About 200 honor alleged victim of child abuse at Friday vigil
KEARNEY — About 200 flickering candles were mirrored by one shooting star in the sky above Kearney Friday night.
People gathered at Yanney Heritage Park for a candlelight prayer vigil for Landon Payne, 4, a victim of alleged child abuse who died Dec. 22, 2009.
Many said they saw a shooting star cross the eastern sky directly in front of the assembly just after a prayer by Rev. John Gosswein of Kearney and before the song “Borrowed Angels” by Kristin Chenoweth began playing.
“That was just so cool,” Taryn Tracy of Kearney, one of the organizers behind the vigil, said of the star.
“A vigil is actually an opportunity for us to shine a light in darkness, and it’s an opportunity to come and look at the darkness square in the face, and for us to be able to look together, to hear together and to gather together,” Gosswein said before reading Psalm 27.
“In the midst of the darkness, we light a candle and the candle invites us, in spite of the darkness itself, to be able to look forward with hope,” he said.
As the vigil ended, one woman shouted out, “God bless Landon Payne,” and several people responded, “Amen.”
Lola Schall of Kearney said she connected personally to Landon’s story.
“I know the family that did it, and I have a niece who died from abuse, too. I’ll be following this as it goes on to see what happens,” she said.
Organizer Jacque Shepard of Kearney said she was “thrilled” with the turnout Friday.
“The reason we’re here is because we’ve all heard a really horrendous story that has got to all of us,” she said while addressing the crowd.
“We heard a story about a little boy who suffered abuse at the hands of people that were supposed to take care of him, and the little guy died nine days before his fifth birthday, just before Christmas.”
Shepard said she remembers reading Payne’s obituary and feeling sympathy for the family. When Landon’s aunt, uncle and cousin were arrested in July and charged with child abuse that led to his death, she said she felt sick.
“I just felt horrible. I couldn’t believe this happened in this place I call home. I thought, ‘We have to do something.’ I don’t know what we have to do, but we have to do something. We can’t let little ones just go like this. We can’t let little ones that can’t stand up for themselves — this little guy died with nobody. I’d like to be his family,” Shepard said.
“I think we’re moms and dads, brothers and sisters. We’re aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, and we’re Landon’s family now. We’re his family. We’re Landon’s Legion. A legion is an army of thousands, and I hope that gets to be us someday.”
When he died, Landon had been living with his aunt, Sharon Turnell; her husband, Charles Turnell; Sharon Turnell’s daughter, Katie Payne; Katie Payne’s former husband, Dustin Scoville; and seven other children in a home in rural Kearney County. The Turnells and Katie Payne are charged in Landon’s death.
Before Landon was living with the family, police in Kearney and deputies in Buffalo County had been responding to calls at the Turnells’ Pleasanton home for a variety of issues.
In the three years the Turnells lived in Pleasanton, the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office responded to nine calls there regarding possible child abuse or neglect. Officers also responded to the house other times for poor living conditions or a dirty house, credit card fraud, arrest warrants, disturbances, follow-ups; suspicious activity, a liquor violation, and assault.
Lisa Goetz of Kearney said she came to the vigil because she was “infuriated” by Landon’s story.
“When I read the article I immediately was thinking, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” she said. “I just know that if there was that much activity going on, they should have investigated way before this happened. It just breaks my heart to think of that poor boy.”
Shepard has said because of what she learned about Landon’s case, she wants to see change in the child welfare system that she is calling “Landon’s Law.”
“I’m asking you guys tonight to join us to be part of Landon’s Legion,” she told the crowd. “We would like to work on changing laws in some form. Exactly how we’re going to do that, we don’t know yet. We’re still trying to pull things together. We only heard about this a couple weeks ago, but we want to do it as quickly as we can.