BUTLER COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - A relative of the two young children who were found tortured and abused in Butler County in late 2016 said the victims have put “that horrendous incident behind them." The brother and sister, now 11 and 12 years-old, live with another family member who has custody of them. The relative who spoke with WSFA 12 News said he hoped their story would do two things: inform the community that the children are healing and make an example of anyone thinking about committing similar crimes.
On Jan. 3 Jonathan Paul Smith was sentenced to life in prison for his abuse of the children. Their relative said they were “relieved” when they heard the news because it would mean they would never have to come in contact with them. Smith’s wife, Michelle, is set for trial for the same charges in June.
“I hope she gets the same,” the relative said. “It’s hard to imagine anybody doing that to any child.”
Since the incident, the relative said the children have been reunited with members of their family they had not seen in years.
“They spend a lot of time with their relatives, and they have a lot of friends,” he said. “They enjoy life.”
The children went through counseling and received a “clean bill of health” after undergoing mental health evaluations. Now, they spend a lot of time with family, their pets and pursuing their passions of showing horses.
“They’re talking about the future,” he said. “The boy said he wants to be in the FBI or some kind of law enforcement because he wants to help people.”
He said the family is “happy and satisfied” with Smith’s sentencing and applauds the work law enforcement did in this case.
“I am so thankful for the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and the judge in this case,” he said. “I really feel they went above and beyond. They went to bat for us.”
Sheriff Kenny Harden said the case is worst he’s seen in his 40 years in law enforcement. He said he attended the sentencing hearing and is pleased with the result.
The sheriff said, in this investigation, there weren’t any warning signs reported to investigators. He also said the investigation did not indicate their had been a history of abuse between Smith and the two victims in this case.
Harden said it’s important for parents and teachers to keep an open line of communication and trust with children. He said when there is trust and communication, there is a better chance of children speaking up about any abuse.
If you know, or suspect, a child is being abused, there are a number of resources in our area.
The One Place Family Justice Center is a one-stop shop for victims of abuse and the organization offers mobile rape tests for rural counties as well as offering the exam at its office in Montgomery. The center also proved victims with legal and counseling services.
Child Protect specifically works to support children who are victim to sexual and physical abuse. Services include lessening the trauma for the child by limiting the number of times a child has to recount the abuse for legal proceedings and providing support and counseling for the child’s recovery.