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HSI Jacksonville receives milestone ‘Bexley Box’ to serve child victims during crisis

HSI Jacksonville receives milestone ‘Bexley Box’ to serve child victims during crisis

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Born out of tragedy, the Bridegan Foundation has presented the 50th Bexley Box to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Jacksonville special agents and task force officers with the child exploitation group.

Kirsten Bridegan founded the Bridegan Foundation in September 2022, after the tragic murder of her husband, Jared. He was ambushed and shot to death outside of his vehicle in February 2022 while their two-year-old daughter, Bexley, sat helplessly strapped into her car seat. After witnessing this horrific act, Bexley was taken to a police station where she spent hours with officers scrambling to comfort her in the absence of either of her parents, and without the basic necessities for a toddler.

“The officers did the best they could with what they had on hand,” Bridegan said. “As a mom, I wish she had the things she needed to comfort her — diapers, snacks, sippy cups, things I know she needed.”

The Bridegan Foundation created the Bexley Box to turn a tragic personal experience into an ongoing act of compassion aimed at helping children who find themselves in the middle of crime scenes or investigations. The box is a bare-necessities toybox-style kit, named after the Bridegans’ daughter, and contains items to help law enforcement officials calm children in times of crisis or traumatic events. It contains comfort items, plush toys, blankets, and basic necessities for children who are victims of a crime and are without their caregivers.

“I just want to say thank you,” Bridegan said. “Not only are we able to help children in terrible situations, but also leave a legacy in the name of my daughter and husband. That just means so much to me and my family.”

HSI Jacksonville placed the Bexley Box in its “soft interview room” area. Interacting with people who have experienced trauma requires a unique space where they can open up and tell their stories. It’s much different that the “hard” rooms used to interview criminals, equipped only with a table and chairs. The goal for a soft interview room is to create a comfortable, supportive environment with a living-room-at-home feel.

Special Agent Benjamin Luedke told a story about one such occasion during the process of setting up the soft interview room in Jacksonville and explained the importance of the victim centered approach to HSI investigations.

“It can be a traumatic and scary experience for any victim when they come in, let alone children,” Luedke said. “It was right in the beginning, and I was working with a 12-year-old victim. I was scrambling to find some water, and find some candy laying around the office, because we didn’t have anything like the Bexley Box. When you walk into the building, there’s guards; you have to go up the elevator, and you can see the look of apprehension on the victims face — adult or child. You want something that is going to be able to break the ice, put the person at ease in a safe space. The Bexley Box is exactly what we needed and is a wonderful addition to our space here.”

For more than a year now, Jared Bridegan’s daughter and widow have been visiting law enforcement agencies across 11 states to present the boxes.

“It’s an honor for HSI and the Northeast Florida INTECEPT Task Force to be chosen as the recipient of a Bexley Box,” Luedke said. “In my heart, I hope we never need to open it. That means our children are safe. But I know there are predators out there, and I’m thankful there are people like the Bridegan family who reach above and beyond to help us protect and care for our most vulnerable.”

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Protecting the most vulnerable people in communities takes a collaborative and coordinated approach of working together at all three levels of government alongside private sector partners. The Northeast Florida Inter-Agency Child Exploitation and Person Trafficking Task Force (NEFL INTERCEPT) is a unique public–private partnership where nonprofit organizations provide financial, technical and other resources to regional law enforcement partners dedicated to the fight against human trafficking and child exploitation. Support from Operation Light Shine and partner donors like the Tim Tebow Foundation will allow law enforcement agencies to better serve the Northeast Florida communities and the many victims of human trafficking and child exploitation. The collaborative approach of bringing together the experience and expertise of local, state, and federal law enforcement professionals greatly enhances the ability to combat the many difficulties and challenges presented by the complexities child exploitation and human trafficking investigations.

Members of the NEFL INTERCEPT Task Force include HSI Jacksonville, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, the Duval County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Roger Handberg, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Florida State Representative Sam Garrison.

Originally published at https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/hsi-jacksonville-receives-milestone-bexley-box-serve-child-victims-during-crisis

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