AZTEC About 15 people on Saturday lined the street in front of the Eleventh Judicial District Court in Aztec to show their opposition to child abuse.

The group held signs reading "Honk if you're against child abuse" or "Honk 4 child protection reform." It was part of the Millions March Against Child Abuse, a global event to raise awareness about child abuse.

The event took place Saturday because April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. This year, nearly 100 cities participated in the march, including Aztec, Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Aztec participants started their day at 8 a.m. on West Aztec Boulevard in front of the courthouse. Over the course of the day, a few of the participants retreated due to weather, but many remained into the mid-afternoon. Many of the passing cars honked to show support.

The demonstration comes just days after Gov. Susana Martinez announced policy changes for keeping abused and neglected children from falling through the cracks, according to The Associated Press.

The governor said the changes were in reaction to the death of Omaree Varela, a 9-year-old boy from Albuquerque who police say was kicked to death by his mother, AP reported. Critics say despite previous reports of abuse, the system didn't protect the boy.

Jackie Reed was one of the people who showed up for Aztec's march.

Although she has no personal connections to child abuse, she said she learned how valuable a child's life is after losing her child a few years ago to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

"That just fuels the sanctity and importance a child's life is," Reed said.

The syndrome, or SIDS, still baffles health professionals. Death occurs unexpectedly in children younger than 1 and the cause remains unknown. Reed said that unknown is one of the hardest parts of losing a child to SIDS, even though progress is being made to discover a cause for the syndrome.

"You never know when the last day is going to be in a child's life," Reed said.

Residents hold signs on Saturday at the Million March Against Child Abuse outside of the Eleventh Judicial District Court in Aztec.
Residents hold signs on Saturday at the Million March Against Child Abuse outside of the Eleventh Judicial District Court in Aztec. (Megan Farmer/The Daily Times)

After losing her child, Reed said she noticed news stories about child abuse and felt angry when she saw the culprits getting off with "a slap on the wrist."

Then her friend, Leslie Hengst, posted on Facebook about Saturday's march, and Reed decided to help raise awareness.

Hengst also became involved with the cause because stories of child abuse frustrated her. She said she wants harsher penalties for people who abuse children.

"I think they should be locked up," she said. "There should be no plea bargains."

She said she also believes child abusers should not be granted probation.

After she learned about the march on Facebook, she helped Audrey Lewis organize the Aztec event. As a mother, the issue has a special importance to Hengst.

"I've got my own three little boys," she said. "I wouldn't want it to be one of them."

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.