On April 2, Jacqueline Franchetti and the student ambassadors of Kyra’s Champions placed 748 blue and silver pinwheels in three parks around the town of North Hempstead. The pinwheels represent 23 children murdered by their parent during a custody case in the last six years and 725 children who died over the last decade while CPS knew they were in danger.
April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month. According to the CDC, In 2020, 1,750 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States. The National Institutes of Health reports that about 1 in 7 children experienced child abuse and neglect in the last year, and 1 in 4 will experience abuse over their lifetime.
Kyra’s father was emotionally and verbally abusive to Franchetti during their relationship, and when she became pregnant, she left him. After Kyra was born, he reappeared, seeking custody. During the years of custody hearings, the court was repeatedly notified that Kyra’s father was dangerous, angry, and suicidal. During the years of court proceedings, he stalked, harassed and threatened Franchetti.
Franchetti’s warnings and pleas for help fell on deaf ears. Despite these abusive and dangerous behaviors, the forensic evaluator recommended joint custody, and Kyra’s attorney refused to take actions that would have protected Kyra. Just days before her murder at the hands of her father, the family court judge remarked that the case was “not a life-or-death situation”.
In July 2016, Kyra was on a court-sanctioned visit with her father in Virginia when he shot Kyra to death while she slept. He then set his house on fire and killed himself.
Franchetti has not just spent the time since Kyra’s murder mourning the loss of her daughter. She has taken her grief and used it as the impetus to demand change from Albany and beyond.
“So, Kyra was murdered six years ago; it’s going to be seven in July. I’m very fortunate that we’ve been able to enact real change in her memory. Since we’ve started, we’ve passed bills in multiple states and a federal resolution. Just in December, one of our bills, a landmark bill, mandating training for child custody evaluators became law in New York State. We currently have a package of seven bills with more on the way because we’re drafting more to better protect children in custody cases.” Franchetti said of Kyra’s Champions current work.
It’s difficult to quantify the damage caused by such a horrific crime. Everyone who is involved in the child’s life is affected, from those in their immediate families to people in the community. “We’re trying to bring about policy and legislative changes to help prevent this from happening to any other community, any other child, any other family because when this happens, it doesn’t just impact me and my family, it impacts our entire community, from first responders, to their school, to their friends.”
The pinwheels on display in the local parks draw attention to the failure to protect the most vulnerable among the community. It’s a striking visual, all those pinwheels laid out and each one is a child who should have been prioritized and protected. While there are many initiatives coming out of Franchetti’s efforts, the crown jewel is Kyra’s Law. “The centerpiece of this (legislative effort) is Kyra’s Law. All of these measures are common sense legislation. They try to do things that you would think and hope are happening when it comes to protecting a child but aren’t in reality. And Kyra’s Law truly does three critical things. First, it will make life and safety the top priority in a custody case. Second, it will mandate judge training or judges are not properly skilled, nor are they properly trained when it comes to family violence, child abuse or trauma, and they’re making life and death decisions, and far too often getting it wrong. And three, it will stop common practices that allow users to gain custody at staggering rates in New York state.” The bill is sponsored by Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi (D-Queens) and Senator James Skoufis (D-Rockland), and has already attracted bi-partisan support from Assemblymembers from Nassau and Suffolk Counties including Charles Lavine (Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee), Gina Sillitti, David McDonough, Keith Brown, and Fred Thiele, and Long Island Senators including Anthony Palumbo, Jack Martins, and Alexis Weik.
Shayna Blumenfeld, a sophomore at Schreiber High School, is the Kyra’s Champions youth ambassador. Blumenfeld and the other Kyra’s Champions helped set out the pinwheels this weekend, but they are also rallying in Albany and spreading awareness among their peers. “She’s a powerhouse. She has been the liaison with the town of North Hempstead on this. She is one who recruits her friends. Everything that we do at Kyra’s champions, we truly designed this to be for kids and by kids…family violence and child abuse is impacting their friends, their fellow students, and they’re helping to drive and bring about the change that we want to see.” Franchetti said.
This week would also have marked Kyra’s ninth birthday. Residents are encouraged to set out nine pinwheels at their homes to remember Kyra and to raise awareness against child abuse.
To get involved in future projects, contact Kyra’s Champions at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email your representatives to ask them to support Kyra’s Law by visiting
https://www.kyraschampions.org/kyraslaw#/1/ and filling out the form.
—With information from Kyra’s Champions and the Kyra Franchetti Foundation