in the group’s year is called “Homecoming,” a time, Blackburn said, “when all the chapters in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Florida come together for a time of sisterhood and bonding. We are just one big family.” Hobbs described the event as a time for “getting to know the new members” and to “discuss what is working and what’s not.” She added that her personal goal for the year is reenergizing efforts to petition Kentucky’s state government to push for “harsher sentences for those who commit crimes against children.”
Another cause of passion that BACR aims its focus is supporting some of the country’s most vulnerable individuals, the American military veterans. “We are all very patriotic,” said Blackburn. “All of us have someone that has been or is now in the military. Just our way of giving back to those that have given so much.” The annual “Patriot Party” of the Riders helps to dramatize their support. Member Wendy Scroggins called it a way to say “Thanks, Vets.”
All proceeds from the fund-raiser go to U.S. veterans, with a sizeable portion going to the Veterans Administration in Lexington. One member feels most strongly about one war veteran group. “I have the utmost respect for every man and woman who serves our country and protects our freedom,” said Scroggins, “but I guess the ‘soft spot’ in my heart will always belong to the Vietnam vets who never got the appropriate ‘thank you’ or ‘welcome home’ at the time they needed it most.”
Recently group members helped a disabled veteran pay for his anti-rejection medicine after his liver transplant. They regularly make visits to disabled vets to check on individual needs, and they pass out informational literature on the plight of America’s wounded warriors. Shain emphasized that outside of BACR, they “have so many friends out there who are willing to help us. You don’t have to be a member to help our veterans.”
Clearly, the Borrowed Angels Charity Riders have lived up to their name in multiples of ten. In a world that has more than its share of hatred and indifference, a special assortment of two-wheel riding, tireless and courageous women bear witness to a stronger, more abiding force—love and compassion.
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Steve Flairty is a lifelong Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of four books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and three in the “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes” series. All of Steve’s books are available around the state or from the author. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly as well as being a weekly KyForward contributor. Watch his KyForward columns for excerpts from all his books. This story is from Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #3, due to be released in December, 2012. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or “friend” him on Facebook.