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Norman's family tragedy turned him into an activist

Excerpt: "Norman swore that no other family would have to endure what his family had."

Norman Higgins was born on January 26, 1978, in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother, Maxine, became a single parent when her husband deserted her a month after their son was born.

Maxine was a waitress in a prosperous restaurant so between wages and tips made an adequate living for her son and herself. It wasn't easy working and caring for a baby, but Maxine had loving neighbors and friends who helped her with the child while she worked and Norman thrived.

Maxine made sure her son regularly attended school, did his homework, and got at least average grades. He was not an inspired student, but he worked hard to justify his mother's faith in him and make her proud. Norman liked athletics, especially football and baseball, and he kept his grades up so he'd be eligible to play on his high school teams.

After graduation in 1996, he wanted to get out on his own, so he joined the Navy. He was stationed at North Island, California but visited his high school girlfriend, Gracie, whenever he got a leave long enough to go home to Kansas City. They planned to be married when he got out of the service in 2000.

In January 1999, a month after he'd been home on leave at Christmas, Gracie sent him a hysterical email that she was pregnant. Norman got an emergency leave and flew home. They were married in a small ceremony, which included friends and family. Norman was thrilled that he was going to be a father and vowed he would always be there for his child. Jason Higgins was born September 15, 1999.

When he was discharged from the service after his four-year enlistment, Norman got a job working for a friend of his mother's who owned a janitorial service. The work was mostly at night cleaning office buildings, so he and Gracie worked out a schedule where she worked at as a legal secretary during the day, and he worked at night. Whoever wasn't working was looking after the baby.

Norman was a hard worker, and the owner of the service promoted him rapidly to a supervisory position where Norman learned more about the business operation. Gracie and Norman each put aside a portion of every paycheck with the goal of saving enough money so Norman could start a business of his own.

After Jason was born, Maxine volunteered to take care of her grandson whenever they needed her. She had quit working and remarried some years before, and she and her husband loved being grandparents.

In 2001, Gracie was pregnant again. She and Norman had discussed moving to a small town to raise their son, and now with another baby on the way, they decided the time was right. They had saved some money, and Maxine's husband wanted to invest in Norman's new business.

Norman had stayed in touch with one of his Navy buddies who lived in Oxford, and Norman had visited him several times. He and Gracie decided Oxford's small size and low crime rate made it an ideal town in which to raise their family. They made the move to Oxford in 2002 after the birth of their second son, Justin.

Norman's new business, the Higgins Janitorial Service Company, thrived, but he made sure he always spent time with his boys. He was almost obsessive about giving them the time and attention he'd never had from a father. The boys loved the attention from their dad, and the three of them were very close.

Jason loved baseball and began playing Little League when he was eight. Pete, the assistant coach, was a young bachelor who loved kids and volunteered his time to coach. Since he lived a block away from the Higgins family, he offered to pick up Jason and take him to and from the games and practices. This was such a convenience to Gracie and Norman they accepted without a second thought.

After a few weeks, Jason started making excuses for not going to practice. He had a stomachache or too much homework or a headache. He also had terrible nightmares and even begged to stay home from school. Gracie expressed her concern to Norman, and they decided to take him to his pediatrician since they were sure there was something physically wrong. The doctor examined Jason and gently talked to him privately. Jason finally broke down and admitted the assistant coach had fondled him in the car while driving to and from practice.

Norman went to the police and filed a complaint against Pete, the assistant coach. The police found that Pete had been convicted of sexual offenses in another state and had failed to register when he came to Mississippi.

Norman was livid. He raved and ranted and cried. He demanded to know how the man got away with not registering and how he was allowed to be a coach on a youth baseball team. The police promised to investigate but couldn't give him any immediate answers. Norman vowed that he would keep track of registered sex offenders in Oxford since it seemed to him that no one else was.

Gracie was traumatized by the whole situation as was Jason. After the trial, she said she couldn't stand living in Oxford anymore, so she packed up the boys and moved back to Kansas City. Norman was devastated and missed his family, but his grief just made him even more intense about his cause. He would not rest until everyone in Yoknapatawpha County knew how many sex offenders were living near them and who these perverts were.

Gracie eventually divorced him and didn't even want the boys visiting him in Oxford, so he had few chances to be with them. He phoned and went to see them, but it just wasn't the same. 

Norman swore that no other family would have to endure what his family had. He continued to monitor registered sex offenders who lived in Oxford and made sure the community knew the dangers of sex offenders in their midst to the extent the law would allow.

He occasionally worked with Concerned Oxford Parents (COP), but he felt they were spread too thin by spending their energies on insignificant projects and causes that weren't as important as protecting their children from sex offenders.

He believed Andrea Stover was a danger to the community because of the pornographic ideas she espoused which could stimulate sex offenders to commit further crimes against innocent children.

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