Special Reports

A project aims to unify neighborhoods while remembering slain child Robert Manwill

The murder in July of 8-year-old Robert Manwill inspired an unprecedented community outcry and volunteer effort. When Robert was first reported missing, thousands of people pinned green ribbons to their shirts in support and joined the search for the boy.

People who run local programs for children decided to seize that momentum and started meeting and talking about ways to make the Treasure Valley safer for kids.

Now, the group, which includes representatives from the Idaho Children's Trust Fund, Court Appointed Special Advocate Program and others, has an official name, Our Kids: Our Business, and its first grassroots project.

Say Hello on Halloween is a step toward making sure adults and kids in neighborhoods know one another, and are better equipped to notice if something seems amiss in a family, said Roger Sherman from the Idaho Children's Trust Fund.

The new group is asking people across the Valley to be a little more social than usual on Halloween night - to introduce themselves to the families who come to their doors to trick-or-treat, and to the people who answer the door when they take their own children around the neighborhood.

The group is also suggesting that neighbors take advantage of Halloween socializing to exchange contact information in case of emergency.

Our Kids: Our Business has created a downloadable Halloween sign to display.

Sherman said groups like United Way and the YMCA have agreed to promote the effort. He's hoping neighborhood associations will adopt it, too.

Kim Bentley, a member of the Vista Neighborhood Association, lives only a mile from the apartment where Robert Manwill was staying when he disappeared. The association will post the "Say Hello on Halloween" information on its Web site, she said.

She's already noticed a change in her neighbors since Manwill's death. People are less shy about knocking on the doors of new renters to tell them the "rules of the neighborhood," she said.

"People are more aware of what's going on. They're keeping an eye out," Bentley added.

She works at a fabric store and saw people stream in to buy green ribbons to wear in support of Manwill after he disappeared. Volunteers helped law enforcement and rescue workers in a week-long search, including one day in which 2,300 volunteers from the Valley and beyond showed up to tromp over ditch banks and look under bushes city-wide for any trace of the boy.

"A lot of goodness came out of a very bad situation," she said.

Our Kids: Our Business, featured in a Statesman article in August - before the group adopted its name and first project - has been meeting regularly ever since.

Robert disappeared on July 24, and his body was found Aug. 3. Manwill's mother and her boyfriend now face trial on charges of murdering Robert.

Anna Webb: 377-6431