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Delaware Community Garden Offers Place for Healing After Tragedy

A plot of land in the middle of Springfield where a murdered child was found in 2014 has been transformed into a peaceful place.

Hailey Owens’ body was found in the basement of a home that sat on the lot in the 1500 block of E. Stanford.  Craig Wood, who lived in the house at the time, has been charged with kidnapping and killing the ten-year-old.

The transformation of the site began in 2016, according to Greene County Master Gardener Jean Ackley, who said the house had been on the market and wasn’t selling.

"They said they had like six people and most of those were just people that were curious of the horror," she said.

A private donor purchased the land, another donor paid to have the house razed, and ownership was transferred to Springfield Community Gardens.

Ackley, whose granddaughter and Hailey were good friends, wanted to help turn the site into a garden—not a memorial to Hailey (her parents didn’t want that)—but a place where neighbors could come to heal. 

There are neighbors on both sides of the lot.  One lived there when Hailey’s body was found.  Other neighbors, she said, still don’t feel comfortable letting their children play in the front yard.

"And so we want them to have a time to kind of forget, and they also share in the produce that we have here," Ackley said.

The Delaware Community Garden has 14 beds filled with a variety of vegetables and flowers.  There are green beans, corn, eggplant, parsley, potatoes, onions, asparagus and sunflower seeds.  Neighbors and other volunteers help Ackley keep the garden going and can take home whatever produce they want.  A little free library graces the entrance offering not only books but also fish food to feed the goldfish that swim in a small pond.

The garden has come together with donations by many people and businesses in the community.

"It's just those little things that it makes you feel good, you know, that people want to help, and it always  kind of surprises me, the generosity," Ackley said.

Neighbors allow volunteers to run extension cords and plug into their outlets.  A neighbor who had a riding lawn mower let another neighbor borrow it to mow around the garden.  He passed away from cancer and left the mower to be used on the lot.

"You know, it's just things like that--just things that happen when I'm thinking, 'how am I going to do this?' and it just works," she said.

Volunteers helped build a greenhouse on the back of a shed on the lot.  And the garden has had donations of plants, wood, hoses and other items.

Ackley’s granddaughter, who is 14 now, still can’t visit the garden.  But Ackley hopes the transformation will one day change how she views the site.  The north side resident drives across town to spend much of her free time working in the garden.

"Well, I just say I do it for Hailey.  Sometimes it's crazy how things grow.  I can plant the same things at my house, and they don't grow half as well as they do here.  And Frank (fellow volunteer) says the same thing, you know, he brought the water hyacinth over, and the first day it bloomed.  He's like, 'our little angel's watching out for us,'" she said.

She thinks Hailey would be happy they’ve created the garden in the place where the little girl’s life ended.  And she knows Hailey would enjoy the many butterflies that stop by to feed and to lay eggs in the garden.  Ackley pointed out several swallowtail caterpillars feeding on parsley and dill.

She hopes the garden will serve as an educational spot.

"Maybe those children realize that, without the pollinators, we don't have this.  You don't get the tomatoes, you don't get the apples, and so, hopefully, we can turn this into more of a learning-type thing, too," she said.

Ackley has put a lot of her own money into the garden—she buys things on sale at Westlake Hardware where she works three days a week because she said she “can’t help it.”  One purchase was a swing that hangs from a horizontal branch on a walnut tree.

"People love to come back here and swing on that swing," she said.

This is the first year for the garden, and Ackley hopes, with time, the way people look at the lot on E. Stanford will change.

"You know, I see another year people going, 'there's the garden,' rather than, 'oh, there's that horrible place,'" she said.

And she hopes the judicial system will eventually provide justice for Hailey and her family.