tampabay.com

Neighbors use a block party to regain park

A month after a girl was raped during the day, residents gather to restore a secure feeling to their neighborhood.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published August 20, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - The July rape of an 8-year-old girl in daylight by the Central Oak Park left the neighborhood shocked and wary.

But Saturday several of the neighbors braved rain and thunder to attend a block party designed to take the park back for the children and families who live nearby.

"We've turned something bad into something good," said Linda Y. Phillips, president of the Central Oak Park Neighborhood Association. "We're here. We want everyone to know we're here to protect the community."

That's an important message, Phillips said. Since the attack, "we haven't seen as many children" in the park. It's time that changed, she said.

The attack happened July 19 - exactly one month before the block party - just outside Central Oak Park at Dartmouth Avenue and 40th Street N. The girl's mother left her daughter and her 7-year-old brother alone at the park for a few minutes to return home and turn off the kitchen stove.

After she left, a man later identified as Henry Sengaroun grabbed the child from behind and attacked her, authorities said.

A neighbor, Aaron Chambliss, saw the attack and came running to help the child.

"It was a horrible thing to see," Chambliss said Saturday. "Me being a family man, I took it personally."

Sengaroun, whom police described as a mentally disturbed transient, was charged with capital sexual battery. He was captured a day after the attack.

Chambliss, who cuddled his baby son in his arms, said he believed the Central Oak Park neighborhood is safe.

"I feel even safer," Chambliss said. He said he hoped the incident and his actions will make people pay closer attention to what's happening and to watch out for each other.

"The important thing as an adult is that, if you see something wrong, you should correct it," Chambliss said.

The block party was a positive for the neighborhood, he said.

"This kind of peace and harmony, it doesn't happen too often," Chambliss said. Moments such as the ones at the block party need to be cherished.

Neighbors were not the only ones to brave the rain and thunder. Political candidates for national and local offices came to meet the people and show their support. Elected officials from the city and county also came.

So did St. Petersburg police officers and, in some cases, their wives or girlfriends.

Also there were members of the 34th Street Federation, a Crimewatch group that also conducts antidrug marches. Ginger Brooks, a member of the group and the Crimewatch coordinator for the Central Oak Park neighborhood, coordinated the block party.

Brooks said she was not disappointed that the rainy weather kept many away because the point was made.

"I'm just happy to see people here," Brooks said. "I just want people to understand it's a safe playground."