Updated: Mar 6, 2020
hero (noun): a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
They say not all heroes wear capes, yet I couldn’t help but notice Richard Propes’ cape strapped to the back of his wheelchair in downtown Indianapolis on October 3rd, 2019 during his 30th annual Tenderness Tour.
The event was closing his three-decade-long quest. In his attempt to raise awareness of domestic violence and prevent child abuse, Richard has collected around 6,000 miles in his wheelchair and raised nearly a million dollars for charitable funds. His mission of finding empathy, love, and tenderness in the world had been verified.
The final chapter of the Tenderness Tour would ensure no child was forgotten. Each Indiana child murdered in violence since the Tenderness Tour began on October 8, 1989, would be honored with a 1/3 of a mile lap around the state capital’s Monument Circle. He vowed to not leave the downtown circle until all 571 children had their recognition, a challenge for anyone, let alone a paraplegic/double amputee with spina bifida.
It was dusk when I approached him during the 270th lap of his 571 lap trek. His “cape”, in reality, was just a pad of paper. Each piece contained a name and death date of a victim ranging between the ages of unborn to 18.
Richards back read “DaVaughn Pitts- September 7, 2013.” DaVaughn, barely 18, lost his life in a shooting that left him and another man dead, injuring four more, as they stood in a group outside a home in Gary.
I found myself staring at the name more than expected as we struggled to keep up with the surprisingly fast Richard who zoomed ahead of us down the circular, downtown sidewalk. The stamina he kept after wheeling the circle for more than twenty four hours was incredible.
Zero sleep, sore muscles, a bandaged, wounded hand and minimal stops to eat and use the restroom sounded like a receipt for disaster to anyone. Yet he still had 301 more laps to go and a smile on his face. His expression turned more serious as we reached Christ Church Cathedral, his starting point, and marker for each lap.
His long-time friend and supporter Holly Garrett, who had accompanied us/him in our lap assisted in removing DaVaughn’s name from the back of the wheelchair and carefully handed
the paper to Richard.
Holding it thoughtfully, he shook his head and then bowed for a moment of silence. When the moment of silence ended he neatly folded the paper into squares and put it in the pocket of his pants, and like that he was off to another lap, representing a different child.
His 272nd lap read “Destinee Massey November 27th, 2013.” A chill ran up my spine. The two year old had been murdered by her mother in Indianapolis’, after a potty training accident. Tired of hearing Destinee cry, following a beating from the accident, her mother held her face down into her mattress until the screaming subsided.
When the child’s stepfather came home from work later that night he noticed Destinee “groaning and gasping.” Her mother refused to take her to the hospital but the next day when Destinee was not any better the stepfather insisted. After changing her drool covered clothing, he drove her to Riley Hospital for Children. Destinee died shortly before noon that day. A scan of little Destinee’s brain showed a lack of oxygen, consistent with strangulation or suffocation.
Court documents stated the girl, who appeared smaller in physical size for her age, had numerous bruises and pattern injuries all over her body, including her neck, forehead, chin, back, inner thighs, rib cage, left calf, left knee, right ear, and back of her legs. Bite marks
on the girl’s left forearm, inner thigh and several fingers were also observed.
As we ended the lap at Christ Church Cathedral, Richard gave Destinee the same respect and dignity as he had for the previous 270 victims before her and carefully placed her name, neatly folded, into his pocket.
My third and final lap with Richard was lap 272. The back of his wheelchair read “Anthony Warren December 14, 2013.” The fifteen year old had been a star football player, once winning state and placed second in the state several times.
He was shot twice at an apartment complex on Indianapolis’ northwest side. His mother found out about his death through a Facebook post on his timeline stating “RIP Anthony, we will miss you” less than a half an hour after the shooting took place.an hour after the shooting took place.
After Richard completed Anthony’s lap and placed his name in his pocket with the previous victims, we parted ways. By this time, night had set in. It was cold and windy but Monument Circle is where Richard would remain for the next two more days and nights, ensuring each child would be recognized. Richard’s dedication to making these victims more than just a name or number fueled his motivation to superhuman strength.
He is no stranger to miracles, after all. Born with spina bifida in 1965, the doctors did not expect him to survive past childhood. Also a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and later being widowed and left fatherless in the late ’80s after the death of his wife and daughter, saying he’s a survivor is almost an understatement. His life and purpose had bigger plans, giving up was not an option. Those 571 all had a story, a life, that had been robbed from them.
To learn more about Richard and The Tenderness Tour, visit: www.tendernesstour.com