It’s an unfortunate fact of life that the stomach-churning crime of child molestation occurs.
And because of that, innocent children get introduced to our wonderful adult world of sexual exploitation, manipulation, mistrust and violence.
Then if they seek justice, they have to tell their story to cops, lawyers and 12 strangers, all at an age when their biggest worry should be the color of unicorns or when they will get to Disney.
An 11-year-old Manchester girl endured that ordeal earlier this month, when she testified against her molester in Hillsborough County Superior Court. He abused her at the age of 6.
On Friday, the girl — I’m going to call her Miss R — was present in a Manchester courtroom to hear a judge send Jose Lantiqua Burdier, 42, to prison for 25 years.
And sitting beside Miss R was another 11-year-old. Their birthdays are a month apart. They share a budding friendship. And they share of history of sexual assault.
Last December, the other girl — I’ll call her Miss A — had to tell a jury that her mother’s boyfriend had raped her. He got 30 years in state prison.
Miss A and Miss R held hands when they walked in and out of the courtroom yesterday.
The two sat side by side and listened as lawyers argued over how long Burdier should go to prison.
They each dried their eyes after Miss R read a two-paragraph statement in court, telling Burdier that he will never hurt another child again.
Theirs is a friendship bonded in mutual horror. One that should only strengthen in mutual healing.
“She was one of the persons who … I know I’m not the only one,” Miss R said about her friend. “She was next to me.”
The two got together thanks to Sarah Warecki, the assistant Hillsborough County attorney who prosecuted both cases.
Warecki said Miss R was having a hard time during trial preparation. The prosecutor called Miss A’s mother and asked if her daughter — a veteran victim, in Warecki’s words — could visit her office and speak to Miss R.
“They just reminded me of each other,” Warecki said.
Miss A told Miss R what it was like to testify. And that helped Miss R find the courage to proceed.
Obviously, her advice worked. On Friday, Judge Kenneth Brown praised Miss R for her bravery and credibility when she testified.
Now the girls, who live on different sides of the city, spend a lot of time on FaceTime, especially at night when ghosts of past horrors haunt their sleep time.
Miss A couldn’t speak to me because her mother wasn’t in the court, and Hillsborough County victim witness advocates said she would need parental permission to talk to a reporter.
Of course, we all want Miss A and Miss R to put the damage behind them and return to a child’s world of princesses and ponies.
But it’s not that simple. Victims of child sexual molestation can experience anxiety, depression, nightmares and isolation, according to studies.
As they age, they are more likely to abuse drugs and engage in risky sexual behavior. They struggle with intimacy in future relationships and are more likely to be victimized again.
“Testifying was hard. I had to explain things I didn’t want to,” Miss R said.
Miss R remains more child than anything else. Her eyes are wide. Her hair is jet black; her Dominican skin is the shade of rich walnut furniture. Her smile is a jumble of adult-sized teeth and lost baby teeth.
What does she want to do when she grows up? “I want to be like Sarah (Warecki),” she said.
Warecki had been a Hillsborough County prosecutor for the last 2½ years. Her last day on the job was Friday. The mother of two is taking a job as clerk to the two judges in Merrimack County Superior Court.
She leaves Hillsborough County with a waist full of notches on her prosecutorial belt, among them West High rapist Bryan Wilson and Paul Stratton, who was sentenced last year to 162 years in prison for molesting his grandchildren. On Friday, she also won a 20-year-sentence for a man who beat his girlfriend nearly to death.
Had she kept at her job, state prison would have to start a support group for Warecki-prosecuted molesters and abusers.
The job had become too much, Warecki said. It wasn’t the low pay, but the unrelenting workload from a county that refuses to properly fund the largest office of prosecutors in the state.
But even though Hillsborough County has seen the last of Warecki, Miss R and Miss A won’t.
“We’re going to have a sleep over,” she said.