Rebecca Carter received a notification two months ago that a sex offender was moving into her neighborhood and became extra wary when she saw it was the same street that her daughter’s bus stop is …
Rebecca Carter received a notification two months ago that a sex offender was moving into her neighborhood and became extra wary when she saw it was the same street that her daughter’s bus stop is on.
She started looking into the matter and found the offender, Byron de Weldon, 44, is living “appallingly close” to John Brown Francis Elementary School.
She was surprised to learn that sex offenders are permitted residency within 300 feet of a school.
Carter, who is a licensed mental health clinician working out of her own private practice, said that most states require sex offenders to be at least 1,000 feet away from a school and some even hold the rule for “areas where children congregate.”
In the Governor Francis Shopping Center, across from de Weldon’s residency, there is Newport Creamery, Ultimate Party Town and Veteran Gaming, all popular sites for the children of Governor Francis Farms.
“As the weather warms, there are kids everywhere,” Carter said. She said she would be stricter with her own children. She used to let her 11-year-old son go to Newport Creamery with friends and ride his bike around the neighborhood, but said she doesn’t see doing that this summer.
Carter isn’t the only parent worried.
She said there have been a lot of parents coming to her asking how to talk to their kids about what’s happening.
“The kids are on edge,” she said. “Kids should be informed for their safety, but they shouldn’t be frightened.”
In an extreme case, one of Carter’s friends, who lives very close to the offender and refused to be named and has an 11-year-old son, is talking with a realtor about moving out of the neighborhood.
“They feel terrorized and they are really freaked out,” Carter said.
The mother claims that de Weldon watches their house and leaves his door open while walking around shirtless.
Carter has reached out to the landlords of the building to no avail and has concerns because their ads say they do BCI checks, so either they didn’t do one or saw no problem with the proximity to the school.
The building does not have any children living in it.
She wonders who was the one to approve this residency choice.
She said, “It speaks to his state of mind that he would choose to live there. It’s like an alcoholic working in a bar; he’s going to give in. His risk of re-offending is so high here.”
Working with offenders, she says she knows how they work and as a therapist, it would be interesting to talk about it, but as a mother, she is disgusted. She is a mother first, especially in her own neighborhood.
“He can watch kids coming and going from the school. See who walks, who takes the bus, whose mom is late. I work with victims and I know how awful and damaging it is,” she said.
Carter has also reached out to the Warwick Police Department, “getting nothing accomplished.”
“I think the police are just as frustrated as I am. They get the calls from people in the neighborhood and they can’t do anything about it,” Carter said.
Lieutenant Michael Gilbert from the Warwick Police Department says police have received a lot of calls of concern from the neighborhood, but there have been no complaints, incidents or criminal activity reported.
He said they can understand why parents are unhappy, but the offender is currently abiding by the law.
She was also warned not to harass the offender, but Carter says she has no plans of doing so and doesn’t see what that would accomplish.
So affected by the situation, Carter reached out to both Senator Michael McCaffrey and Representative Joseph McNamara, who have both submitted legislation to change the 300 feet limit to 1,000 feet in the House and Senate.
McCaffrey said he was unaware of the situation before Carter contacted him but understands why parents would be concerned and would want something to change.
“I drive by that area a lot,” McCaffrey said. “From his supposed apartment, you can look straight onto the parking lot and the playground the students use.”
He said that he doesn’t think 1,000 feet is too much to ask to ensure the “safety, health and welfare of our state’s youth.”
Carter has resorted to distributing hundreds of flyers urging individuals to contact their legislators, especially McNamara and McCaffrey.
Carter isn’t sure legislation will pass this year and thinks the only way it may is if it distinguishes the restrictions for only Level III sex offenders.
“I figure if you shoot for the moon, you’ll end up amongst the stars, maybe we can get 800 or at least 500 feet,” Carter said.
The biggest problem facing the legislation, according to Carter, is the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has “historically opposed residency laws.”
Hillary Davis, policy associate at the American Civil Liberties Union Rhode Island Affiliate, confirmed that although they do not know any specifics of the offender in question, they oppose the current legislation.
The ACLU says residency restrictions for offenders have not proven to increase public safety, but can sometimes have the opposite effect.
“It pushes offenders farther away,” Davis said, “making finding housing difficult, which is key to making sure they have the stability for rehabilitation so they won’t re-offend again.”
Many times restriction laws make it very difficult for offenders to find housing and they end up on the streets where they cannot be monitored and police aren’t alerted.
“They disappear into the shadows. Chances of them re-offending are higher there,” Davis said.
Although they are not aware of specifics for this particular case near John Brown Francis, Davis said it is unlikely the proximity to a school will be the reason an individual re-offends.
“We understand the concern,” she said. “Parents have this idea that offenders just snatch kids up off the school yard, but offenders usually [go after] someone they are familiar with [where] they built a trust up.”
Davis cautions parents to see the “whole picture” and how residency allows the offender the stability to seek rehabilitation.
Carter said, “I know he still has his rights, but shouldn’t the rights of our children and their safety come first? He’s a convicted felon.”
Gilbert said although the police department would abide by the law, he feels even neighborhoods 1,001 feet from a school would show concern.
“You could move it to 1,000 feet, 2,000 feet,” he said, “ you could go on infinitely and you will find parents who are generally unhappy to have an offender living in their neighborhood.”
Even if the legislation were to pass, Carter knows police wouldn’t be able to do anything about the offender in her own neighborhood.
He would be “grandfathered” in and wouldn’t be required to move.
“He still has rights,” Carter said, “I just want to bring light to the issue and maybe make change for the next neighborhood.”
Carter currently has a petition on Change.org with over 100 signatures.
To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/ri-legislators-submit-a-bill-changing-residency-laws-for-sex-offenders.
Byron de Weldon, 44, a level III sex offender, is the son of famed Newport Sculptor Felix de Weldon, sculptor of Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, D.C. (bronze statue marines lifting flag), and grew up in Newport. He was convicted of 2nd degree child molestation, 3rd degree sexual assault, indecent assault and battery in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts with young boys 15 and under. Probation has expired on all charges.