By CALVIN PYNN
LYNCHBURG – Jonathan Craft, whose name Pulaski residents may recognize as the one who turned in Samantha Warden to Campbell County Police almost two weeks ago, is a serious activist for child abuse prevention.
Craft reached out to Warden, the mother of Cory Cole, the infant found dead in a wooded area off Draper Road, in a sympathetic attempt to turn their tragedies into a better cause to make sure that other children and parents would not have to endure what they did.
As previously reported, he came to realize that Warden was not at all what she seemed. Still, despite the fact that suspicions arose before Warden was arrested in Lynchburg, Craft is making the aftermath of Cory’s death a part of his crusade.
For Craft, it all started when his daughter was murdered in 2012.
“It kind of hit me, and at first I was in shock and I didn’t know what to do,” said Craft. “After the shock wore off, I told myself that I had such a hard time dealing with what I had to deal with, and I don’t want anybody else to go through it – the parents or the children.”
Craft’s 13-month-old daughter, Veralee Marie Craft, died in July 2012 after enduring beatings from her mother’s boyfriend. Since her death, Craft has made it his mission to spread awareness about child abuse, using his own tragedy as a driving force to inspire widespread prevention.
“I don’t think any kid should have to go through that, whether it’s physical, mental or sexual,” said Craft. “There are a lot of things that can be considered abuse.”
Craft was never abused as a child or known anyone else who had been either, but his daughter’s death opened his eyes to the shocking reality of its existence. His realization also came when he noticed cases of abuse-related deaths constantly being covered in the media.
“This is one of those situations where you see stuff on TV and the news, and you never think it will happen to you,” said Craft. “Until you go through it, you don’t really notice how much of it there is out there.”
To honor his daughter’s memory, as well as other children that have suffered the same fate, Craft has worked to plan events to raise awareness about his cause. Currently, he is setting his sights on the month of April for his activism.
“April is child abuse month, so I’m planning on doing something every weekend in the month,” said Craft.
According to Craft, the events he has planned will include a benefit show featuring Lynchburg band Hateful Bones, and a walk where the participants will hold signs advocating child abuse prevention. He also hopes to work with organizations related to the cause such as MACA (March Against Child Abuse) and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), donating proceeds from his events to those organizations.
In the meantime, Craft raises awareness through a Facebook page created in his daughter’s memory, titled “Justice for Veralee Marie Craft.” According to Craft, he tries to do everything he can to spread awareness, regardless of the material cost or profit.
“We’re not doing it to raise money, we’re doing it for the simple fact that I’m willing to do anything that it takes to get people’s attention about child abuse,” said Craft. “In order to get people involved in child abuse prevention, it seems like you have to do something crazy for them to notice you.”
According to Craft, he has pushed the limits of his own dexterity to demonstrate his dedication to the cause. This has included stunts such as posting pictures of himself to his Facebook page standing in the snow in swim trunks, holding a sign that read “Help Fight Child Abuse.”
Craft and several others also took part in a “polar plunge” event at Smith Mountain Lake last weekend during which they filmed a video about child abuse prevention.
Although Craft has been planning his events for April months in advance, he decided it was time to act immediately when he became aware of the situation with Cory Cole. With that, he decided to reach out to Warden, and created a Facebook page for Cory modeled after the one he made for his daughter, similarly calling it “Justice For Cory Cole.”
“When all this happened, I really felt bad for her,” said Craft. “When I was going through everything I didn’t known anyone who had lost a child, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I was sitting there thinking if I had someone to turn to, maybe they could have helped me, maybe they could have given me some answers.”
Craft decided to act on his suspicions after Warden spent a couple days at his house in Lynchburg, where he intended to plan some fundraisers in honor of Cory during her time there. Although his focus has shifted slightly since her arrest, he still wants to make Cory Cole part of his mission.
According to Craft, honoring Cory’s memory is the most important thing above all else.
“I was really hoping to work with her until I found out what I did,” said Craft. “Just because this happened, doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve justice. We shouldn’t stop fighting for him, because it’s really about him. When I do my events, Cory’s still going to be mentioned. He’s not leaving my situation.”
In fact, Craft and a few others have discussed the possibility of working to establish a new law called “Cory’s Law,” which would state that if a parent has been convicted in the past of child abuse charges, he or she can no longer have physical custody of a child.