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Bench is memorial to local girl

WORTHINGTON -- Visitors to Watland Park may have already noticed a knee-high light blue bench dedicated to the memory of Samantha Fraga.

Samantha, a 2-year-old, died March 20 after receiving traumatic injuries to the head and other parts of her body.

Her uncle, Josue Fraga, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct on March 27.

The bench honoring Samantha went up shortly before July 4.

It serves as a testament to the depth of feeling Samantha's tragic death brought out in other people -- even complete strangers, some of whom banded together to purchase the bench in the little girl's honor.

"I have a 3-year-old daughter, and I couldn't imagine anything like that happening to her. I couldn't imagine," said Pete Luttrell of Ellsworth.

The bench was Luttrell's brainchild. After reading about Samantha's death, he thought of his own six daughters, who range in age from 3 to 17, and decided to do something positive in memory of Samantha.

Luttrell, who works at Bedford Technology, chose to purchase and dedicate a Bedford-built bench to her, and then donate it to the City of Worthington for one of the city's parks.

Things didn't quite work out the way Luttrell planned. As he told his co-workers about the project, they asked if they could donate and help out with the project. too.

Bedford made flyers encouraging people to donate to the project, and even offered Luttrell a substantial discount for the bench.

By the time the project was complete, 14 employees had donated funds for the bench and it was entirely paid for. The only thing the City of Worthington had to do was pour a concrete base and install the bench.

"I wanted to do something, and I figured kids go to play at the park -- and it's not too far from where she lived," Luttrell said.

He hopes anyone who knows anything about cases similar to Samantha's will come forward and report them to the police.

Luttrell isn't sure whether people will use the bench or not, but he is sure anyone who sees it will remember Samantha.

Samantha's bench is only knee-high to an adult, but it is just the right size for a tuckered-out toddler.