MARION COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The stories are graphic. They make us angry. They are stories of children being neglected, abused and some even killed. One Mississippi community is taking a stand to help those who can't help themselves.
When it comes to protecting children, one community believes in the motto "It Takes a Village." Ordinary people are banding together to tackle a heartbreaking crisis.
Marion County is known for its tranquil atmosphere and quaint buildings, but inside the courthouse in downtown Columbia, disturbing news recently emerged.
"Over the last 18 months, we've had three deaths of children that were absolutely unacceptable," said new Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam.
In June 2014, a 2-year-old boy was rushed to the hospital, suffering from bruises and cuts. After ending up on life support, he passed away.
A month later, a 4-month-old baby boy died after his mother rolled over on top of him. Then, last May, a third child died.
"There's no room for excuses when we're talking about protecting our children," said Beam.
Beam said the Mississippi Department of Human Services had been contacted before in each case.
"If they had taken action, perhaps the death on May 25 could have been prevented. So, at that point, as a chancery judge, I took over hearing all abuse and neglect cases," said Beam.
Beam said she threatened to hold the state in contempt for failure to protect children and ordered MDHS to come to Marion County to address the problem.
"I want to do everything that I can to make sure that every child is protected. As a mother, it absolutely breaks my heart," said Beam.
More than 160 children in Marion County are currently in foster care, removed from their homes as a result of allegations of abuse or neglect. That's one of the highest rates per capita in the state.
"Let's work with these parents. Let's get these children out of custody as soon as possible, because they need to be back in their home environment," said child advocate Renee Porter.
Court officials organized a meeting, pleading for help from the community. More than 100 people showed up, including the Rev. Jerron Carney of Woodlawn Church.
"I would never have known of the epidemic that we are facing, and it's very surprising to me," Carney said.
According to Carney, his church offers ministries that can help broken families from alcohol and drug treatment to anger management.
"I want our church to be a part of the solution. If we can help in any way with the programs that we have or new programs that we can help start, we are called to this community," said Carney.
Timmothy Patterson also answered the call. The father of five is heading up a "parenting academy."
"Like helping parents learn how to do good nutrition, healthy discipline habits, communication, even some skills that work in finding a good job. All those types of things that help you to be a good parent and provide for your children," said Patterson.
As a result of that meeting, Marion County created a Coalition for Kids. It's made up of educators, church members, businesses and anyone in the community who wants to end the abuse and neglect of children. One of its goals is to increase the number of foster parents.
For Katcha and Daniel Fowler, foster parenting is their passion. They have taken in seven children so far, and host a support group for foster families.
The Fowlers chose not to have their own children so they can open up their hearts to babies in need.
"We feel like these are the kids that God put in our life. We feel like these children were sent to us, and we love them and any child that comes in our house," said Katcha.
The Fowlers say the two boys they are caring for now were neglected and came to them with speech and medical problems. They are in the process of adopting one boy.
"Because he's so wonderful, and he's such a blessing to us," said Fowler.
They hope to also give the younger child a permanent, loving home.
"It isn't any different to me than having a biological child. You fight for what they need and you meet their needs and you are overly emotional about them, because you love them so much and you just can't help it. You want to see the success story," said Fowler.